Sabrina (USA, 1954, Billy Wilder)
Billy Wilder's Sabrina has an explicit fairy-tale quality (it begins with the words "once upon a time") that betrays its Cinderella roots. Based on Samuel Taylor's stage play, the movie suffers occasionally from feelings of staginess and windiness. It is, at times, obviously formulaic and predictable, but, alas, such is the nature of most romantic comedies. Which is to say, Sabrina, much like its characters, follows conventions rather than challenges them.
Audrey Hepburn's naïf-like vulnerability and angelic beauty make her the perfect fit for the part; her natural elegance, playfulness, and intelligence have the audience cheerfully manipulated into applauding her elevation from rags to riches. Humphrey Bogart (in a part originally intended for Cary Grant) plays against type as the romantic lead who knows the price of everything, but has no concept of the value of love. His character, Linus Larrabee, not Sabrina, is the real protagonist of the piece, as it is his big decisions and personal growth that key the movie's action and resolution. William Holden is well cast as the debonair and wanton playboy.
Playing on opposing themes, such as commerce vs. love, cynicism vs. romanticism, sex vs. love, Sabrina casually gives class conflict and consciousness the Hollywood treatment, so we are led to see that nothing can keep true lovers apart. Billy Wilder doesn't hit us over the head with these themes, because they are all so deeply ingrained in our collective unconscious that he only needs to give us a wink and a nod.
While Bogie and Hepburn don't rank up there with Bogie and Bacall on the chemistry meter, both are incessantly charming. Sabrina is not as insightful or cutting as Wilder's best work, but the snappy and witty banter, which is marked by droll double entendres, help to elevate the film ever-so-slightly above standard entrants in this genre. I realize that this is to damn the film with faint praise, which is exactly my intention. Sabrina was nominated for six Academy Awards, but thankfully ended up winning only one, for Edith Head's costume design.