Remake Rumble:  Sabrina (1954) vs Sabrina (1995)

Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford in their respective version of Sabrina
Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford
Remake Rumble Opening Banner - Sabrina (1954) vs. Sabrina (1995)

After last week’s post, reader rdfranciswriter commented:

So let’s do one last Remake Rumble for 2021, shall we?

The story of Sabrina Fairchild and the brothers who courted her originally flowed from the pen of playwright Samuel A. Taylor as Sabrina Fair:  A Woman of the World that opened on Broadway in 1953 starring Margaret Sullavan (last seen in this series in The Shop Around the Corner) and Joseph Cotton (last seen here as Joan Fontaine’s lover in September Affair.) 

The next year Billy Wilder set to write, produce, and direct a film version of the play and assembled a powerhouse cast—Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden.  The foursome would end their careers with 32 Oscar nominations and 9 wins among them, with each of the leads having a Best Acting Oscar on their shelf.

Sabrina tells the story of Sabrina Fairchild (Hepburn), a gawky chauffeur’s daughter who lives on the estate of the wealthy Larrabee family.  She has forever had a schoolgirl crush on David Larrabee (Holden), the much older playboy who flits from woman to woman and barely knows Sabrina is alive.

But when she returns after two years in France all grown up, hair cut short and dressed like, well, Audrey Hepburn, David is instantly infatuated with her, not immediately realizing she’s a girl he’s known all his life.  His fiancé forgotten, he invites Sabrina to one of the Larrabee parties and suddenly she’s Cinderella at the ball, on the inside instead of watching the festivities from her perch in a tree.

Audrey Hepburn and William Holden in Sabrina (1954)
Audrey Hepburn, William Holden

But this will not do.

David’s mother is dismayed at the idea of him parading a servant’s daughter in front of their high-class friends, but his older brother Linus (Bogart) is against the relationship for an entirely different reason.  Linus is the one who does all the work in the family, running their massive empire, practically living in his office.  He’s arranged David’s upcoming marriage to Elizabeth Tyson like an ancient king, a bargaining chip to foster a merger between her family’s company and his own.

Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden in Sabrina (1954)
Hollywood Royalty: Bogart, Hepburn, Holden

Knowing David’s short attention span (and not suspecting Sabrina’s lifelong devotion to him), Linus sets on wooing Sabrina away from David and then tricking her into sailing back to Paris, believing that he will meet her on the boat.

But ruthless Linus is soon under Sabrina’s spell, and she begins to wonder if she’s loved the wrong brother all these years….

Sydney Pollack’s 1995 remake keeps the spirit of the original in-tact and makes some minor improvements.  Sabrina (this time played by Julia Ormond) spends her time working for Vogue magazine, and this explains her fashion transformation better than the original, where she studies at a cooking school.

There is also a more pronounced physical change in Sabrina and it’s much more believable that David wouldn’t recognize her.

Greg Kinnear, Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford in Sabrina (1995)
Greg Kinnear, Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford

He also somewhat shrinks the age difference between his leads—Harrison Ford is twenty-three years older than Ormond, and looks younger than his years.  Bogart was thirty years older than Hepburn, and looked even older, as his health had begun to suffer (he would be dead within three years of Sabrina’s release.)

The Larrabee corporation is updated to buying and selling networks and televisions, cutting edge technology for the 1990’s.

And Linus buys Sabrina a plane ticket to Paris rather than a cabin on an ocean liner.

Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond in Sabrina (1995)
Ford, Ormond

But the broad strokes remain.  We still get to see David the playboy in action, a lovesick girl grow into a sophisticated woman, and Linus’ gradual realization that there’s more to life than the next big deal.  We also get to see David punch out his brother when he realizes just what Linus has been up to, and also see David finally grow up and do what’s best for his family’s company—and his brother.

As to the verdict?

Come on.  This is the Golden Age of Hollywood blog.  If I picked a 1995 remake over a film tailor-made for legend of legends Audrey Hepburn, with three Oscar winners in the lead roles and a multi-winner in the director’s chair, I’d lose my license to write here.

Remake Rumble Winner:  Sabrina (1954)

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford in their respective version of Sabrina

Double Indemnity (1944): The Crown Jewel of Film Noir

#25 Golden Age of Hollywood Series

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in a scene from Double Indemnity (1944)
Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in a scene from Double Indemnity.
Double Indemnity (1944) opening

If you’re a baby boomer, when you think of Barbara Stanwyck, you think of The Big Valley, which ran for four seasons in the late sixties.  Stanwyck played Victoria Barkley, the tough matriarch who ruled the Barkley family in the wilds of 1870’s California.

But if you’re a film buff, you think of a cheap blonde wig and an ankle bracelet that seduced Fred MacMurray into murder.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in a scene from Double Indemnity (1944)

You think of Double Indemnity.

Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson, the fatalist femme in film noir.  

Stanwyck had made her career playing hard-boiled dames with soft centers, and Fred MacMurray was the affable everyman who ceded the spotlight to his female co-stars.  

Neither Stanwyck nor MacMurray had ever played characters as rotten as Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff, the lethal housewife and willing insurance salesman who plot to murder Phyllis’ husband and abscond with the insurance money.

The results are electric.

Walter burns for Phyllis with a combustible mix of lust and greed that ultimately sours to revulsion.

And Phyllis?  She’s one cold fish from wire to wire. 

To satisfy the production code, Walter Neff murders Mr. Dietrichson off-screen.  Instead we see only a close up of Stanwyck as Phyllis.  She doesn’t watch the murder of her husband inches away, but stares straight ahead with a look of almost sexual satisfaction that will make your blood run cold.

Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) drives while Walter breaks her husband's neck in Double Indemnity (1944)
Phyllis drives while Walter breaks her husband’s neck

Things go wrong, of course.  Walter’s murder isn’t as perfect as he believes, and he’s dogged by his conscience and a suspicious insurance claims man.  

Phyllis and Walter soon wish to be rid of one another, but the murder between them binds them tighter than lust or money.

Events spiral out of control with consequences lethal to more than just Mr. Dietrichson.

Double Indemnity is number 29 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Movies.  It’s on every list of the greatest film noirs, often in the top spot.

It’s a classic about the rotten core of humanity, and the whole film orbits around Stanwyck’s performance.

And still she didn’t win the Best Actress Oscar.  Once again she competed in a stacked field and lost to Ingrid Bergman for her performance in Gaslight.

Two women at the top of their game—it’s a shame one of them had to lose.

But as we’ll see next week, Stanwyck had one more chance at the golden statuette, and it all begins with a late night phone call.

Double Indemnity (1944) Verdict:  Timeless - Watch It Tonight

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in a scene from Double Indemnity (1944)