Audrey Hepburn movies at LACMA
“Audrey Hepburn: Then, Now and Forever” is the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art (website) film series that kicks off with a double bill this evening: Roman Holiday (1953), the Audrey Hepburn movie that made her both a Hollywood star and a Best Actress Academy Award winner, and Peter Bogdanovich’s little-seen They All Laughed (1981), Hepburn’s last starring role in a feature film. Bogdanovich will introduce the screening.
The Audrey Hepburn Style
Classy without being aloof; sophisticated without being snotty; cute without being coy. That pretty much sums up Audrey Hepburn’s screen presence. Hepburn could be hilarious, e.g., doing her best to seduce Cary Grant in Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963); she could be moving, e.g., as the nun who discovers that her true vocation lies outside convent walls in Fred Zinnemann’s The Nun’s Story (1959); she could be ethereal, e.g., singing (with Marni Nixon’s voice) about dancing all night in George Cukor’s Oscar-winning My Fair Lady (1964).
“She was like velvet to work with,” Robert Wagner is quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. Hepburn also sounded like velvet, and looked quite alluring whether in velvet, satin, or silk. In fact, she’d have been ideal in the Anne Hathaway role in The Devil Wears Prada. Come to think of it, I could also picture her in the unsympathetic Meryl Streep role as well, which says quite a bit about the potential range of Hepburn’s talents, which remained mostly underused during her years as a star.
Perhaps studios, producers, and directors felt audiences would be incapable of seeing Audrey Hepburn as anything else but “innocent” – i.e., desexualized – heroines. And perhaps they were right. Several quotes in the Times piece, for instance, make Hepburn sound like someone about ready to be canonized.
Personally, I find it hard not to believe that in real life she was much more complex than her runaway princess in Roman Holiday, her bowdlerized Holly Golightly in Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or her infatuated chauffeur’s daughter in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina.
Surprisingly, considering how well known Audrey Hepburn remains today, the Belgian-born actress (May 4, 1929, to Anglo-Dutch parents) had a relatively brief stardom, which came to an abrupt halt decades ago: Hepburn remained at the top for fifteen years, from 1953-1967.
For a couple of years before that period, Hepburn could be spotted in bit parts and in a supporting role or two in British films (e.g., The Lavender Hill Mob, Laughter in Paradise). After 1967, she all but retired from films, making only sporadic appearances every few years or so, none of which were box office successes.
Those latter-day Audrey Hepburn movies were the following: Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian (1976), looking quite a bit older opposite Sean Connery; Terence Young’s widely panned mystery thriller Bloodline (1979); Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed (1981); Roger Young’s TV movie Love Among Thieves (1987); and a supporting role as an angel in Steven Spielberg’s remake of A Guy Named Joe, Always (1989), her last film role.
Audrey Hepburn: Older Men Magnet
(Image: Audrey Hepburn Sabrina, with Humphrey Bogart.) One thing that I find curious about Hepburn’s career is that her gamine charms often resulted in her being paired with men old enough to be her father. Among those were Humphrey Bogart (30 years older) in Sabrina, Henry Fonda (24 years older) in King Vidor’s War and Peace, Gary Cooper (28 years) in Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon, Fred Astaire (30) in Stanley Donen’s Funny Face, Cary Grant (25) in Charade, and Rex Harrison (21) in My Fair Lady.
It’s kinda kinky if you think about it; it’s as if those older dudes wanted to both adopt her and have sex with/make love to her. But then again, Hepburn’s characters were never shy wallflowers, passively waiting to be plucked. Indeed, in Charade she does a beautiful job as the sexual “aggressor” – I’m using the term here in honor of those who can think of sex only in terms of predator/prey – hounding Cary Grant until he finally (sort of) gives in.
Most of the Audrey Hepburn films mentioned in the previous post will be screened in LACMA’s “Then, Now and Forever” series.
Not to be missed is one of Hepburn’s lesser-known efforts, Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road (1967), which pairs the actress with Albert Finney in this comedy-drama about the evolving (or perhaps devolving) marriage of a British couple. She may be a “bitch”; he may be a “bastard”; the institution of marriage may not be all it’s cracked up to be – but Two for the Road is a delight all the same. Frederic Raphael’s witty screenplay was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award.
Two Audrey Hepburn movies that should be seen on the big screen are the mammoth musical My Fair Lady and the elephantine war drama War and Peace (1956).
War and Peace, which earned King Vidor an Academy Award nomination, has both its fans and its detractors. This film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s much-admired (and much-meandering) classic looks gorgeous even on the small screen; I’m assuming it’ll look jaw-droppingly beautiful on the big screen. Audrey Hepburn is a charming Natasha Rostova and Mel Ferrer (Hepburn’s then-husband) is a believable Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, but Henry Fonda as Prince Bezukhov was a big, big mistake. Weren’t Robert Morley, Alec Guinness, or even John Mills available?
In recent years, 1964 Best Picture Oscar winner My Fair Lady has been (in my view, unfairly) downgraded from “classic” to “bloated” musical. Perhaps those people have watched it only on the small screen (or youtube), with commercials. I did catch My Fair Lady on the big screen, in a brand new print, and it was a magical experience – and this from someone who’s hardly what you’d call a fan of ’60s musicals. In fact, I find the vast majority of those – The Sound of Music, Oliver!, and Hello, Dolly! come immediately to mind – big, bland, and boring.
But My Fair Lady is different. The film boasts songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe; the presence of Audrey Hepburn, Oscar winner Rex Harrison, Oscar nominees Gladys Cooper and Stanley Holloway, in addition to Jeremy Brett singing “On the Street Where You Live.” Plus cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr (Funny Girl, Gypsy), production and costume design by Cecil Beaton (Gigi, Vivien Leigh’s Anna Karenina), and editing by William H. Ziegler (Rebel Without a Cause, Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz). Check it out.
Blind Audrey Hepburn and Coveted Heroin
I’ve never watched Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark (1967, right) on the big screen – perhaps I should. Plot holes aside, the film could be a guilty treat. I remember a friend telling me that when he saw it at a revival house a number of years ago, just about every audience member screamed when Alan Arkin … well, never mind. Go see it.
For her troubles as a blind woman with a heroin-stuffed doll in her house (she doesn’t know about the goodies), Audrey Hepburn was nominated for that year’s Best Actress Oscar. (She lost out to another Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, making her big comeback in Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.)
At the 1993 Oscar ceremony, Audrey Hepburn was named a recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her work as a special UNICEF ambassador. Hepburn had died of cancer earlier in the year; one of her sons accepted the award.
“My career is a complete mystery to me,” Hepburn is quoted as saying on LACMA’s website. “I never thought I was going to be an actress; I never thought I was going to be in movies. I never thought it would all happen the way it did.”
Well, the movies are richer because things happened the way they did.
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Screening schedule and synopses from LACMA’s press release:
October 23 | 7:30 pm | Introduction by Peter Bogdanovich
Cloistered in a Roman palace on a brief state visit and yearning for a taste of la dolce vita, a young princess from an unnamed European country breaks curfew and hits the town, where too much champagne propels her straight into the arms of an accommodating American—a reporter who knows an exclusive story when it wakes up in his apartment, needing coffee and a new outfit for the scooter. Love blossoms when they set off on a magical mystery tour of the great monuments of the Eternal City; but as protocol and a ticking clock gradually darken this enchanting fairy tale, Wyler shifts the tone of the film from light-hearted to bittersweet. According to Wyler, “it was marvelous to shoot in Rome (and) Audrey was absolutely enchanting… There were practically no automobiles in 1952, only scooters, and I had a choice of four locations for each scene. A director’s dream.” Off camera, Peck fell in love with a French reporter whom he married a year later, and Audrey landed on the cover of Time magazine a week after the film premiered at Radio City Music Hall. A star was born.
1953/b&w/118 min. | Scr: Ian McLellan Hunter, John Dighton; dir: William Wyler; w/ Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck.
They All Laughed
October 23 | 9:40 pm
Private detectives Gazzara and Ritter follow two women (Stratten in her first starring role, and Hepburn in her last) suspected of cheating on their husbands around Manhattan. “Shot entirely on location, this improvisatory film captures a New York rarely seen in movies. Bogdanovich avoided well-known locations, instead finding landmarks known only to New Yorkers—brownstone apartment buildings, marble courthouses, hip shoe stores, white sidewalks, busy street-corners. Propelled by a soundtrack that mixes country hits with pop standards by Sinatra and Louie Armstrong, the film at times feels like a musical, with its long dialogue-free sequences of characters following each other, bumping into each other, watching each other through windows, falling in love. In places They All Laughed is so unabashedly personal that certain viewers may flinch from the self-exposure. Ritter’s character is openly a Bogdanovich surrogate and he helps Stratten escape an overbearing, jealous husband. The romance between Hepburn and Gazzara is rooted in their real-life affair, and the regret felt by Hepburn’s character references her own status as an aging star. This is less a work of fiction than a scrapbook of emotions and moods, a kind of memoir-as-cinema; and the film refuses to deliver the expected happy ending—the love here is avowedly not meant to be.”—Patrick McKay, Stylus Magazine.
1981/color/115 min. | Scr/dir: Peter Bogdanovich; w/ Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Dorothy Stratten.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
October 24 | 7:30 pm
Truman Capote’s sardonic novella, about an aspiring writer who moves to New York and becomes embroiled in the troubled life of the beautiful girl next door, was adapted by writer Axelrod into a romantic comedy in which two attractive misfits look for love and truth in a now-vanished New York of fire escapes, two-toned cabs and bohemian parties. Hepburn was not the obvious choice to play the unstable Holly Golightly, a backwoods runaway who consorts with gangsters and survives on $50 for the powder room, but she is brilliant in the role: not only does she epitomize the stylish, adorable eccentric at the core of Edwardss’ film, she projects the frustration and despair of Capote’s hooker who, despite her façade of New York sophistication, is surrounded by super rats and increasingly afflicted by the mean reds, a condition cured only by window shopping at Tiffany’s at dawn. “Standing outside Manhattan’s famous jewelry store in the film’s opening scene, the actress never looked more luminous or enchanting. Add classic cinematic moments like Hepburn singing Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” or searching for her beloved cat named Cat in the pouring rain, and you have one of Hollywood’s most unforgettable romantic dramas.”—1000 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
Two for the Road
October 24 | 9:35 pm
Two for the Road is a loving yet realistic portrait of one British couple whose marital ups and downs over a 15-year period are seen only during their annual car trips in Europe. Raphael’s meticulously constructed and often sardonic script (later nominated for an Oscar) uses repeated dialogue and recurring locations—plus changing fashions in cars, clothes and hair styles—as visual cues that allow Donen to cut among road trips past, present and future, thus providing a multifaceted view of a relationship shaped by optimism, coincidence, habit, and harsh confrontation. Hepburn, whom Donen envisioned in the role of the wife, overcame her initial reluctance to play a character who commits adultery, and understandable doubts about a wardrobe consisting of twenty-nine trendy outfits none of them by Givenchy, and (in Donen’s words) “was entirely cooperative,” thus freeing her favorite director to draw from her “a depth of emotion, care, yearning and maturity… that makes it Audrey’s best performance.” For many, Two for the Road is also Donen’s best performance: “It stands the test of time. It is his most personal film and his most passionate. It moves to his rhythm. It reflects his originality. And it has a lyricism all its own.”—Stephen Silverman, Dancing on the Ceiling.
October 30 | 7:30 pm
Building on the success of Roman Holiday, Paramount cast Hepburn as Sabrina, the daughter of a chauffeur on a Long Island estate who has been transformed from an ugly duckling into an elegant swan after two years in Paris. Formerly invisible to the two wealthy brothers who employ her father, Sabrina now finds herself juggling the attentions of a handsome party boy with three ex-wives and a fiancée, and those of his older brother, a dour businessman who feigns romantic interest to keep her from interfering with his brother’s lucrative marriage. Billy Wilder, one of the studio’s top directors, had honed his comedy skills at Paramount during the reign of Ernst Lubitsch, and, though he shared none of his mentor’s affection for the foibles of the rich, he brought a sophistication and wit to the film that delighted audiences and allowed his leading lady to shine. “It’s a Cinderella story that gets turned on its head, a satire about breaking down class and emotional barriers, and a confrontation between New World callousness and Old World humanity. And getting to this characteristic Wilder reversal of roles is romantic, funny and astringent all at the same time.—Time Out.
1954/b&w/113 min. | Scr: Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor, Ernest Lehman; dir: Billy Wilder; w/ Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden.
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon
Love in the Afternoon
October 30 | 9:35 pm
Love in the Afternoon, Wilder’s long awaited tribute to his idol Ernst Lubitsch, is based on a French novel and tells the story of Ariane, an innocent young cello student in Paris whose father is a detective, played by Chevalier, the star of four Lubitsch musicals. In order to spark the romantic interest of Frank, an American millionaire and notorious playboy ensconced at the Ritz, Ariane assumes the guise of a sophisticated woman of affairs; but when Frank hires Ariane’s father to investigate the mysterious girl who only visits him in the afternoon, complications arise. Despite the luminous cinematography and lavish production values—for a scene at the Paris Opera, Wilder put 960 extras in evening gowns and white tails; and in order to shoot at will in the Ritz, he had a replica of the hotel’s second floor complete with working elevators built by Alexandre Trauner, the renowned set designer of Children of Paradise and Riffifi—this cinematic labor of love was clearly out of step with the times and a critical and box office failure. Today the continental charms of Love in the Afternoon are easier to appreciate: critic Richard Corliss notes that “the film reverberates with Lubitschian touches, Ophulsian caresses, and the gentle fatalism characteristic of both these directors. It is no coincidence that the film’s plot carries melancholy echoes of Letter from an Unknown Woman, or that Cooper’s rainy, five p.m. departure from a Paris train station evokes memories of the Bogart-Bergman estrangement in Casablanca. Wilder is operating in the same area of old-young, cynical-idealistic romance, where love must be frustrated before it can be fulfilled.”
1957/b&w/130 min.| Scr: Billy Wilder, I. A. L. Diamond; dir: Billy Wilder; w/ Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Maurice Chevalier.
November 6 | 7:30 pm
Donen worked closely with writer Peter Stone on this North by Northwest- inspired film that alternates high suspense and grisly murder with comedy and romance. The story of a woman who realizes she knows absolutely nothing about her murdered husband, and who seeks help from an attractive stranger when her husband’s criminal cohorts threaten her life, Charade is a series of stylish twists and romantic reversals that allowed Donen to display his directorial mastery of innuendo-laden dialogue, striking camera angles, and breathless pacing. An enormous hit with audiences—it played New York’s Radio City Hall at Christmas and well beyond—Charade remains one of the iconic Audrey Hepburn pictures, complete with romantic Paris settings, clothes by Givenchy, and a lilting Henry Mancini score.
1963/color/113 min. | Scr: Peter Stone; dir: Stanley Donen; w/ Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn.
Wait Until Dark
November 6 | 9:35 pm
In his hit Broadway play Wait Until Dark (Lee Remick was the lead on stage) Frederick Knott, the screenwriter of Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Dial M for Murder, returned to the theme of a woman alone and under attack by an intruder in her home and tightened the screws in two important ways: the terrorized heroine was blind, and the man trying to kill her was a psychopath. In the film version, Hepburn brings the full force of her acting skills, both technical and emotional, to the role of Suzy Hendrix, the “number one blind lady” who gradually realizes that a cache of heroin has been hidden in her Greenwich Village apartment and that the various men who keep coming to her door are ruthless thugs who will stop at nothing to get their stash. Alan Arkin in his first dramatic role is a taunting sarcastic villain who takes pleasure in provoking Suzy’s rising hysteria, and the deadly cat and mouse game that Hepburn and Arkin play in the dark, claustrophobic apartment provides a finale that had audiences literally on the edge of their seats.
1967/Technicolor/108 min. | Scr: Robert Carrington, Jane-Howard Carrington; dir: Terence Young; w/ Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. | Technicolor print courtesy the Academy Film Archive
War and Peace
November 7 | 7:30 pm
The long and distinguished career of director King Vidor was launched in 1924 with the success of the The Big Parade, an epic film about World War I, and came to a close in a new era of epics with War and Peace and Solomon and Sheba, two big-budget international co-productions that were Hollywood’s wide screen answer to television. Set during the Napoleonic Wars between 1805 and 1812, Tolstoy’s novel chronicles the fates of a group of aristocratic Russians engulfed by the forces of history, and is rich in battle scenes, balls and duels at sunrise, all of which Vidor and cinematographer Jack Cardiff brought to the screen in a series of stunning compositions. The emotional center of the film is Natasha, a naïve young woman romantically torn between two friends—the officer Prince Andrei and the intellectual Pierre—and who, in Vidor’s words, “permeated the entire novel as the archetype of womankind… If I were to reduce the whole story of War and Peace to some basically simple statement, I would say that it is a story of the maturing of Natasha… My main memory of that picture is of Audrey Hepburn giving a wonderful performance. I used to see it over and over again in the dubbing and music cutting, and I never tired of it. I always found something new that she did.”
1956/color/208 min./VistaVision | Scr: Bridget Boland, Robert Westerby, King Vidor, Mario Camerini, Ennio De Concini, Ivo Perilli, Irwin Shaw; dir: King Vidor; w/ Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Mel Ferrer, Vittorio Gassman. | Archive print courtesy George Eastman House
My Fair Lady
November 13 | 7:30 pm
Having acquired the longest running Broadway musical as a prestigious property for his studio, Jack Warner immediately cast Audrey Hepburn over Julie Andrews as Eliza Dolittle, and placed the important task of production and costume design in the skilled hands of Cecil Beaton, the former Vogue photographer whose imaginative costumes were credited with giving the stage production a uniquely stylized look. When Cukor was hired he expressed his delight in the choice of Hepburn—he later commented that she looked “dangerously beautiful,” which was Shaw’s description of Eliza—and brought aboard Rex Harrison to revive his acclaimed performance as Henry Higgins. Though the finished film had its critics, audiences turned out for the famous Lerner and Lowe score, the impeccable production values, set pieces like the Ascot races and the Royal Ball, and the performances of a stellar cast, and it won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, and Actor. Though overlooked in the Oscar sweep, Hepburn is particularly impressive as the street urchin whose hard-earned transformation into “a lady” is the emotional heart of the drama. In the words of critic Gary Carey, “she catches the Cinderella quality of the role beautifully. She has always been an actress assured at wearing a bittersweet heart on her sleeve, but here she exhibits an unexpected comedic talent with great dexterity of timing. “
1964/color/170 min./70mm | Scr: Alan Jay Lerner; dir: George Cukor; w/ Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway. | Archive print courtesy the Academy Film Archive