24 August 2013

Play vs. Film: Sabrina Fair / Sabrina

     There have been two film treatments of Samuel Taylor's 1953 play Sabrina Fair: the 1954 version with Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden; and the 1995 remake with Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear. I like both for different reasons, but I like the play even more and wish I could see it performed.

Joseph Cotton and Margaret Sullavan
as Linus and Sabrina
L-R: Scott McKay, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Duke, Joseph Cotton, and Margaret Sullavan
in Sabrina Fair, 1953
     To give the most basic premise of all three: the awkward daughter (Sabrina) of the chauffeur to a very wealthy Long Island family (the Larrabees) goes to work for a few years in Europe (in the play, she works at a NATO/SHAPE-type organization, first as a file clerk, eventually as an executive; in the 1995 film she works at Vogue; and in the 1954 film she simply goes to culinary school); she returns to Long Island all grown up, polished, and confident to pursue the younger Larrabee son (David) with whom she believes she has been in love all her life.
     I can't go any further, because that is where the basic resemblance between play and films ends.
Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 film
     In the films (and I must say here that the remake is truly a remake of the older film, and makes no effort to return to the play), the older son (Linus) is absolutely against a union between David and Sabrina, not so much because of the vast difference in social status, but because such a union would thwart plans of a marriage between David and the daughter of a certain tycoon with whom Linus hopes to form a very lucrative business alliance. (Linus doesn't even consider marrying this other girl himself, because he doesn't believe he's the marrying kind.) Linus, being the ruthless businessman he is, plots to get Sabrina out of the way by feigning approval of her relationship with David, then tricking her into falling for himself. After he's accomplished this, he can then ditch her and compensate her with enough money to sustain her in relative comfort for the rest of her life. Of course, he doesn't bargain on actually falling in love with her.
Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond in the 1995 remake
     In the play, however, Linus encourages Sabrina in her pursuit of David merely because he loves power and manipulating people, and he regards his little matchmaking scheme as some sort of perverse amusement. There is no potential merger, no daughter of a fellow tycoon. He makes no attempt to make Sabrina fall for himself. But he believes he sees in Sabrina a certain ambition and thirst for "the good life." In reality, she really doesn't know what she wants; she has tasted life beyond the Larrabee's garage and the life of a chauffeur's daughter, but now she doesn't know where in the world she belongs.
SABRINA     I think I have a talent for living. Perhaps I'm trying to make the most of something small for want of something better, but I think a true talent for living has the quality of creation, and if that's the talent I was meant to have, I'm awfully glad I have it. I'd rather live a first-rate life than paint a second-rate picture.
     She thinks she doesn't want to be shackled by marriage, but she wants to be in love. She tells Linus of a wealthy Frenchman who courted her during her five years in Paris, and confesses that she fled from him back to America to find out if she still loves David. David does indeed propose marriage—well, actually, he doesn't propose directly to Sabrina; he tells his mother (Maude) that he wants to marry her. Maude discusses it with Sabrina's father, Fairchild (who categorically disapproves), which is how Sabrina herself finds out. And when she does, to the surprise of everyone, she refuses David, having discovered at this point that she does not love him after all.
     In the midst of all this, Sabrina's wealthy Frenchman, Paul, shows up ostensibly to bring her back to Paris with him; however, Linus once more intervenes by making him a business offer he just can't refuse. Linus points out to Sabrina that she can still marry Paul, but she realizes (as does Linus) that isn't where her happiness lies, and she begins to wonder what is really behind all of Linus' manipulations.
     The films leave out a character who plays a rather large part in the stage version—that of Julia, Maude Larrabee's former roommate at Wellesley. Julia is a magazine editor who apparently has led quite the colorful life as a young woman in Paris, and is very close to the Larrabees; indeed, the two sons call her "Aunt Julia." She seems not only to understand Linus completely, but to admire him as the man she, if not for the difference in their ages, would have fallen in love with. But his game-playing with Sabrina infuriates her:
JULIA     What are you trying to do to this girl?
LINUS     How do you know I'm trying to do anything?
JULIA     I have a room with a view! You're afraid to take her, and afraid to lose her, so you're warning her off the rest of the world. I don't have to tell you what you're passing up; it's pretty damned clear you know. But you want to own her without being owned. You can't unbend, you won't give in. You're a stiff-necked, self-sufficient, autocratic bastard— (She begins to cry. Turns away.)  and you've been my favorite man since the day you were born.
LINUS     (Taking a step to her.)  Aunt Julia—
JULIA      (Tearfully.)  If you come near me, I'll kick you. What do you want to do? Make her a part of Larrabee Industries? And then fight off your competitors? Just hang a sign around her neck! "Please don't handle the merchandise!"  (She turns to Sabrina, crosses C.)  And as for you! You listen to me! If anyone tries to tell you that she travels the farthest who travels alone, believe me, when you get there you'll find it wasn't worth the trip!  (She turns on Linus D R. C.)  Get into her life or get out of her life! But don't stand around playing god! 
      The most startling difference between play and films (for me, anyway) concerns the disclosure of Fairchild's wealth. In the films, he reveals that through the years he eavesdropped whenever Linus did business with his stockbroker over the car phone on the way to work; by following Linus' buying-selling moves, Fairchild managed to accumulate his own modest fortune, enough to sustain both Sabrina and himself for the rest of their lives. In the play, he reveals that he made most of his fortune by investing in Larrabee Shipping stock during the Depression, when the company, like so many others, was having great difficulties. In other words, he helped keep the Larrabees, his employers, afloat when they were floundering and, even after Larrabee Industries became a vast financial empire, Fairchild still owned seven thousand shares of their company. When asked by the Larrabees why he kept it all secret and never left their employ, he replies simply and sincerely that he loved his job.
     So Sabrina is an heiress after all, on more even footing—financially, if not socially—with the family she has grown up with and loved as her own. She realizes she is in love with Linus, and Linus finally admits to himself and to her that he is in love with her. Cinderella arises from the motor oil-stained garage floor and wins her Prince Cynical-but-Charming.

  Listen where thou art sitting 
Under the glassie, cool, translucent wave, 
  In twisted braids of Lillies knitting 
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair,         
  Listen for dear honour's sake, 
  Goddess of the silver lake, 
                     Listen and save!
     ~ from Comus, John Milton

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...