Sunday, January 18, 2009

Audrey Hepburn and William Holden in Paris When It Sizzles

Wikipedia says this was filmed back-to-back with Charade, and the two movies share more than some sets. Both of them worship at the altar of snappy dialogue and head-spinning switcheroos.

But in Charade, as befits its aspiration to be the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made, the dazzling repartee and narrative reverses are all placed in service of a plot and two sharply realized characters. Here the snappy dialogue and switcheroos are quite explicitly ends in themselves.

In short, Charade, for all its chaos, was really about order, as any good thriller is. Paris When It Sizzles is anarchic in spirit.

It's also metafictional enough to please Donald Kaufman, and almost shockingly cynical about the whole idea of film, balancing vicious swipes at French New Wave directors and method actors with wicked commentary on traditional Hollywood moviemaking. Delicious, and it's amazing to realize that this was made in 1964. It feels quite contemporary.

But of course the movie's chief pleasure, in age-old Hollywood fashion, is watching two actors with great chemistry. Never mind the rumors, Holden and Hepburn really sparkle here. Holden hits every mark as the washed-up screenwriter in love with his own charm (and also as the international jewel thief, the spy, the monster, etc.): he does an excellent job of showing us a character who's primarily acting to himself, to his reflection in a glass of whiskey, and only intermittently connecting with the other person in the room.

Hepburn, meanwhile, turns in one of her best comic performances. She's so charming that you tend to forget how gifted a comedienne she was - she sneaks up on you. Then she'll employ that gangly body in a bit of slapstick - the way she leaps when Holden surprises her on the balcony at the movie studio, a perfect cartoon leap, kicking her heels up behind her. Or she'll modify her timing so that she's transformed herself into a hard-bitten French jailbird, insisting on her "professionalism." And she'll have you squealing with delight. She's good. And she's great here.

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