Paris When It Sizzles

I can’t imagine he has time enough to write.

I like movies that satirize Hollywood (or movie-making, which I use interchangeably).  It’s like politics.  So many of the gruesome sores are apparent to us either through the press or their own obvious stupidity.  You go out and see a movie and think, “What idiot thought Jar Jar Binks was anything but a terrible idea?”  You watch a political debate and think, “This is the best they could come up with?”  Well, the answers are “quite a few, presumably” and “no, hopefully.”

Richard Benson (William Holden) is a screenwriter who has misspent his allotted time to write a script on booze and European travel.  With only two days until his deadline, Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn), a typist, is there to put the script to print.  As there is no script thus far, Benson and Simpson have to put it together together.  But don’t worry, Benson’s done this before.

But my work? That’s a hideous little something that must occur five days out of the year, so I can spend the other 360 in the manner to which I have become – and fully intend to remain – accustomed.

The film splits its time between Benson’s writing his “action/suspense, uh, romantic melodrama with lots of comedy” and the work of art itself (played, helpfully, by Holden and Hepburn in the main roles).  Also involved are Noel Coward as the producer, Tony Curtis as a ludicrous actor, and (very briefly) Marlene Dietrich.

Without taking the time to research the statement, Paris When It Sizzles (1964) has got to be the oldest satires on Hollywood that I’ve ever come across.  Sure, there are jokes in Sunset Blvd. (1950) about hackery, but here’s a movie devoted to the subject replete with references to popular films, appearances by popular actors, and a self-awareness that you’re just not that used to in an younger woman…I mean movie.

An example.  Tony Curtis plays an actor (in the movie in the movie) named either Philippe or Maurice and also as a policeman referred to as “2nd Policeman” (who is promoted to “1st Policeman”).

Is the film a successful satire?  Yeah.  Probably.  Does it stand the test of time?  Not particularly.  A lot of it is funny in a kind of ironic way that many older films are funny.  This is 1964, so you can’t give up all sense of non-ironic comedy.  You have to give up most of your sense of how close a movie should be shot, but that’s not content.  But it still brings the laughs.

There are two parts to satirical success, right?  There’s the funny and the accurate.  I can’t speak to the accuracy of Hollywood in the 1960’s.  Therefore, I just watch the movie and grant each satirical note’s premise: actors are silly and say “like” a lot, writers are debauched ladykillers, and movie-making is a bunch of hackery and devices.  Oh wait, that last one still works like a charm.

No, I’ll say that about 25% of the film is pitch-perfect satire.  The rest of it sort of consumes itself in its own use of devices.  That might be genius, but it’s only the kind of genius that hits you much later.  Like now, for example.  I’m not particularly interested in that kind of genius.  That kind of genius is of the same silly order as the hackery and devices.

If I am writing a script and come up with a secret that pervades the whole thing but you aren’t aware of it, is that genius? That’s not genius, that’s a card trick.

Actors.  Audrey Hepburn is one of those actresses that you love at first if you’re a woman but dislike at first if you’re a man.  Over time, those attitudes get reversed.  I think it’s the fashion.  It attracts and distracts, respectively.  After the distraction, you (may) come to find that Hepburn is actually a very fine actress going all-in on her roles without winking.  Sort of like a very good stage actress.  Here, she’s a journeyman who gives us enough.

William Holden, I think, is one of the best of his generation.  Well, maybe he’s just “a great.”  When so many actors of that period were really just one personality played over and over, he had a great one picked out.  Smart, witty, cynical, and still very much a man’s man.  This fits into that personality.  What fun it is to watch.

Richard Quine directed so many movies in so short a time, I wonder how he did it.  Well, apparently Hepburn said, “Just because the film was easy to make doesn’t mean it’s going to be very good.”  I think that probably explains something about this movie and is a warning as to his others.  Nothing in here is stretching anyone on set–all the work was put in by George Axelrod–so the bulk of operations were just putting it together.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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