Writers…we often cast ourselves in the lead of our own internal dramas, but rarely does one of our number actually make it to the big screen in a leading role. A couple of examples I’ve seen in recent years are The Words and Wonder Boys, in which Bradley Cooper and Michael Douglas were cast as the “writer.” (Ever notice how writers on-screen look a hell of a lot better than writers in real life?)
This weekend, I added another to my list.
Paris When it Sizzles is a 1964 rom-com starring William Holden as the writer and Audrey Hepburn as his amanuensis. It is a thoroughly ’60s thing, this movie, but it is also one of the funniest movies I’ve seen from that era.
Holden (another implausibly hunky incarnation of the paunchy, balding reality that describes most of us male writers) plays Richard, a screenwriter whose script is due in two days. Hepburn is Gabrielle, the woman who comes in to type up his manuscript.
The problem is, Richard hasn’t written Word One. Nor is the whole thing (tap noggin) “up here.” He’s got a title–The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower–and that’s it. Oh, he’s got his byline done, too. Still, not much to go on.
What follows is a preposterous weekend wherein the two imagine, type up, toss out, and re-imagine plot after plot. As Richard and Gabrielle concoct this bit of frippery, their imagined selves (as Rick and Gaby) play it out in the streets and cafés of Paris. The plot gets goofier and goofier as secondary characters pop in and out of the story. It’s all great fun, especially as “names” like Tony Curtis, Noel Coward, and Marlene Dietrich make cameo appearances. Even Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire “show up,” albeit merely in soundtrack form.
The movie is a send-up of how silly some movies are–and in the ’60s, Hollywood came out with some very silly movies–and in that way, it’s a creation of its own process. Its piling up of twists upon twists provides several guffaw-worthy moments as the “secrets” of re-imagined characters are revealed, all of which culminate in an ending that is both ludicrous and expected. After all, it is a rom-com.
Being a product of its time, it does have some flaws. The soundtrack at times feels like it was lifted from an old Adam West Batman episode. Hepburn’s gowns by Givenchy are particularly unlovely and unflattering–I mean, you have to work really hard to make Audrey Hepburn look dumpy, but Hubert did it. And of course, the whole male-female dynamic is vintage 1964, so much so that it might be off-putting for some viewers. If you can’t go along with a 47-year old man and a 34-year old woman, you’ll have a problem.
While I’ve never considered William Holden a great actor, he’s very well-suited to this script. He’s playing a caricature of himself, in many ways, the Hollywood playboy all tanned and swoon-inducing, and he really amps up the sarcasm when the character makes fun of himself. Hepburn is her usual, comedy-script self, impish and doe-eyed and with the grin of a kid at Disneyland, and her enthusiasm is infections, even across the decades.
As a writer’s story, it rang true as much as it didn’t, but since it’s a bit of a farce, it still worked. Holden’s cynical character hits some salient points about the formulae used in Hollywood movies (including this one), and the movie is delightfully self-aware in that respect. In general, I don’t like comedies produced during the ’60s, but this one literally had me laughing out loud at several points, so at least from my perspective, it’s a stand-out.
The movie is available on disc from Netflix, and can be streamed from Amazon Prime.