Holden and Hepburn are screwballs in... Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

Paris When It Sizzles is weird. It has many scenes that will either make you giddy with disbelief or frustrated. Personally, I've always enjoyed the film -- why else would I be writing about it? -- but others love nothing more than to tear it to pieces. Is it a masterpiece? Oh goodness, no. Is it ridiculous, silly, and bizarre? Oh, yes! I would be the first to admit that Paris... is not for everybody, but I happen to think its positives outweigh the negatives.

One very big positive is the cast. Audrey Hepburn and William Holden were a really good team, yet they only made two films, this one and Sabrina. The latter film saw Holden losing Audrey to Humphrey Bogart, so it's nice to see Holden get the girl this time. (And naturally Audrey is in chic Givenchy!) Noel Coward has a supporting role, but my favorite favorite favorite supporting role goes to Tony Curtis, who wasn't even put on the poster and must have came as quite the surprise to the audience back then -- I was certainly shocked when I first saw it.

With a Bloody Mary in hand, Richard Benson (Holden) sunbathes on the terrace of his Parisian apartment. What he should be doing is writing his screenplay for producer Alexander Meyerheim (Noel Coward), but writing has become joyless for Richard, a mechanical thing rather than a passionate one. That only slightly changes when Gabrielle Simpson (Hepburn) shows up. Richard had telephoned an agency for a typist, and Gabrielle's his gal. She's all ready to get to work, but Richard shocks her by revealing that, well, there is no script. All he has are blank pages and the title "The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower." Oh, and did he mention that they have just two days to whip something together?

Gabrielle is already feeling stressed, but she's worked with unorthodox people before, recounting her time with a New Wave director who makes films about nothing. (A sample title: The Scrabble Game Will Not Take Place.) Richard is pretty disgusted with these new, hip filmmakers, frequently cracking wise about the ridiculousness of Method actors and such, yet the film never names names. Any kind of movie is fair game, though, be it old-fashioned or not. Throughout Paris..., mockeries will be made of lots of things, creating a very intertextual film. Anyway, Richard and Gabrielle get to work, as he describes in detail the opening credits, complete with a title song from Frank Sinatra (alas, he only gets to sing one line, but you can bet that it's still sung gorgeously).

We then go into the film-within-the-film, also known as Richard's imagination. He begins with a mysterious woman in black, looking at her watch atop the Eiffel Tower. But that's scrapped in favor of something more glamorous, like... Marlene Dietrich pulling up to Dior in a shiny Bentley! The beautiful star appears, looking wonderful as ever. Funny story: in a deleted scene, Dietrich picked out an ermine coat in Dior and once the cameras stopped rolling, she decided she wanted to keep it. Producer and screenwriter George Axelrod was confident that he could get Dietrich to forget it. He returned minutes later and said, "She gets the coat -- and the limo." Oh, Marlene.

For the rest of Paris..., Richard and Gabrielle take us into their imaginations and create many amusing sequences where they picture themselves as their script's protagonists. There are also moments when they get swept away by their writing. When Gabrielle wakes up in the morning, for instance, she hears the lovely voice of Fred Astaire singing "That Face." She then opens her bedroom door to find a trail of pages leading her throughout the apartment until she finds Richard. He twirls her around a few times, dips her, and just when they are about to kiss, he sharply says "Unfortunately, Ms. Simpson, we are not writing a musical." There is no way that this scene isn't a reference to Funny Face, right? Watch it for yourself here.

The movie that Gabrielle and Richard are writing ultimately becomes a spy thriller with "switch after switch after switch." There are some genuinely surprising moments that happen during their movie, so I'm going to refrain from spoiling anything. The script goes through multiple mood and genre shifts, allowing us to see Holden and Hepburn in scenes that we were never able to witness in their
own careers, such as Holden playing a vampire who goes after Hepburn. Their acting is outrageous and over-the-top, but that's kind of the whole point. It wants to make fun of Hollywood. Whether or not it succeeds is entirely up to your tastes. Some things land flat, while others never fail to make me giggle.

Speaking of giggling... it's time we talk about Tony Curtis. Due to difficulties with Holden (more on that
in a bit), the filmmakers decided to include cameos like Dietrich's and asked Curtis to come in for a small part in order to film things that didn't require Holden. Curtis only appears in the film-within-the-film, but he is just so fabulous. Playing a self-centered jerk with a twist (again, no spoilers), Curtis made the most of his appearance. You can watch his first scene here, as narrated by Richard.

 
Paris... was filmed in the summer of 1962 on location; in the fall, Hepburn made one of her best films, Charade. The studio wasn't entirely impressed with Paris..., shelving it for two years. Holden and Hepburn had been very much in love during production of Sabrina in 1954, despite Holden's marriage. The romance was quickly ended, though, when Audrey discovered that Bill had had a vasectomy before they met, making it impossible for them to have children, the one thing Audrey wanted most in the world. She married Mel Ferrer later that year.

By 1962, Holden's alcoholism was in full force, causing director Richard Quine to rent a house next to the actor's to keep watch over him. On top of that, Holden was very nervous about working with his ex: "I remember the day I arrived at Orly Airport for Paris When It Sizzles. I could hear my footsteps echoing against the walls of the transit corridor, just like a condemned man walking the last mile. I realized that I had to face Audrey and I had to deal with my drinking. And I didn’t think I could handle either situation." Quine was able to convince Holden to go for a week-long treatment towards the end of production. (It was during that time that producer George Axelrod hired Curtis.) When Holden came back, he got right back into trouble -- he bought a Ferrari and crashed it into a wall, putting his arm in a splint. It's amazing that most of these stories didn't get out to the press at the time.

The production was probably awkward for Holden and Hepburn, but I imagine it was made even more tense when Mel Ferrer was given a quick cameo in a costume party sequence masquerading as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although Paris... doesn't capture the former lovers' chemistry like Sabrina does, there is still a spark there and it appears that the actors were civil to one another. I haven't found any stories of them behaving unprofessionally towards each other, so that's nice.

Paris When It Sizzles is a tricky film to sell to others, particularly because it has this reputation of being a huge flop. It doesn't always stay sharp and it can feel unfocused at times, but it is an enjoyable way to spend your time. The movie references fly fast and furious, and the cameos are like catnip to classic film fans. Holden and Hepburn are charmingly amusing, and if Tony Curtis does nothing for you in this movie, I may need to rethink our friendship.






















With love,
Michaela

__________________

This is part of the Second Golden Boy Blogathon, celebrating the irresistible William Holden. Click here to see the other entries.

Comments

  1. I remember this being on at my aunt's house once, sort of in the background. Although I wasn't able to watch it closely at the time, what I did see seemed very unusual and intriguing, and your post reinforces that impression. I'll have to add this one to my watch list -- it sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for writing about it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading! It's certainly an odd duck, but there is a lot of fun to be had from it. Hope you enjoy!

      Delete
  2. H'm. This film sounds like they bit off more than they could chew, but worth the look of a movie geek. Certainly, any time spent with Holden and Hepburn is not time wasted. I get a great kick out of Tony Curtis, so you have convinced me to check this out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope I'm not overselling Curtis here, but I think you'll love his appearance. The rest of the film is quite intriguing. It can't top the likes of, say, Charade or Sabrina, but it's a good effort.

      Delete
  3. Wonderful post and images as always! Audrey as an aviatrix! (or at least dressed like one. I may need to borrow it. ;-))

    I actually do really enjoy this film. I know it's not perfect. I also don't care. Audrey and Bill are my two ultimates forever and ever, and I think they're both so sublime. And I have a crush on Gabrielle, I really do. I am glad that they did get along during filming, although it was really painful for Bill, but it didn't affect Audrey at all.

    Thanks for highlighting such a unique film!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Simoa! I love this one too, despite its imperfections. When I was taking screenshots, I thought I'd just grab five or so. I forgot how many moments I adore looking at in this movie. Audrey and Bill were just so thoroughly comfortable, with themselves and with each other.

      I was thumbing through one of my Audrey coffee table books the other night and there were some great set photos where Audrey and Bill were smiling and laughing. There was actually an interesting shot of them laughing with Capucine, who used to date Holden and who had been friends with Audrey for years thanks to Capucine's past modeling career with Givenchy. The things you find out...

      Delete
    2. Ohh that reminds me, there's a really hysterical shot from the set of this film in one of my books as well. I actually scanned it so it's floating around somewhere. I don't think I've ever seen that photo. :o and I so wish there were more photos of her with Capucine.

      Delete
    3. Right? They were both amazing models -- why didn't Richard Avedon or Bob Willoughby think of this?!

      I'll have to see if I can scan the photo. Scanning a big coffee table book is always an adventure.

      Delete
  4. Ouf! I was glad to read that becuse I saw this film quite a long time ago, so your well-detailed review certainly refreshed my memory! I remember somhow liking it (not love it), but I'm curious to see it again now!
    I didn't remember Noel Coward had a role! :O Pretty interesting. I think what I remember the most is the end and the vampire scene.
    The concept of this film is pretty cool I think. Not the first time our Golden Boy plays a screenwriter ;) - Last minute scrip? I can relate to that lol!
    I really enjoyed your great review as it was written in both a clever and highly entertaining way! I think people will definitely want to give a chance to this film now. :)
    On an aside note: reading about Bill's alchoolism always makes me sad. :(
    Thanks so much for participating to this blogathon! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That vampire scene is pretty memorable -- I'm not sure anyone could forget it. ;)

      I really enjoy the concept. It's kind of risky and there is a delicate balance that has to be made, so I can forgive the film for not hitting all the right notes. It couldn't have been easy.

      His alcoholism makes me sad, too. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if he and Audrey had been able to stay together. Maybe he would've been happier, maybe not.

      Thanks for having me! I was so sad last year when I had to drop out, so I was more than happy to bring Paris When It Sizzles this year.

      Delete
    2. I agree with you about the Funny Face tribute.The sweet,shy smile on Bill's face is the same smile I have seen on Fred Astaire's face when he gazes at his female co-star throughout his many films.

      Delete
    3. Isn't that such a lovely moment? It's got to be a tribute to the dark room scene in Funny Face.

      Delete
  5. I do like the sound of Paris When It Sizzles. Can you believe I still haven’t seen an Audrey Hepburn film! This might be the perfect introduction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's crazy! This film would be a good intro. Charade, Sabrina, or Roman Holiday would be excellent too.

      Delete
  6. Oh my goodness! I had no idea that THAT is what this movie was about. I... thought it was a caper film, like "How to Steal a Million." Huh. Weird. As I was reading your review, I started to think this sounds a lot like the 2003 movie "Alex and Emma," which I get a huge kick out of. Sure enough, that's sort-of a remake of this. Actually, the internet says they're both loosely based on the way Russian novelist Dostoyevsky met his wife. Huh! Well, now I HAVE to see this movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's so weird! I had no idea that was its origin.

      In a roundabout way, it kind of is a caper film... just not how you would usually see it. ;)

      Delete
    2. Amazon Prime video has it for a reasonable price, so I've added it to my watchlist :-)

      Delete
  7. I Love this flick. It's one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
    I can only watch it when my wife isn't home or sleeping.
    Recently bought the soundtrack CD. It's a 2-disc deal including the original Nelson Rddle score, plus the album presentation put out on Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records.

    Fred Astaire's THAT FACE its taken from directly from The soundtrack of
    Another Evening With Fred Astaire in 1959. Fred sings it to Barrie Chase
    He also recorded it for Verve Records in 1957.

    Noel Coward's great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the info! I was wondering where the Astaire song came from. I thought maybe he had recorded it for the film. I forgot to mention Nelson Riddle's score! Shame on me.

      Delete
  8. Honestly I don't love this movie- but I own it- because I will watch bill and audrey together in anything, doing anything- THEIR CHEMISTRY IS OFF THE CHARTS- the dance sequence, the scenes they have together (fans self!!) . Ahh Bill- wish they made more films together- and they will forever be a couple I wished would have been together!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They really were fantastic together, weren't they? If their chemistry hadn't been so amazing, the film would have been in a lot of trouble. They're able to sell it. I think we'll always wonder what could have been, though, had they done more together.

      Delete
  9. Great Post. I have not seen this movie. Will have to seek it out. I invite you to submit your post to this week's The Classic Movie Marathon Link Party http://classicmovietreasures.com/the-classic-movie-marathon-link-party-4/

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

You might've missed these popular posts...

Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961)

The One Lovely Blog Award.

Loving and Fighting Furiously: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Announcing the Doris Day Blogathon!

The Loss of Gene Wilder.

Announcing the Vincente Minnelli Blogathon!

10 days until the Vincente Minnelli blogathon!

The Czech Méliès: Karel Zeman

Top Ten: Fred Astaire's Partners

Merman, O'Connor, Ellen, and Sanders stun in... Call Me Madam (1953)