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Saturday, January 1, 2011

PARIS – WHEN IT SIZZLES (1964)

George Axelrod had just written BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S/’61 and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE/’62 when he adapted an old Julien Duvivier screenplay and fell into a narrative trap. PARIS centers on a procrastinating screenwriter who needs to write an overdue script in three days.* Audrey Hepburn shows up and moves in as typist/amanuensis, and we see everything they write played out as a film-within-the-film with Holden & Hepburn in the leads. Axelrod has a lot of fun tweaking Hollywood plot conventions (TIFFANY’S gets a good ribbing) and New Wave fare (helmer Richard Quine throws in some jump cuts & zooms), but the story is basically a set-up for Holden to renounce his life as a hack-for-hire and vow to live up to his potential now that he’s found a woman to love. This explains why the film-within-the-film sucks, but it doesn’t excuse it. And we still have to sit thru the drivel. (Quine tries to cover it all up with jokey cameo bits for Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra & Tony Curtis.) The film’s always had a pretty bad rep, but the episodes in Holden’s apartment, which feel like a draft for a B’way play, are smartly written & hold your attention. Holden, under lenser Charles Lang’s magic lighting, looks remarkably fit (his drinking was all but out-of-control at the time) and, right at the end, he nails one of those wised-up cynical speeches Billy Wilder, Paddy Chayefsky & Blake Edwards loved to give him.

*The ‘in’ joke is that Noël Coward, as the film producer, really did write all his best plays in a matter of days.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: In so many of his later films, Holden plays out a sort of junior league version of Eugene O'Neill's Hickey from THE ICEMAN COMETH. How odd that Holden revived his stalled career with a role that had been written for Lee Marvin in THE WILD BUNCH; and that Lee Marvin played Hickey in the fine 1973 film verison of O'Neill's play.

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