Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn find... Love in the Afternoon (1957)

The Summer Under the Stars celebration continues! Previously I wrote about Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds, but my last entry will be on that gorgeous hunk of man named Gary Cooper, whose day on TCM is the 30th. The rest of the blogathon's roster is constantly being updated and can be found here.

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One of my favorite Gary Cooper films, maybe even my absolute favorite, is Love in the Afternoon. Hell, it even ranks high in Audrey Hepburn and Billy Wilder's separate filmographies for me. It's a beautiful confection of a film -- funny, interesting, wonderfully photographed, and supremely romantic. And before anyone mentions it, yes, there is an age difference between the leading man and lady, but no, I will not be commiserating over it. I detest reducing good performances to a stupid number and/or appearance, because that's not what I care about when watching something as lovely as Love in the Afternoon. On to the movie!

Private eye Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier) loves his job, which is clear from the moment we meet him as he snaps photos of an obviously illicit affair going on in a hotel across the street. We see a man and a veiled woman kiss each other goodbye, helping Chavasse's case all the more. Satisfied with what he got, he heads home and greets his completely charming daughter,
Ariane (Hepburn). Ariane is a somewhat naive young woman, relegated to combing through her father's old files to experience the adventures that dear old Papa would like to spare her from. He would rather she stick to playing the cello and dating the milquetoast Michel (Van Doude), not reading about suicidal lovers, cheating spouses, and disastrous affairs. Unfortunately for Papa,
his career captures Ariane's imagination, so much so that she eavesdrops when one of her father's clients arrives to get the scoop on his wife. Mr. X (a hilarious John McGiver) is heartbroken to be told that his wife is carrying on a relationship with the American businessman Frank Flannagan (Cooper), a rather notorious playboy whose exploits Chavasse has
been documenting for years. As he listens to Chavasse recount the clockwork precision of the rendezvouses (room service sets up dinner and champagne, gypsy musicians play for a few hours and then are dismissed at 10 pm so Flannagan and Madame X can...you know), Mr. X calmly loads a gun, surprising Chavasse, who begs him to spare his wife's life. "I will not shoot my wife! I love my wife!" He wants to shoot this Flannagan fellow! To Ariane's shock, her father doesn't interfere with Mr. X's plans, instead lamenting that the death of Flannagan will cost him a good deal of business. Gotta love dark comedy.

Ariane is desperate to save this Mr. Flannagan. Knowing that Mr. X is committing the crime at 10 o'clock that night once the musicians leave, she calls the police but since the murder hasn't happened, they're less than interested. Realizing she'll have to stop the shooting herself, Ariane heads to the Ritz and sneaks into Flannagan's room via his balcony. The playboy is
confused by the appearance of this random girl, but when he hears about the gun-toting husband out in his hallway, the trio do some quick thinking. Flannagan dismisses the musicians right on time, letting Mr. X burst in once they're gone. He finds Flannagan and a veiled woman in each other's arms, but his anger turns to confusion when he lifts the woman's
veil and finds Ariane; meanwhile, his wife is using the balcony to escape. Utterly embarrassed, Mr. X leaves the twosome after checking the rest of the suite. Now it's Ariane's turn to be flummoxed -- how did she know about Mr. X? Better yet, how does she seem to know Flannagan's whole history of ex-lovers? Ariane stammers, but Flannagan doesn't really care because there's an
instant attraction between the two. He wants to thank her by inviting her to come back to his suite tomorrow night, a prospect that floors Ariane. A bundle of nerves, she says that she can't come in the evening because the man she lives with would be suspicious -- the only time Ariane can be out of the apartment for a long amount of time without alarming Papa is during her studies at a music conservatory in the afternoon. But all Monsieur Flannagan knows is that she lives with a man, which only doubles his interest because he now believes she's like him. Ariane hesitantly accepts his invitation, mainly so she can get back home before she literally melts under the man's gaze.

Obviously lovestruck, Ariane spends the next morning reading through Papa's file on Flannagan, cleverly shielding it with sheet music so it looks like she's practicing the cello instead of disobeying Papa again. It's a very humorous scene as Ariane learns more and more about this mysterious businessman, some of it endearing and some of it disconcerting. Audrey Hepburn is so delightful to watch here. Becoming absorbed in her reading material rather than playing the music correctly, Ariane hits sour notes or stays on the same one for too long, perplexing Papa as he eats breakfast in the next room. Once he leaves the apartment for a case, Ariane returns the file and decides to write Flannagan a letter explaining that they're just too different and she can't possibly see him. Feeling satisfied after the third draft, she burns the failed attempts and...she burns the last letter too, unwilling to forget Mr. Flannagan just yet.

Arriving hours early for their date, Ariane tells Flannagan she just came to return Madame X's hat and to tell him that she won't be coming later. It's a rather weak excuse and one Flannagan sees through right away. He's able to charm Ariane into staying, mainly because it's his last night in Paris and she doesn't think she'll see him again. Their date goes as expected -- room service, glasses of champagne, the gypsy musicians, dancing -- and Ariane finds herself falling for Flannagan more and more. He enjoys spending time with her because he thinks they understand each other; they don't have to lie about their intentions or fear that the other will get clingy because they know exactly what this is, which is a plain and simple hook-up.

Ariane purposely doesn't help the situation by fueling his perception of her with stories of her various love affairs, which are really case details culled from her father's files. Flannagan doesn't even know her name, instead opting to call her "Thin Girl." Their time together comes to an end, with Flannagan wishing that he could give Ariane a gift for, you know, saving his life and stuff. Instead of Cartier, though, she just takes the flower from his lapel and wishes him fare thee well.

For months, Ariane follows Flannagan's globe-trotting escapades in the tabloids. One fateful night, she and Michel attend the opera. Spotting Flannagan from her balcony seat, Ariane is flustered as she watches him through her opera glasses (not as creepy as it sounds). When the show breaks for intermission, Ariane and Flannagan reconnect in the lobby and ignoring her protests, he invites her to his hotel suite the next day. Once again dazed by the presence of Flannagan, Ariane returns home to find
Papa with a beautiful white fur coat, the property of a client who wants Chavasse to keep it until he can get its sleeves shortened for his mistress. Intrigued by this story, Ariane decides to wear the fur coat to her date and say it was a present from a paramour, a decision that becomes funny when you see how overwhelmed Hepburn is in the voluminous fur and when Flannagan
points out that it's summertime. But this is where the Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamond magic comes in -- you see, for them an object is not just an object. It signifies something that contributes to character development and/or the overall story. The fur coat is one instance in Love in the Afternoon: it was a gift to a mistress, but then became Ariane's way to act like the promiscuous
girl Flannagan thinks she is, but then it inspires some humor that shows how ridiculous Ariane's charade is, and then it turns into her defense against Flannagan's advances. From the start of their date, the guy tries to get her to take off the coat, and she continues to sidestep the issue until finally she decides to stop resisting. The shot of her and Flannagan's feet as the coat falls to the floor and their feet dance away is a clear indicator that after those gypsy musicians leave, more clothes will probably be joining the coat.

Ariane's got some 'splaining to do, though, when she gets home. The client who owned the fur coat came to retrieve it and was furious to find it wasn't there. When Papa discovers that Ariane switched her cello with the coat, she lies that she took it to the conservatory to impress the other girls. Papa buys it and mentions that the client was now giving the coat to his wife because he
found his mistress wearing an anklet, a sign of promiscuity. You can practically see the light bulb go off above Ariane's head as she takes a small chain off of her cello case and eyes it. We cut to another date with Flannagan, only this time they've moved out of the hotel room to enjoy a picnic by a lake. (Fabulous cinematography here by William Mellor. Really, the whole film
looks just beautifully dreamy all throughout, lending a great mood of romance.) The gypsy musicians still accompany them, which is a hilarious touch as the film goes on. Ariane is having a wonderful time as she munches on fried chicken in between kisses. But something's starting to affect Flannagan... could it be jealousy? Why yes, indeed. He casually asks Ariane
about the different lovers she's had, but her answers make him more uncomfortable than before. It doesn't help that when he goes in for a kiss, he notices Ariane's new "anklet," a gift from a Spanish bullfighter he's told. He rips the anklet off and then apologizes, leading Ariane to say it doesn't mean anything as she flings it into the water. Later during a peaceful boat ride (complete with the gypsies on a separate boat behind them, bien sûr), Flannagan asks Ariane how many men she's been with and is simultaneously relieved and disturbed when she guesses 20.

The next time we see them, they're back at the Ritz and Ariane is searching for one of her shoes, which she doesn't realize Flannagan has hidden in his robe pocket so she has to stay longer instead of dashing off at the same time she always does. She crawls on the floor and ends up underneath a small table, where she canoodles with Flannagan before they're interrupted by the telephone. It's a small moment, but one of my favorites as they flirt and then when the phone rings Ariane says "Mr. Flannagan, you're wanted upstairs."

All of this sweetness is cut short when the phone call turns out to be from some Swedish twins that Flannagan often has flings with. Upset, Ariane goes to look for her shoe in the bedroom, but then she spots the dictaphone and realizes a way to get back at Flannagan. She leaves a memo for him, a detailed list of her past "lovers," numbers 1 through 20. She stops when she hears Flannagan enter the room and although he tries to sweet talk her into staying, she discovers her shoe in his pocket and hits him on the head with it before leaving.

Preparing to meet with the twins, Flannagan starts getting ready for a bath when he notices the message light on his dictaphone blinking. He plays it and laughs when he realizes what Ariane did. However, soon his amusement becomes major jealousy, especially when at the end of Ariane's message she says "More to come." Flannagan replays the message over and over, sometimes listening to the same section three times before going on to the next tidbit. His bathwater runs over, but he doesn't notice. The champagne and the musicians come at their regular time, only they play as Flannagan keeps listening to his dictaphone and gulping champagne. One of the best moments occurs when Flannagan and the gypsies start sending the alcohol cart back and forth to each other, with Flannagan filling their glasses and the cart coming back empty for more. It's all silent except for Ariane's recording, and it's just brilliant.

Feeling more depressed by the minute, Flannagan takes the musicians with him to a steam room to try and clear his head. In a clever twist, he runs into Mr. X in the sauna, who recognizes Flannagan's mood comes from girl trouble. Exasperated, the playboy admits that he knows absolutely nothing about Ariane and it's driving him crazy. Mr. X has just the solution -- M. Chavasse, the private eye! With a business card from Mr. X in hand, Flannagan arrives at Ariane's apartment the exact moment she has her head in the sink to wash her hair for that night's date. Chavasse is thrilled to see the irony of Flannagan's situation ("Hit-and-run lover -- got run over himself!"), but he doesn't have much to go on. The girl's name starts with an "A" and she's had various affairs, all of which Chavasse recognizes from his case files. He quickly puts two and two together and realizes that Ariane is the girl, but before he says anything to Flannagan, he asks if he's in love. Flannagan's response? "Love? Who said anything about love? I said I was interested. I have many interests."

Before Ariane can arrive, Chavasse goes to the Ritz and tells Flannagan that his mystery woman's past fits on just one piece of paper, in comparison to his monumental file. Flannagan is tickled to find out that Ariane was lying, but then Chavasse reveals she's his daughter and he knows that given his track record,
Flannagan will only break her heart: "She's just a little fish. Throw her back in the water." Flannagan sees that he's right and decides to leave Paris right away. Ariane is crushed to discover him packing, and she asks if she can see him off at the train station. There, the twosome have the longest, most excruciating walk to his train car. Both of them try to keep up their fronts, but Ariane's teary eyes and assurances that she'll be all right get to Flannagan and he sweeps her into the moving train with him. The girl is even more surprised when he calls her "Ariane" and they share a kiss, not knowing that a happy Papa was watching them. The film concludes with a voiceover from Papa that reports that "the case of Frank Flannagan and Ariane Chavasse came up before the Superior Judge in Cannes. They are now married, serving a life sentence in New York, state of New York, USA."

Thanks to the censors, Chevalier's voiceover at the end was tacked on in order to confirm that Ariane and Flannagan don't stay unmarried lovers. In Europe, though, the voiceover wasn't included so audiences weren't sure of the ultimate fate of the leads. Although I don't think what Chevalier says is completely necessary, I do appreciate that there is a voiceover like in the beginning of the movie, creating nice little bookends. Speaking of Chevalier, he is just so superb in this film. He still has that winsome little twinkle in his eye and although he became relegated to character parts by this point in his career, he more than holds his own against the megawatt charm of Hepburn and Cooper.

I must admit, when I see a warm father-daughter relationship on the screen, I practically melt in my seat. (Interstellar just about killed me. So glad I saw it with my mom.) I have a great relationship with my dad and seeing the same thing depicted so accurately and so sweetly is enough to get this ol' cynic a little tear or two in her eyes. Love in the Afternoon has one of my favorite cinematic father-daughter duos. They adore each other and try to protect the other from "unseemly" doings, but in the end happiness is all that matters.

The best scene between them is when Ariane is secretly reading Flannagan's file and Papa comes in to tell her goodbye before leaving for another case. When Ariane lies that she's going to the conservatory that evening with Michel, Papa reveals that he may have investigated Michel's family a while ago just to be on the safe side. He then charmingly tells his daughter "If I were an Indian potentate, I'd shower you with diamonds. If I were a cobbler, I'd sole your shoes. But since I'm only a detective, all I can offer you is a detailed dossier." Ariane is touched: "Papa, I love you very much." "I love you more." Doesn't it just give you all the feels?

This scene is just one of hundreds -- yep, I counted -- throughout Love in the Afternoon that exemplify great characterizations. I mean, this is a Wilder and Diamond script after all. Part of why I love Billy Wilder so much is because he always creates these great moments that show off really well-rounded characters, even if they may only be on screen for a short amount of
time. Take Michel for instance. We know he's a musician like Ariane, they've been friends for awhile, and he clearly has a crush on her that she doesn't return. He tries to keep her from doing spontaneous things, like frantically calling the police to warn them about Mr. X or racing to the Ritz to save Flanagan (admittedly, he doesn't quite know what's going on). Then we arrive at the opera sequence. Michel concentrates fiercely on the music as he waves his hand around in mock conduction -- oh, he must want to be a conductor someday. Didn't realize that. Ariane is somewhat bored and looks around, noticing that Michel has a loose strand on his shirt sleeve. She pulls it to try to help him, but winds up accidentally ripping his whole sleeve off. They look at each other in shock, then they try to suppress giggles as Ariane brainstorms and tucks the sleeve into his jacket to make it look like a pocket square. Michel looks at her with adoration, which she returns with a smile until Michel realizes the music is still going on and he's a few pages behind in the sheet music. It's a sweet moment, maybe less than two minutes, but it tells you a lot. Michel loves being around Ariane and she enjoys his company, yet you get the feeling that music means more to him at this time. His suit isn't of the best quality, which means he's probably frugal. It also reinforces what a quick-thinker Ariane is -- a torn sleeve as a pocket square? Genius!

A great deal of people mention cynicism when they talk about Wilder, which I always agreed with until I read Cameron Crowe's book of interviews with the director, Conversations with Wilder. Wilder didn't believe he was a cynic and it seemed to perplex him a little why he was constantly labeled as such. At first this made me laugh, but then I considered all of his movies that I've seen and I had to reconsider my stance. Yes, I think there's a dash of cynicism here and there, but overall Wilder's films are about optimism, whether it is earned or delusional. Most of all, though, I think Wilder was a huge romantic and it very clearly shows. Relationships thought to be impossible are achieved, and when they're not they become part of the film's tragedy. Like Sabrina three years earlier, Love in the Afternoon is all for celebrating romance and the transformations it enables. It takes a cynical playboy and makes him realize he needs to grow up, while it matures the innocent Ariane.

In Conversations with Wilder, the director claimed that Cooper and Frank Flannagan were one and the same -- the actor was just as sophisticated, well-dressed, and appealing as his playboy character, with Wilder crediting Coop's ability to listen for why he bewitched women. Although he was no stranger to affairs with his leading ladies, Hepburn and he never took their romance off the screen, although they do have terrific chemistry. According to TCM, audiences and critics at the time weren't really perturbed with the age difference of the stars because things were kept very tasteful. The relationship's physicality is minimal, but if you read between the
lines in a few scenes, you might be a little shocked. I mean, I never thought anything of it when Ariane is searching for her shoe in the hotel suite, until one day it hit me that they just had sex -- Flannagan's got his robe on, he's smoking, Ariane had her shoes off, wink wink, nudge nudge. It's all done with a light touch, something that Wilder inherited from his idol, Ernst Lubitsch. Many say that Love in the Afternoon is Wilder's biggest love letter to Lubitsch (an idea helped by the presence of Maurice Chevalier), and I have to agree. A great double feature would be this and The Merry Widow or The Shop Around the Corner.

A perfect antidote to today's drudgery of unbearable romantic comedies, this irresistible film is more than enough to remind you that fantastic writing, beautiful cinematography, charismatic performers, and the sure hand of a master director are sorely lacking in modern cinema. Love in the Afternoon is a real gem, and one that all involved should have been proud to make. It's certainly one that I'm proud to call one of my favorites.














Billy Wilder's gorgeous wife, Audrey, played Cooper's date to the opera. Interestingly enough, Wilder had met his wife when she played an extra in his 1945 picture The Lost Weekend -- she played a hatcheck girl and although he only saw her arm first, Wilder declared that he instantly fell in love with that arm. They would be married for 53 years until his death in 2002.





Unaware to Ariane, Papa discovers the truth about her afternoons.



With love,
Michaela

Comments

  1. When Frank Flannagan goes to Claude Chavasse's apartment to hire him in order to follow his love interest (Claude's daughter Ariane), while giving as complete a description of Ariane to the detective as possible, he grumbles as an aside that "I can't even get to first base with her", a line that was deliberately added to satisfy the 'decency' requirements of the day. Thus, it was highly improbable that Mr. Flannagan and Ariane had been sexually intimate throughout any part of the film. Despite the scene of Ariane crawling around on the floor looking for her other shoe, whilst Mr. Flannagan is observed lounging on a settee in his bathrobe (with, I might add, both his shoes on). Had they become intimate at any time during the film, Mr. Flannagan never would have reported (more to himself than the detective he wished to hire), "I can't even get to first base with her." As said, that line was deliberately inserted so that the movie itself passed 'decency' standards, and that the viewer would understand no hanky panky had taken place whatsoever between Mr. Flannagan and Ariane.

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