Humphrey Bogart and William Holden as the Larrabee Brothers



Ever since I fell in love with Billy Wilder's 1954 romance Sabrina over a decade ago, I have found myself defending its most controversial element: Humphrey Bogart. With his craggy face and dour demeanor, the 54-year-old Bogart seems like the only misstep in a film that is otherwise pitch-perfect. But I think it is precisely because of his bizarre casting that the love story between Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina Fairchild and Bogie's Linus Larrabee blooms before us in such a sweet way.

Let me explain.

It has been said that Cary Grant was Wilder's first choice for the role of Linus, the responsible older brother of Sabrina's eternal crush, David (William Holden). While I will always mourn the loss of a Grant-Wilder collaboration, I have to wonder if he would've been right here. With his gorgeous, well, everything and knack for radiating warmth and geniality, it would've been difficult to buy Cary as an austere businessman who hasn't been interested in romance for years and never once caught Sabrina's eye -- not impossible, mind you, because I truly believe Cary was a better actor than he was ever given credit for, but still difficult. With Bogie as Linus, though, there are clearer obstacles to the character's happy ending. He isn't conventionally handsome; he is noticeably older than Sabrina, which he is very much aware of; and he absolutely presents as someone who has closed himself off from romance for quite some time (as one line goes, "Oh, you need dusting!") -- all of which makes his and Sabrina's feelings for each other that much more powerful. He never expected to find love, while she never expected to be swept off her feet by the sterner Larrabee brother.




Another reason why I love Bogart's casting is because it is just so oddball. Humphrey Bogart in a romantic comedy... by Billy Wilder... that has him win Audrey Hepburn... over William Holden?! Every bit of that sounds absurd, but the results are magical in my eyes. And how could it not be? This is a Bogie performance, after all! The man was one of our greatest actors, and I find his work in Sabrina to be woefully underrated. While he is admittedly a little stiff here -- perhaps inevitable since he didn't enjoy making the film and didn't get along with Wilder, Hepburn, and Holden -- Bogie possessed a deliciously wry humor and intimidating cerebral air that really bring Linus to life in understated but important ways. The quiet romanticism he had in films like Casablanca and Dark Passage is evident here, too.

And then there are his iconic mannerisms. The wolfish smile he flashes after he says a joke to David. The hilarious way he silently looks Holden over as he spies David hiding the champagne glasses in his pockets. The calculating glances he gives Sabrina as he lies to her, followed by the pained expressions when he realizes how much the truth will hurt her. The way he rubs his chin with his thumb and forefinger as he thinks.






The hesitance to accept Bogie is, I think, amplified by the presence of William Holden. With his deep tan, casual athleticism, and megawatt smile, Holden heightens the contrast between the two actors, which makes Bogie's age and appearance even more conspicuous. However, this contrast is a feature, not a bug. In his white tuxedo jacket and sparkling sports car, David is Prince Charming, the white knight, the moon that Sabrina has long been reaching for. But Wilder, Ernest Lehman, and Samuel Taylor's script subverts the fairy tale by shifting the focus and making Linus, in his black homburgs and somber suits, the dark horse that no one saw coming. In the end, David is only a fantasy -- a beautiful, sweet-talking fantasy that Sabrina can indulge in but must ultimately leave behind as she fully becomes a woman.







Unlike Bogie, Holden's performance has long been praised for its breezy, rakish charm, and rightfully so! The actor is delightful as a hedonistic, head-in-the-clouds pretty boy who elides commitment and consequences at every turn. Holden elevates everyone he is in a scene with, including Bogie, making the brotherly dynamic between Linus and David a joy to watch. Throughout the film, they only take each other at face value: Linus sees David as a vapid playboy while David believes his brother to be a boring stuffed shirt. Because of Sabrina, though, they both evolve and recognize how the other has changed. David becomes more responsible by going through with his marriage and the company's merger and by arranging Linus's reunion with Sabrina; Linus, meanwhile, is willing to ruin the merger by placing Sabrina's happiness before business.

Sabrina is incredibly special to me, and there is absolutely a soft spot in my heart for the Larrabee brothers and the performances of the men who portray them. Every viewing of the film leaves me just as besotted as the first one, and I will probably spend the rest of my life begging for justice for Bogie's casting. Which I think just means I'll be a really fun 80-year-old to be around.

__________________________________

This is my contribution to the Fifth Golden Boy Blogathon: A William Holden Celebration, hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema, The Flapper Dame, and myself. Check out the entries from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Comments

  1. That was a wonderful article, Michaela! One of your best in my opinion! Your love for that film is honest and shines through your writing and, consequently, you defend very well the casting choice of Humphrey Bogart! Although I would have definitely been curious to see Cary Grant in the role, I'm also of those people, like you, who don't necessarily think Bogart was mistake, but you explain in a much better way that I would have! Thanks so much for that great contribution and for co-hosting with me and Emily!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks! I wrote 95% of this in one sitting on the second day of the blogathon because of writer's block so I was definitely nervous about its quality. Your comment is very much appreciated!

      Delete
  2. You present a beautiful argument for Bogie being the right man in Sabrina. I adore Bill so much that I was angry at the ending. But I now see your point. The oddball casting and the redemption of BOTH men made for an unexpected but satisfying surprise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Bill is perfect here, so your anger was understandable. Not every guy can steal focus away from Bogie!

      Delete
  3. Beautiful article, Michaela! I adore your description of Bogie with his "quiet romanticism." Just brilliant. I must admit, upon my first viewings of Sabrina I wasn't enthralled with Bogie's casting, but as the years go by, I appreciate him more and more, and upon my latest viewing I can now say I see the tremendous value he brought to the film. And I love him in the role. The Bogie subtleties and his complete contrast with Holden are just two of the many aspects that you've so wonderfully outlined here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, thank you! There are a lot of shadings to Bogie's performance that I've come to notice over the years. It probably took me a dozen viewings just to realize Linus lied about his past romances to Sabrina, which is kind of embarrassing because it seems so obvious now. Apparently I wanted to believe him as much as Sabrina!

      Delete
  4. Michaela, I think you nailed it as to why people don't enjoy Sabrina- and why they should! Who could buy Cary as a guy who gave up on romance? NOT ME! For someone who did not want any part of this movie, Bogie was still a professional and the part of Linus as the stuff shirt, serious, workaholic get the job done brother suits him. I like you have a soft spot for Sabrina and did not fall for him in this movie at first- I watched the Country girl for that, came back to Sabrina and then fell in love with Holden as David! Sabrina is just a comfort movie- and one that people should accept more like you say! I had so much fun co-hosting with you and Ginnie! I wouldn't wanna co-host this event with any other ladies!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Emily! Sabrina is absolutely a comfort movie for me. Every time I watch it, I just grin the entire movie.

      Delete
  5. Hi, Casting against type can work, and Bogie would certainly make a case for it. I wonder if fans noticed the age difference more because nearly all the golden era actors from the '30s were now starring opposite actresses young enough to be their daughters or granddaughters. Wilder got the same criticism when he cast Gary Cooper opposite Audrey in "Love in the Afternoon."
    Bogie's one of my faves and he certainly showed his romantic side in "Casablanca." And I enjoy watching him in "Sabrina," though if Wilder had waited a few years, he could have cast Holden as the older brother. Cheers for your heartfelt case for Bogie! Rick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting point! Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon is another casting choice I have no real problem with, even though I know it bothers a lot of others. I think it's neat that Audrey got to star with such big '30s/'40s stars as Bogie, Cooper, and Fred Astaire (Funny Face). Do I wish they were closer in age? Eh, maybe, but it honestly doesn't affect my enjoyment of those films.

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
    2. Hi Michaela, to a point, I actually agree with you. Certain young actresses appeared with many of the golden era greats... and some fell in love with their older co-stars! Here's a treat for you, one of our faves, Doris Day in a '70s special, singing "The Way We Were" in tribute to her leading men, an amazing group! Cheers! Rick
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgBC-_gslgI

      Delete
    3. I actually watched that special for the first time on Doris's birthday a few weeks ago. Thank you for sharing! :)

      Delete
  6. According to what I have read, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden were very involved romantically and Bogart felt left out. He also did not like that Hepburn took so many takes to get it right. (This was her second movie lead.) Also I think Billy Wilder and William Holden were good friends. They had worked together on Sunset Boulevard and will work together in Stalag 17. Bogart and Wilder never worked together again but I liked Bogart in this role. --"Joe College with a touch of arthritis. Boolah, boolah..."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that line! There's a dry wit to Linus that Bogie just nails. And yes, I've read much of that as well. I think a lot of it came down to Bogie's working style not meshing with everyone else's -- which is bound to happen sometimes when you've been making movies for two decades like he had. At least we still got a marvelous movie out of it!

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  7. Completely agree! It would have been interesting to see Grant as Linus, but like you said, it would have been tough to buy him as Mr. All Business. Plus he's Cary Grant, so maybe he would have overshadowed Holden. "Sabrina" was definitely cast correctly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy to read that you agree! Cary Grant is my favorite actor, and it would've been fun to see him opposite Holden, but you just gotta wonder how it would've affected the dynamics in the film.

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  8. Fantastic post! I enjoy Sabrina immensely but never stopped to think if Bogie and Holden were the right choices for their roles. Turns out both were - even though Bogie sounds odd at first - and you wrote about both beautifully.
    Thanks for co-hosting this fun event!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! It's just so wild to me that Bogie did this movie. But I'm really grateful he did, and it's been nice to hear from others that they enjoy his casting, too.

      Delete
  9. I agree with all the other comments here. Your article is spot on! Beautifully written and insightful, I watch Sabrina often. It is a perfect film. I adore Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. But William Holden is sublime. Thanks for sharing your feelings!
    Linda Reynolds

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing yours! I agree, it's a perfect movie, and I'm amazed that even after watching it dozens of times, I still find something new with every viewing. Truly one of the greats!

      Delete

Post a Comment

You might've missed these popular posts...

Loving and Fighting Furiously: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Top Ten: Fred Astaire's Partners

Announcing the 100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon!

Announcing the Sixth Annual Doris Day Blogathon!

Bob, Bing, and Dottie take the... Road to Rio (1947)

The Fifth Annual Doris Day Blogathon is here!

Fred and Ginger's Cinematic Farewell: The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

Ann Sothern and Robert Young can't stop marrying each other in... Lady Be Good (1941)

Announcing the Fifth Doris Day Blogathon!

Esther Williams enthralls in... Dangerous When Wet (1953)