Unsung Classics 1: Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

Paris When It Sizzles is a hidden gem of a film. This remake of the 1952 French film Holiday For Henrietta is directed by Richard Quine, has a screenplay by Quine and Richard Axelrod and music by Nelson Riddle.There are cameos by Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra(his voice),Tony Curtis and Noel Coward.

It astonishes me how many classic film fans have either never seen this one, or they know it but never discuss it. I consider this to be one of the best and funniest films out there about the film making process. The film not only focuses upon the screenwriting process, but it also pokes fun at method acting,  film cliches, and also shows just how quickly plot ideas can change and how such ideas even come to be in the first place.

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Richard and Gabrielle share an intimate moment.

The film is also a very clever mix of genres. At one point it is a thriller, then a romance, whilst another scene finds us firmly in horror territory. The film also features an hysterical turn from Tony Curtis, as a young method actor featuring in several of the film’s possible script scenarios. Tony looks like he’s having so much fun sending up the method style. The film is basically one big in joke about the process of making films, and about the people who work in this industry behind and in front of the camera. Featuring some gorgeous photography in and around Paris, lots of humour and romance, and William Holden and Audrey Hepburn having a great deal of fun, what’s not to like?

Richard Benson (William Holden)is a cynical Hollywood screenwriter, a ladies man, who loves a drink or two, and is living in a Paris apartment. Hired months ago to write a new screenplay, he has in fact been spending his time having fun and hasn’t written a word! With his deadline fast approaching, he hires secretary Gabrielle(Audrey Hepburn)to help him begin and finish on time. As Richard comes up with possible script scenarios we actually see his ideas as film scenes on screen, featuring William and Audrey playing the various main characters. While all this is going on, Richard is finding himself falling in love with Gabrielle, but does she share and return his feelings? 

William has a ball playing various fictional adventurous leading men, and even a charming vampire! Audrey shows a real gift for comedy as the secretary caught up in imagination, and as the various fictional leading ladies of Richard’s scenarios.

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Audrey and William. Image source IMDb.

This was the second time Audrey and William had worked together on screen, the first being in Sabrina(1954). During the making of Sabrina the pair fell in love, but Audrey ended their relationship because William had had a vasectomy and Audrey desperately wanted children. It was difficult for William to make Paris When It Sizzles, as he still had feelings for Audrey, and at this time he was also drinking rather heavily. There are moments in this film when he looks at her and you can tell that it is not his character looking at her with longing, it is William himself looking at the woman he loves.

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William and Audrey on location. Image source IMDb.

It’s quite painful to watch them at times actually in this one because you feel William’s longing, and when you know what was going on behind the scenes your heart goes out to him. It must have been agony for him to have been so close to her and knowing he couldn’t have her. That agony and longing in a weird way actually works for the film. William’s character, Richard Benson, finds himself more and more attracted to his secretary, but he finds it difficult to pursue his feelings when they have work to do and he’s also not sure if she returns his feelings.

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The bath on a film set scene. Screenshot by me.

The vampire grotto sequence is one of my favourite scenes in the whole film, as a romantic afternoon lunch suddenly takes a turn into the realms of darkness the bizarre, as William’s charming playboy is revealed to be a vampire. It’s funny and ridiculous at the same time. I’d love to know where that beautiful waterfall/park they go into during this scene is located? It looks gorgeous. I also like the fountains featured in the final scene.I also love the scene in the film studio featuring Audrey as a sexy woman of the streets taking a bubble bath on an exotic set.

Great fun, and highly recommended to fans of Holden and Hepburn. This flick deserves to be better known. Spread the word, folks!

If you’re already a fan of this one, please share your thoughts on the film.

 

3 thoughts on “Unsung Classics 1: Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

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