Thursday, November 06, 2008


I saw this great Audrey Hepburn movie the other night: Love in the Afternoon, Billy Wilder's 1957 Paris-based romantic comedy, something of a wry homage to Wilder's great hero Ernst Lubitsch, but directed with very much of his own panache.

Hepburn plays Ariane, an innocent, cello-playing young French girl who lives a sheltered existence with her father (Maurice Chevalier), a "love detective" who spies on erring couples for a living and tries to keep his daughter away from the world he photographs on a regular basis. Youth, of course, will have it's way, and Ariane -- a budding young beauty who is very much on the side of mad love and the pursuit of passion -- falls for just the kind of man her daddy warned her against: Mr. Flanagan (Gary Cooper), who is not only old enough to be her daddy but a playboy of world-class renown who has seduction -- which usually involves plenty of champagne and a hired band -- down to a science.

Ariane is an innocent who doesn't want to be. For fear of getting played by a man who is famously unfaithful, she feels she has to play him as well; just as he seems to know everything about women, she pretends to have had an endless score of lovers, throwing his game way off balance. In a brilliantly choreographed, hypnotically hilarious scene that could only appear in a Wilder movie, Cooper finds himself alone with his hired band, his booze, and no lover; just a tape-recording of Hepburn reciting her past and present boyfriends. As the band plays, Cooper drinks, listens, rewinds, drinks, listens, and rewinds, alternately sending a roll-cart of booze back and forth between the himself and the band until they all get properly tanked.

Like one of the female leads in Shakespeare's great comedies, Ariane contrives events to her own liking but doesn't quite count on her own vulnerability. Ariane and Flanagan are two people who think the other is only in on it for the game, and both try to adjust their own feelings to match. It ends with the biggest cliche in all of Hollywood history -- lovers departing at a train station, one on the train, one running along beside -- properly tweaked for maximum emotional effect. Cooper is reliable; Hepburn is bliss.

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