Film Note:
Fascination
13 December 2018

¶ There’s a long story about this week’s small Audrey Hepburn binge; it involves the frequency and enthusiasm with which Ray Soleil and Fossil Darling talk about Stanley Donen’s Charade. This was not the last movie that Hepburn made with an older leading man, but it is possibly the worst of the run. If you ask me, it’s Cary Grant who’s the problem. Suave and imperturble, Grant reprises his Roger O Thornhill role, from North By Northwest, thus inviting many odious comparisons. So much so that Audrey Hepburn compares unfavorably to Eva Marie Saint. And as for Walter Matthau! Donen’s film is hideously, unfunnily jokey. 

But then I decided to watch an older instalment, one that I may never have seen before, because I was too young to see it when it came out, in 1957 — although I still have the sheet music to the movie’s theme song, “Fascination.” Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon is one of his most auteurial movies, studded with sparkles of mitteleuropäisch self-indulgence and wallpapered with both the luxury of the Ritz Hotel in Paris and a band of csardas-playing “gypsies.” By some ingenious alchemy, Wilder presents Gary Cooper as exactly who he is: a rich American who doesn’t know how to act. And he turns this incapacity into catnip for Hepburn’s articulate but innocent teenager. That is where the film’s magic lies. For Hepburn does know how to act, and I have never seen an actress whose face and beauty have not quite set exhibit such extraordinary dramatic powers. In an early scene, the girl takes a match to an ashtray full of crumpled-up kiss-off notes — and Hepburn upstages the fire not just by being gorgeous but by feeding her final attempt, neatly tucked into an envelope, to the flames. In Love in the Afternoon, Audrey Hepburn is romance. 

Love in the Afternoon is so good that even Maurice Chevalier is genuinely appealing. 

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