Part of my filmography completion goals for this year is rewatching films that I either don’t remember that well or didn’t care for the first time and want to give another chance. I decided I’d go ahead and post some reactions to those as well.
Sabrina is one of a few films that continue to benefit from Audrey Hepburn’s ongoing popularity. There are a few “classes” of classic film – ones that everyone knows like The Wizard of Oz, ones that are loved by die-hard classic aficionados, and ones like Sabrina that find an appreciative modern audience of people who are open to classic films but aren’t necessarily big film buffs in general. These people gravitate toward Audrey Hepburn as a style icon, and certain films of hers (especially this one, Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade and My Fair Lady) stay perennially popular because they highlight her effortless style, effervescent screen presence, and ineffable wide-eyed innocence.
Perhaps my own struggles with loving Sabrina stem in part as a personal backlash against its popularity, the assumption of this particular group of classic film watchers that it’s a great and classic film. I want to express kinship with these nascent classic film fans, but sometimes, as in this case, the films that apparently speak to them simply don’t to me, and I find that both baffling and fascinating. (I do have a whole post percolating around in my head on this topic, but as you can see, I find it very difficult to avoid generalizing a whole group of people in ways that probably aren’t accurate while still making the point I want to make.)
In 1950, Billy Wilder made what is probably the definitive film on Hollywood and aging with Sunset Boulevard, but it seems he wasn’t quite done with the topic, returning to it in 1978’s Fedora, a film about an iconic actress from the 1940s (very Garbo-esque in accent and distancing demeanor) who has retired to the Greek isles under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
After a long series of films with Jack Lemmon, Wilder returns to his previous favorite male actor, William Holden – who also not coincidentally played the male lead in Sunset Boulevard, the first of many echoes from that film to this. Here he’s a movie producer (perhaps a few steps up from Joe Gilles’ desperate screenwriter, though he’s still desperate) hoping to find the reclusive Mme. Fedora and convince her to come back and star in a film for him. The first half of Fedora plays like a mystery, a “where is Fedora” and “why won’t the people at this island villa she’s supposedly staying with let me in or talk to me” situation that’s reminiscent of The Third Man.
This year instead of doing Blind Spots or other list-based viewing, I’m focusing in on completing filmographies of certain directors – some of which I’m only a few films away from completing and will probably do so pretty quickly, while others may be in progress for quite a while. I plan to do some major comprehensive posts about each one when I get finished with all their films (I’m also doing some background reading), but in the meantime I figured I’d do some posts with more informal thoughts as I work my way through these films. Since I’m eventually planning to include actors in this little completionist goal, I’ll keep track of how I’m doing on various actors’ filmographies as well. Stats! I love stats. In case you didn’t know that about me, now you do. I love stats.
Five Graves to Cairo is Billy Wilder’s third film as writer/director (his second in Hollywood), and it’s a WWII-set film that’s more of a spy thriller than an actual war film – despite being set in North Africa in the midst of Rommel’s campaign, and having Rommel as a character, there are no battle scenes in the film. (Correction: There is a montage of a battle at the very end for like twenty seconds.)
The opening shot is one of the most visually arresting in all of Wilder’s filmography – a tank rolls across the desert, up and down dunes aimlessly. Not all is right here. A soldier’s arm drapes lifelessly out of the cockpit, where several other men lie dead, one flopped forward on the steering mechanism, keeping the tank moving forward. One man stirs; this is John Bramble (Franchot Tone), who is the only survivor and is now caught behind enemy lines.