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Monday, June 21, 2021

Slow Climb Classics Sometimes Were


Sabrina the Soundtrack Of My Life

Billy Wilder lived ninety-five years, talked a blue streak through most of them. That’s how we know so much about his films, especially back-of-camera gossip and lore. Imagine if Michael Curtiz had lived to 95 … or Tod Browning … or W.S. Van Dyke. Wilder was accessible. He also signed posters and lobby cards when fans presented them. He was said to be cynical, but admirers who figured to know his heart said Billy was a frustrated romantic. We can assume as much from music he chose for films if not situations and dialogue. Sabrina is a two-hour compendium of “American popular love songs,” which, according to co-writer Ernest Lehman, Wilder “loved.” We may assume he hand-picked them. Most were Paramount-owned. Isn’t It Romantic was practically a theme song for the studio, being used constantly as background when not featured vocally. Music is foregrounded more in Sabrina than any other of Wilder films. Only Some Like It Hot gets as much out of pop tunes, in that case used to emphasize a period setting (the late 1920’s). There was a limited-edition Sabrina soundtrack issued in 2013, 1000 copies only. I bet it sold out in record time. Recording label “Kritzerland” surely underestimated demand there would be. Only one I found at Ebay wants $158. Amazon does not list it at all. When CD’s are gone, they are really gone. Beside songs there was scoring by Frederick Hollander, who arranged all of music, his interpretation a best the numbers ever sounded. Hollander was German-born, made initial splash cleffing for 1929’s The Blue Angel, including that film’s signature tune, Falling In Love Again. He would write a lot more songs for Marlene Dietrich. Wilder probably knew Hollander from Berlin days.

One of Those Speaking-Volumes Stills

There is such a thing as knowing too much of a film’s background. Many survived besides Wilder to speak of Sabrina. Conflicts rife on the shoot spilled early and often into press. Appears from yellowed columns that Humphrey Bogart began the tiff. He was often indiscreet to scribes, giving them oats they then shot from guns. No one liked trouble aired from working sets. It suggested instability that could undermine business. Bad publicity was sometimes plain bad. Bogart gave Wilder and William Holden grief, and suggested newcomer Audrey Hepburn couldn’t act (“she’s alright if you don’t mind twenty takes”). Bogart was freelance and spoke his mind the more so. He got $200K for Sabrina to Holden’s 80, Hepburn’s 25. Here was star power sometimes cruelly used. Much as I like Bogart, some who had to work with him did not. Wilder actually had to break up a physical clash between Holden and Bogie. Latter would “needle” friends, foes alike. Wilder had the German accent and Bogart teased him for it. The director finally had enough and told Bogey/Bogie off in front of cast/crew. Tension was real on sets already hot and confined. I don’t know how people stood such environs all day, sometimes months, at dreary shooting. Basic problem for Bogart was being second choice to Cary Grant, who almost did Sabrina, then didn’t. Who wants to be at a place where folks would rather have someone besides you? Star egos were tender enough without such further insult. That $200K was got the hard way. Bogart did sit for the “Gala Hollywood Premiere” on 9/22/54, and we could wonder what he thought of the finished product. “Sabrina --- for God’s sake,” he said whenever the film was mentioned afterward, according to Richard Gehman in a mid-sixties Bogart bio.

Bogart had flair for comedy, to my estimate did not do enough of it. Had he lived, we would have seen more along light line (a proposed next before Bogart got sick was Melville Goodwin, USA). “Linus Larrabee” is in many ways more the real Bogart than “Humphrey Bogart” characters steeped in crime or chasing criminals. It certainly reflects his own privileged upbringing. I am satisfied Bogart works better as Linus than Cary Grant would have, in part because Grant’s Linus, being Grant, would be the eternal charmer at heart, so of course he would have the girl once his mind was set even slightly upon it. With Bogart, there is real question to his interest, or not, in Sabrina. We wonder if Sabrina will indeed sail to Paris alone, or with brother David (Holden), Linus unshackled now to complete the plastics merger. Bogart had reason to be concerned about Sabrina's unfinished script, and whether Wilder might tilt it at the end so that Holden would “get the girl” per Bogie’s oft-expressed anxiety. Linus had to be considerably rewritten once Grant was out and Bogart in. Wish we had an early draft to see all the differences. I like how Bogie/Linus is confident enough to woo Audrey/Sabrina with every expectation of winning her, a same assurance he applies to his sugar deal with the Tysons. Linus is never awkward in his pursuit of Sabrina as he pretends, being bold enough to kiss her at a tennis court assignation she meant to have with Holden/David. Offscreen Bogart was said to have much aplomb with women, especially in earlier years, according to observer Louise Brooks. He did need to be carefully photographed by 1953 (when Sabrina was shot), age 54 looking way more on that ravaged countenance. For glimpse at reality of by-then Bogart face, look at unprotected way he was captured in Beat The Devil, released a same year as Sabrina.

Audrey Hepburn may be a most remarkable instance of sudden stardom the 50’s, or any other decade, gave us. Roman Holiday had not yet been released when Sabrina began production, yet she as a major name is fait accompli. Wilder admitted to “worshipping” her. She seemed upon US arrival to be everyone’s kind of waif woman, or was it gamin, elfin, princess? There was no product with which to compare her, Leslie Caron a closest if one had to find parallel. Here was one of those rare occasions when public embrace was an absolute given. Wilder did close-ups on Hepburn no previous lead lady of his had been accorded. Bogart noticed and did a righteous burn. Holden took billing below her to no evident indignation. He and Audrey had an affair during Sabrina that went undetected, even by Wilder, who was surprised years later when an interviewer tipped him off. More people see Sabrina than most movies so old because Audrey Hepburn is in it. I do not know if the lure of her for college-age women is as strong as twenty years ago when I campus-ran Sabrina. In those days, we could have put over Green Mansions or The Nun's Story so long as she was promised with them. We must ask then, if not Hepburn to fascinate still, then who? Of gone actresses, I cannot think of one who really sustains, would draw viewership for herself, and apart from whatever dated film is on view.

Why Not Her?

Seems to me the Marilyn Monroe thing evaporated long ago. One could pose a question, as in why Hepburn, and not, say, Grace Kelly, who was certainly as big, maybe more so, than Audrey at an apex. Kelly had advantage also of capping her career by becoming a real princess, so you’d think some sort of cult status would have traveled in her wake. I found a Liberty ad from 1956, more lavish than customary, our local theatre staging a “Grace Kelly Festival” to commemorate the upcoming Royal wedding (MGM even did a short subject revolving around that event). A slew of revivals were booked to cover a week’s time: The Country Girl, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, Mogambo … the Liberty, thanks to a product split with up-the-street Allen Theatre, had exclusive access to product out of Paramount and MGM, so the Kelly group was easily got. If Grace Kelly woke up a small berg like ours, then how come she fell to posterity’s footnote? Always hard to reckon, let alone predict, was public acceptance of a star, alive or dead. If Audrey Hepburn had a rival among past female leads, at least in present-day estimation, I’d like to know who that actress/personality might be.

Writing Sabrina appears to have been a nightmare. Ernest Lehman lived long and told lots, first how he was brought in behind Samuel Taylor, whose source play Wilder pretty much scrapped to do what he knew could be better (and it undoubtedly was). Question: Has anyone seen Taylor’s Sabrina Fair performed on stage? Lehman came on as pressure of a start date loomed, he and Wilder writing barely ahead of cameras. A few days saw them fallen behind, the director having to contrive means by which they could steal hours necessary to compose dialogue. Result was stress to land Lehman flat on his back and under a doctor’s care. He said Wilder lived on black coffee and cigarettes, this an ordeal Lehman was not experienced or equipped for: “At times our health broke down for the effort.” Wilder’s back tended to go out when his nerves got taut, Lehman “crying uncontrollably” as pressures mounted. Sabrina went this way to a finish. It’s amazing how smooth the picture plays when you read what these people endured to make it. So is movie creation a life to be envied? Possibly we are better off just enjoying shows like Sabrina, rather than taking responsibility for writing, direction, or ask Bogart … acting. These people deserve all of accolades they ever got.

Does Sabrina exert a same appeal as before? I went to a New York revival house pairing with The Caine Mutiny around 1985. Sabrina got laughs long since faded for me. There is such a thing as numbing oneself through repetition. How pleasing it was to hear an audience bring a seemingly moribund thing to lusty life. Happiest surprise was the finish, Bogie/Linus embracing Audrey/Sabrina to bring forth a roar of approval from the ’85 crowd, applause drowning outro music and Paramount logo to my almost tearful reaction. If there is ever another full house for Sabrina (or anything), I would like to be there to see how they take it. Something tells me things might not be quite the same. Was also at point of saying that Sabrina never really qualified as a Bogart “cult” movie, but there hasn’t been a Bogart cult for generations now. Harder to believe, given current conditions, that there ever was. Would aspects of Bogie be “problematic” for students now afraid to cheer him? Here has come increasing fate of all old films. When even TCM puts store stock in modern “perspective,” you know a Classic Era’s future is dire. Old as Sabrina now is, it’s refreshing how Wilder and team celebrated what was plenty ancient then. Walter Hampton (at left), lion of Broadway, a Hamlet from turn of a century, is prominent as Larrabee patriarch, and Francis X. Bushman, another eternal profile, chiseled to the last, is welcome in support. “Maude Larrabee” Nella Walker was in vaudeville, part of a comic duo. And these people were not so “forgotten” as we tend to imagine. Glad as I always am to see them, imagine how 1954 viewers felt, many recalling faces first-hand from long-ago stages. What made a Classic Era classic was combine of cherished old with refreshing new, elders helping in no small way to put over those more recent-arrived to the game.

Speaking of “old” played for fun, there is Linus and his portable phonograph with Yes, We Have No Bananas to entertain Sabrina aboard his ketch. The song dated to 1923, was “a world-wide smash hit” according to music historian Ian Whitcomb, “the archetypal patchwork industrial folk song, entirely without feeling.” People eventually treated Bananas as a joke, as if how could anyone have embraced a fool tune like this? For Sabrina purpose, Bananas stands for Linus’ carefree college days before he settled down to family business. Sabrina thinks it is a newly popular hit she has missed for being out of the country at cooking school. Wilder would use silly freak numbers to comic effect again in One, Two, Three (1961), where “Itsy Bitsy, Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” was used as a torture device by Soviet operatives. Yes, We Have No Bananas works as amusing counterpart to timeless standards throughout Sabrina, some of which, however, were too recent to be “timeless” quite yet. I’d like to think they became so for being used in Sabrina: Isn’t It Romantic (1932), I Don’t Want To Walk Without You (1941), I’m Yours (1930), My Ideal (1930), Dream Girl (1948), others. Paramount presumably still owns most of them. I played other versions of each on You Tube and elsewhere, but none sounded so good as how Frederic Hollander arranged them, and Para performers executed same, my bias admittedly for having played the lot in my head since I first saw Sabrina, January 14, 1967, on NBC Saturday Night At The Movies.

Watch a thing enough and you’ll pick it to bare bones. Any favorite, no matter how much a favorite, still has Wait a Minute moments, where you think, should this really be happening? Within Sabrina there are at least three such stops for me. For instance, should Linus, by way of demonstrating his bulletproof plastic, do so by firing a pistol three times directly at it? Could a ricochet not wound, even kill, he or onlooking David? I’d call this a comedy device with serious implications, that is, if I chose to take it serious, which I obviously have tendency to do. Then there is Sabrina writing a suicide note clearly meant to be taken in earnest, sliding it under her father’s doorway as he sleeps. Off to Paris the next day, the self-offing not fulfilled, her envelope and content not mentioned, even as we assume “Thomas Fairchild” (John Williams) must have discovered it. Was he too tactful to mention the matter, or had Sabrina made such empty threats before? Finally there is Oliver Larrabee and his recalcitrant bottle of olives. He can’t get to a last one to garnish his martini, despite pounding the bottle on Linus’ desktop and pulling the paper clip off a vital contract to pry it out. Frustrated Linus finally seizes the bottle from his aged father, shatters same on the desk edge, growls “Eat it!” as he pushes the olive into the old man’s mouth. This moment always startles me, not only in its disrespect for an elder, but for fact Bogie/Linus may be inserting shards of glass in addition to the olive, being careless, alarmingly aggressive, in the doing. Was this Bogie himself venting over burden of being stuck in Sabrina?


Blogger Kevin K. said...

"Sabrina" plays more engaging in memory than it did while watching it. Not that it wasn't entertaining; I, too, enjoyed Bogart's change-of-pace character. My two problems were fairly large: 1) Not for a minute could I buy Bogart and Holden as brothers. Zero resemblance, physical or otherwise. 2) While I was glad Bogie got the girl, I couldn't believe Hepburn not winding up with Holden. As I think of it now, there's very little in "Sabrina" that makes any sense at all, which perhaps made 1950s audiences get wrapped up in it even more, like a fairy tale for grown-ups.

It's certainly better than the 1995 remake,where Julia Ormond proved that no amount of p.r. hype could overcome her decided lack of charisma. The relationship between Harrison Ford and the underrated Greg Kinnear was far more interesting than anything they had for Ormond.

8:29 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Recall an article pointing out how the plot of "Sabrina" involved powerfully fortified sugar -- a neat metaphor for the movie itself.

The one thing that didn't quite work for me was Bogart having to play stupid about women. Reverting to college days might make sense if his character was besotted beyond reason, but at that point he's an intelligent middle-aged man on a cold-blooded mission. Holden's character was certainly immature, but had a polish appropriate to his age.

Hepburn and Caron both spent a lot of time playing waifs/gamins paired off with older men. In fact, both were matched with decidedly mature Cary Grant and Fred Astaire. Caron was a married mom when she played Gigi.

A few years back Manic Pixie Dream Girl slipped into reviews and conversations. MPDGs might be in more age-appropriate relationships, but they were essentially a highly caffeinated version of the waif/gamin, "feminist" in that they would take the initiative and drag inexplicably reticent heroes into sexy romcom antics. Young Kate Hepburn was a prototype in "Little Women" and "The Little Minister".

4:39 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I, for one, have always been immune to Hepburn's charms. It's not that I dislike her -- she's quite appealing in "Funny Face" -- but I don't find her the ethereal creature from another world that others do. (Same with Jean Arthur; her I don't get at all.) She's a charming enough light comedian, but I find that, with the exception of Juudy Holliday -- the 50s are a pretty moribund time for comic actresses. I can't stand Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine ("Some Came Running" excepted), or Monroe (in comedies; in dramas and noirs, she's swell).

The problem for me with this picture is that Bogaart -- like Cooper in the creepy "Love in the Afternoon" -- is just too damn old for the part. Sure, he's only 54, but 54 then is like 75 now.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Both Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were stunningly beautiful, both could act, both appeared in worthwhile films, and the camera just loved them - but Grace Kelly gave up a successful and lucrative career as a film idol apparently solely in order to marry; and that's a problem for some, maybe most, people watching today, even though that would have been expected of her by most of her own generation. But now her retirement from acting comes across like a (forced?) submission to the demands of "the patriarchy" - give up your career, or give up the possibility of marriage to this man. How many women today, after having established successful and lucrative careers that they enjoy, would give it all up solely in order to marry?
Once Grace Kelly had given up acting, I think the movie audience in some sense gave up on her, too (I've noticed that audiences tend to give as good as they get). If she chose to no longer pursue the public attention and other awards that performing garnered for her, there was a crowd of people waiting in the wings who did very much want that attention and those awards, and who were willing to work very hard to get them (and who would also work very hard so as to help you forget the "old act" from last week that they were trying to replace). That's always been the nature of the show business - and the audience then, as it does now, knew that too.
Audrey Hepburn kept working, while Grace Kelly retired upon marriage; that's the difference between these two, then and now, and I think it goes a long way towards explaining why Grace Kelly's films don't have the latter-day following Ms. Hepburn's work has enjoyed.

9:07 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts considers Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn:


Yes indeed, how dare Grace Kelly and what the heck could she possibly be thinking to want to bail on a glorious “career” where one works frequently 10 to 14 hours a day for a corporation that treats one basically as their property, where the casting couch or some such demands can loom daily, where every pound or wrinkle can mean the end of said “career” or certainly the diminution of status within that career, and it’s all over when, God Forbid, she reached the actress death age of 40 anyway? What, and lose all those psychotic, stalking fans? Give all that up just to be betrothed to a really rich monarch of a rather civilized and benign country who actually seems to be a reasonably nice guy and be treated like, well------royalty------for the rest of your life?

I’ve said this before, but the most sane, reasonable and happy old actresses I met in their dotage were the ones who got out while the going was good, who married well and raised a family or went into another line of work. The scary ones were the ones who held on to the bitter end, fighting to stay under that limelight and willing to do anything, take any humiliating job in any sort of crap to remain a “star” : Joan Crawford or Bette Davis anybody? And you felt like they did it partly because they didn’t have anything else in their lives. Come to think of it, the most sane, reasonable and happy old actors I met did the same as the happy old actresses too.

Heck, Audrey Hepburn did her own version of the Grace Kelly thing, minus any Prince Charming to save her, she got out in 1967 while she was still on top and financially secure and only came back from time to time when it was a project that interested her or the opportunity to work with people she liked. How could that possibly be a better life than being under the constant scrutiny of the increasingly nasty press and the increasingly psychotic fans as the business became more and more corporatized and determined to suck any pleasure out of the process. Didn’t these women realize that they would someday be dismissed by anonymous internerds for not hewing to some nonsensical political beliefs that bear little in common with reality? How dare these women be happy!


6:17 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Wow. I couldn't disagree more about Davis. No, she was no longer a star, but she did damn good work until the end.

Why should actors retire if they're no longer stars? If the parts are there and the work is good, should they be shunted aside? Ian McKellen, who's now older than Davis was when she died, is about to play Hamlet. Should we just nail him in a coffin and say "no thanks?"

Ellen Burstyn is still doing great supporting work at 90. Is her life empty and meaningless away from a movie set? By your estimation, anyone over a certain age should apparently just chuck it and bewail the fact that they had a successful career.

8:29 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Dave,you missed the entire point of what I said, no one said actors should be shunted aside when they get old, I've always liked that the Brits allow their actors to have a lifetime career, even when they lose their hair, teeth, marbles and mobility (and that goes for the male actors too).

However, we should also not criticize the ones who opt to get out when they can. I'm sure Ellen Burstyn would tell you her acting career was no entire picnic, and even she has been able to pick and choose much of her late-in life work. What one hopes is that most actors and people have the careers they want to have, though we know better that it is the norm.

At the same time, one also hopes that any creative people know when it is time to step aside, we all sure needed the last 30 years of Bob Hope's career, didn't we? And as far as Bette Davis is concerned, yeah, we're so much better for WICKED STEPMOTHER, or any of the last ten years when all her performances consisted of loud enunciating and general being a caricature of oneself (and no, Lillian Gish (who was still a brilliant actress into her 90's) would have been better partnered by practically ANY old actress in THE WHALES OF AUGUST than she was by Bette. then again, I think Davis should have retired around 1935).


9:02 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

And one more thing Dave, Ian McKellen is not about to play Hamlet, he's playing in a new film version of Hamlet called HAMLET REVENANT but is not essaying the title role, that would indeed be silly at Sir Ian's age, you'd have to make Claudius and Gertrude about 130 to make up for that. Frankly, playing Hamlet over the age of say, 35 comes off with the Melancholy Dane just being a irresponsible wimp who can't make up his mind who gets a lot of people killed (including himself)because of it, Hamlet is historically and dramatically supposed to be young and inexperienced, if he'd been more grown-up and common sensical, he'd have nailed his Uncle for the crime in the first act and left the Castle clean-up crew with less work to do at the end of the play.


11:01 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Richard, while I apologize for distorting your point, I still disagree on Davis. Hope's problem was a failure to evolve and own up to the ways he and society had changed. (The same with Crawford; she had nothing to fall back on, since she was a "movie star.")

The actors I know -- mostly stage people -- love the work they do, and the only frustration is that there isn't more of it. Particularly (though not exclusively) here in the Bay Area, actors -- even the best and most-working -- have to have side gigs to keep a roof over their heads. They've maintained their talents and the ability to do the work, but maybe part of that is the differences in live and film performance.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I certainly don't begrudge nor disagree in any way with the choices Grace Kelly made; I was simply casting about for a reason why Ms Hepburn's films seem to be better regarded and remembered by the young ladies the article refers to as enjoying Greenbriar Picture Show's screening of Sabrina for them, some twenty years ago.
I suppose on further reflection that the reason for that difference could be as simple as the fashions each actress wore in their respective movies; perhaps Ms. Hepburn's outfits, on the whole, have retained more style and flair for today's audiences than those Ms. Kelly wore in her films. I really wouldn't know about that, though, as ladies' fashions aren't my thing - both actresses look very good to my eyes, almost regardless of what they were wearing.
The point I had wanted to make in my post above was that Ms Hepburn remained active as a movie actress for a full decade longer than Princess Grace of Monaco, maybe longer: and I think that that alone gave Ms. Hepburn's films more visibility and staying power with present audiences, as her career obliged her to continue to seek to stay in the public's eye through the later 1950s and 1960s - the very years TV greatly increased its role in magnifying the fame of already established movie stars through their appearances on the network's talk shows and the programmed screenings of their films.
In other words, I don't think that the public begrudged Grace Kelly's choice to marry and retire and so disregarded her movies over the next fifty years because of it. I think her movies are less seen today because her movies of the 1950s didn't get any push at all from her indirectly promoting them by her staying in the public eye to promote any newer movies, as so many other film stars active in the 1950s ended up inadvertently doing by doing publicity for their ongoing film work in print and on the TV and radio during the 1960s and 1970s. The present visibility of Kelly's work with Hitchcock did benefit from Hitchcock's own ongoing and indefatigable publicity efforts during those decades, and it's for those films she's now mostly remembered, although she did good work elsewhere, too.
I used the word "inadvertently" in the preceding paragraph because none knew then what we know now - that the publicity they were engaging in on TV and in print in the 1960s and 1970s would serve to store up a wellspring of public goodwill and fame which could and would be drawn upon by the producers to help "move product" as the home video revolution commenced and spread during the 1980s and beyond.

1:10 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Dave, you are welcome to disagree with me on Bette Davis, because I can tell you we will never agree about her. She is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

The actors I know (and I'm one of them) certainly want to ply the craft they love for the whole of their lives, and in most countries, the public is fine with that. the problem here is not the difference between film and stage performance, it the problem of the film business and the attitudes of those running it in this country, who would be loathe to hire people of middle-age or beyond in any capacity, much less actors. Once an actress hits the career death of 40 (about the time they frankly become the most interesting and attractive in my book), any decent roles on the big screen dry up for them, because all American Movie Producers want now is someone who looks good in spandex for the Marvel Comic movies, which seems to be mostly what they are making.

My original point is that it is silly to criticize any actress who gets out of what is frankly an rather mean and not terribly fun business, especially for actresses, if they prefer to do so and are able to do so, the problem today is our culture seems to value pointless careerism to soulless corporations who care less about their employees than living the good life, raising a family, and actually being sane and happy and productive lifewise in other ways. One shouldn't knock it till they've tried it.

Audrey Hepburn stays more in the public conscience today as an image than her films do, except for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS, perhaps the most stupid and shallow piece of cinematic nonsense perpetrated in the 1960's but one that plays into a female fantasy that being a hooker, even a high-class hooker, just means wearing Givenchy dresses, hanging out with cool people, being skinny and never seeming to have sex. You don't hear much about the rest of her filmography, certainly not her late filmography (SIDNEY SHELDON'S BLOODLINE anybody?), so indeed, it may be shallow fashion that keeps her name any way current. Grace Kelly may have not been the fashion plate Audrey was, but she didn't have to be, she looked great in anything they put her in. In an era where millenials have no idea of anyone who's stardom started before breakfast, Grace's fading in the public memory is no more severe than the rest of stardom from the first two-thirds of the Twentieth Century.


10:27 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Finally! Someone other than me who can't stand "Breakfast at Tiffany's"! Awful movie.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Yeah, it's weak, and Mickey Rooney's role pretty much ruins 'Breakfast At Tiffany's' for me. I do like the score, though, and Hepburn as always looks great.
Speaking of Mickey Rooney, I know a person who thinks Mickey Rooney ruins everything - and I mean every single last thing - he's ever appeared in; in fact, I was taken aback by the vehemence with which that opinion was expressed. She just hated Mickey Rooney and all of his works, with a hatred pure and true. I do think it's strange how some people can form very strong negative feelings towards performers - after all, these are people they have never encountered in person, and who are known to them only from the appearances on TV and in movies that they have chanced to see. I've encountered others who dislike this or that performer, but her hatred of Rooney was truly visceral.
On second thought, it's also strange how people form such strong positive feelings towards performers. Life is full of mysteries. For the record, I personally think Rooney did some great work - but not in 'Breakfast At Tiffany's'.

6:17 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

I always thought Mickey Rooney was a brilliant and talented actor, then I had some direct, in-person experiences with him that basically ruined my ability to enjoy his work for decades, he was a genuine, card-carrying a**hole. Now that he is dead, I have been able to let the man go to his rest and enjoy the work and the images left behind again,truly the best part of him.

And oddly enough, I can't blame him for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS, the fault there has to lay at the feet of Blake Edwards, who made the decision to cast Rooney in the part and okayed that performance--cut and print it! I have to lay the whole disaster on Edwards, who made all the big choices, I guess he read Truman Capote's original story at some point, but he sure ignored it when he came to making his own movie of it. Then it was a hit anyway, there's life's mystery for me at any rate.

And yes, it's a darn good Henry Mancini score---for some other movie, it doesn't have much to do with this one.


7:45 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Filmfan: I don't think he ruins THE BLACK STALLION.
You can watch most if not all of Grace Kelly's movies in one sitting and that's a short career kids. The PSSFS (the Penn State Science Fiction Society) at Penn State pretty much started the whole showing films for money. At our height of success, we had to fight off hordes of students who wanted into our Bogart, Fields, and Marx Bros. showings. They were HUGE.
I think it's funny that people think Mickey Rooney spoils BREAKFAST with such a tiny part any more than seeing a vaccinated "Indian" or a jet plane contrail in a western spoils the film.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I like Rooney a lot in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" - which reminds me, it is the right time of year to screen that old chestnut again.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Imshah: Thank you! I never understood why Rooney caught all the flack when it was Edwards who wrote and directed the performance. I brought up that point on another site, and got my hat handed to me for reasons I neither understood nor remember.
And yet Rooney made me laugh out loud in each of his scenes -- one of the few times I ever enjoyed him. Maybe it's because it was just so outrageous, or just because I'm of an earlier generation who remembered when this kind of shtick was commonplace.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think Rooney needed the dough. Edwards used him in OPERATION MAD BALl and cast him BAT.

12:10 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Rooney always needed the dough, but he and Edwards were apparently good friends around that time. Rooney had boosted Edwards as a screenwriter of two of his 50's movies, ALL ASHORE and THE ATOMIC KID, which gave Edwards a leg up to get into behind the scenes work in Hollywood, so Edwards returned the favor later. Rooney does liven up the last third of MADBALL, that's a much better performance than he does in TIFFANYS.


8:25 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

If Rooney needed dough, it wasn't because he couldn't find work; the IMDB lists 343 credits!

Looking over those credits, it seems to me now that the last role that he was really memorable in was - yes - his role in "Breakfast At Tiffany's". It's just not memorable in a good way, at least to my eyes.
But those credits also remind me that I do think he was quite good in "Operation Mad Ball", and was even great in "Baby Face Nelson"; and other than the Andy Hardy films, which I can't stand to watch, he's been OK in anything else I've seen him in from the 1940s and earlier. Why my friend had such a strong dislike of Rooney, I'll never know, as I thought it best to change the subject as quickly as I could - after all, we were just trying to pick out a movie to watch.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I've had SABRINA sitting on the shelf for years. Thanks to this post I took a look at it tonight. Can't imagine it with Cary Grant but then Grant was so superb I reserve judgment.

Can't imagine the film being made today. The age difference between Hepburn and Bogart would make it politically taboo.

A lot of the fun has gone out of the world but for a few moments watching this film I had a lot of fun.

10:42 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Rooney endlessly needed dough because of numerous ex-wives and bad business decisions. Once he and MGM parted company in the late 40's he produced some films starring himself of varying quality and success, and went though various career recreations, including as film noir star, then character actor, then television, then whatever he could get. He also started or rented his name to endless oddball businesses (google Mickey Rooney's Potato Fantasy Restaurant or the Mickey Rooney Act-O-Lab sometime for a starting idea of some of that craziness). He made and lost a number of fortunes, and alimony and divorce took the rest (I think the final total was eight wives). I remember in the early 70's, when Film and TV work would get scarce, he go out on dinner theater tours in a show called something like THREE GOATS IN A BLANKET, in which he would basically ignore the rather lame bedroom farce and engage in ad-libbing and pandering to the audience with whatever shtick crossed his mind at the time.

Rooney was memorable from time through time throughout his career, right after the embarrassment of TIFFANY'S, he was terrific in the film version of Rod Serling's REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1962), he was great in Carl Reiner's THE COMIC (1969), and later-life performances in THE BLACK STALLION and the TV movie BILL gave his career various boosts. He also had great success in the Burlesque revival touring and Broadway show SUGAR BABIES, which he performed in for years.


1:14 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Whenever curiosity has led me to look at the list of credits for any given famous actor from the movies, I am almost as often struck by the sheer amount of work they have done over their careers - and how little of that work I've actually seen, or am ever likely to see. True that the unworthy stuff usually sinks into deserved oblivion very quickly, but it's kind of tragic that after the passage of time some, maybe even most, of the good work done gets lost too, and often not because of any lack of quality or public interest in the material, but rather due to some petty legal dispute among the producers and distributors, or because somebody or other decides that digging it up and getting it out for the public's further consideration just isn't worth their efforts, or even worse simply because somebody didn't store the negatives or master recordings properly.
On the other hand, I guess our electric age in this regard does have it better than the people who lived in previous centuries, when none of the performing arts could be preserved for (or presented to) posterity apart from static written descriptions and drawings, or by the actual re-enactment, of the actions and sounds which had transpired on and emanated from the stage.

8:48 AM  

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