Sabrina was Audrey Hepburn’s second major (American) film, and it’s clear just how much she was already taking the world by storm when she was cast alongside such Oscar-worthy heavyweights as Humphrey Bogart and William Holden before her own nomination and win for Roman Holiday came in. It is also a testament to her professionalism and acting skills that, despite Bogart’s open animosity towards her (he considered her a “lightweight” and refused to take her seriously) and the overall tension on the set, she is still completely believable in Sabrina’s tenderness towards Bogart’s cold Linus Larabee.
Audrey plays Sabrina Fairchild, daughter to the wealthy Larabee family’s chauffeur. Sabrina has grown up over the Larabee’s massive garage, watching the two sons, Linus and David, grow up and become vastly different men. Linus (Bogart), the older, more sensible son, has taken the family businesses and turned them into massive conglomerates, while David (Holden) has trouble settling on a dance partner, let alone a wife or career. And it is the flighty David that Sabrina is madly in love with. She is sent to a culinary school in Paris by her loving, if distant, father to follow in her deceased mother’s footsteps — and possibly get over her lifelong crush on David. While in Paris, Sabrina is adopted and transformed by a kindly old baron, and returns to Long Island a stylish and somewhat displaced woman. She is now obviously too good to live over a garage, but is she good enough to consort with the fabulous Larabees, let alone marry one?
Sabrina was adapted from the successful Broadway play, Sabrina Fair, originally starring Margaret Sullavan. While the play’s original author was called upon to work with the film’s script, he quickly left and it was up to director Billy Wilder to write the script while filming it — literally at the same time. Wilder happily recalled Audrey’s compliance when he needed to buy time to finish writing that day’s scenes, faking illnesses and feminine ailments and taking the blame upon herself for filming delays. Despite all of these setbacks, Sabrina still turns out to be a charming romantic comedy, and serves as an important milestone in Audrey Hepburn’s career. For Sabrina’s transformation from a grubby, if cute, chauffeur’s daughter to a chic woman in her own right, Audrey traveled to Paris and dropped in on a then unknown new couturier, Hubert de Givenchy. His designs, though erroneously attributed to Paramount’s resident designer Edith Head (who happily took the Oscar for best costume design for Sabrina and didn’t bother to mention Givenchy), immediately caught with Audrey. The two formed a lifelong friendship and close artist-muse working relationship that would last the rest of their lives and influence the fashion world indefinitely.
All in all, while sounding formulaic and very much like your run-of-the-mill Cinderella story, especially by today’s standards, Sabrina weathers surprisingly well. Maybe it’s the timelessness of its three stars, or the high quality of the film itself, or strictly the charm of Audrey herself, but the film is still very delightful to watch. Even 50 years later it more than holds its own.