Paramount // 1964 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // May 21st, 2001
Write a Hollywood movie in two days? No problem!
From Paramount's Audrey Hepburn collection comes Paris When It Sizzles, pairing Hepburn with William Holden once again ten years after Sabrina. This time around is a romantic comedy that spends most of its time lampooning the creative process of making a motion picture. This movie about making a bad movie has moments of brilliance, though the romantic angle can become tiresome and all too predictable. Flawed, yes, but interesting if you can keep up with it. The DVD presentation is fairly typical for a Paramount catalog title, meaning a very nice anamorphic transfer but few extras.
Richard Benson (William Holden) is a well known and well-paid Hollywood screenwriter, and has been paid a great deal in advance for his next script, a film called "The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower." Unfortunately Benson has wasted the last 18 weeks he was given to write the script, and now has two days before his producer Alexander Meyerheim (Noel Coward) arrives at his Paris apartment for the finished work. In a panic, he hires Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn) as a typist. With time so short, he has to dictate the story off the top of his head, and Gabrielle types as he talks. The lines between the characters and the real life people blur, and the stories start merging together; as the couple in the film falls in love, the same thing seems to be happening inside the Paris apartment.
There is an interesting and sometimes hilarious premise working within Paris When It Sizzles: the "movie" that the characters are writing appear before us as if that is the movie we are watching, and then backs up or gets completely changed at the whim of the writer. One minute the film we are watching is a crime thriller, but with a change of the mind it becomes a love story. Hearing the writing process as narration clues you in to where and how the story will completely change at a moment's notice.
Perhaps the funniest thing about the movie though is the blasé attitude it takes about what it takes to get a movie written. Only two days, after wasting 18 weeks? No problem for a seasoned professional screenwriter. We can whip out something thrilling and without one ounce of substance in half that time. Makes you wonder how so many meaningless films actually get made. Do we really have thousands of out-of-work screenwriters pouring everything they have into a story, just so the brother in law of someone in power can hack out a piece of crap in less than a week and get a green light? I wonder. There is a lot of subtle humor implying that the movie industry is in this state, and the script really had its proverbial tongue in its cheek. I got quite a few laughs from this aspect of the film.
Keep your eyes peeled because there are lots of cameos of famous stars poking their heads in and out of the film. Marlene Dietrich, Tony Curtis, and the voices of Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire are among the famous people who make cameos. Tony Curtis is especially funny as he keeps getting relegated to roles like "Second Policeman" in the film Holden is writing.
What didn't work so well was the purported real reason for the film -- the romantic chemistry between William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. Ten years earlier the two worked together well in Sabrina, but here the difference in the ages was too apparent, and the romantic subplot entirely too pat. The December/May romances between male and female stars on screen are not a new development it seems. Despite the fact that Hepburn begins the film with a presumed boyfriend, she almost immediately falls into Holden's arms, and there is little to no suspense about the relationship. As a comedy the film mostly works; as a romance it fails.
The DVD presentation from Paramount is pretty good. The anamorphic widescreen picture looks very good, with only the age of the source elements providing any cause for worry. Colors are generally strong and vibrant, and the level of detail was fine, but there are some age-related wear and blemishes that are still noticeable. For its age, it looks great, but it will never pass for a brand new film. The audio is in a similar predicament. Though dialogue is clear, the mono track is a bit harsh and there is some noticeable hiss at times. It's still quite good enough to listen to, but there are flaws I'm obligated to mention. Extra content is restricted to the theatrical trailer, unfortunately.
When the film is playing at wacky comedy, the film works, and is probably worth a rental just for that. Audrey Hepburn fans will want to give it a look as well. Is this the best example of either William Holden's or Audrey Hepburn's work? Not even close. But it's still fun to watch for an evening, and often that's good enough.
Paramount is acquitted because of the court's gratitude in releasing the Audrey Hepburn collection, though we'd like to ask for a bit more extra content. The film itself is acquitted, as soon as we know what kind of film it is.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated