#20 in my Ranking of Billy Wilder movies.
After a brief respite, Wilder is back with more light comedic romance. In some shallow ways, it’s almost a remake of Sabrina, though it’s a bit less charming and a good bit longer, and yet it’s still a nice time at the movies.
Claude is a private investigator in Paris, tailing the wife of a client. Coming home from a long night of spying, he greets his charming daughter Ariane. Ariane is an innocent waif who’s become consumed by the files her father keeps in his home office to the point that she can recite every detail to him on command. She’s also a hopeless romantic, always looking for her great love. When she overhears her father’s client threaten to kill the man who’s having an affair with his wife, Ariane springs into action. She can’t allow such a crime to occur (though her father is only insistent on getting paid before the client leaves should he get arrested from the murder).
Ariane runs to the hotel where the affair took place, replaces the client’s wife who escapes before her husband shows up, and eases the client out of the room, insisting it was all mistaken identity. Instantly, though, Frank Flannagan, the man in the affair, is smitten by the young and attractive Ariane, but she’s read his file. She knows what kind of man he is, and while she’s excited by the idea of such a man, she’s also a romantic and knows she can’t hitch herself to such a man. They do meet again, sparks fly, and they separate for a year.
He continues his wealthy, jet setting life around the world, and she goes back to the conservatory in Paris where she’s learning how to play the cello while living with her father. When Flannagan comes back the next year, Ariane is still smitten by the older man and toys with him. She invents a sexual history for herself that rivals his, built entirely from details in her father’s files. This excites Flannagan to such a degree that he becomes obsessed while she, spending more time with him and playing this game, can’t resist her attraction to him either.
It’s all light and fluffy stuff. Gary Cooper is good as the older man while Audrey Hepburn plays the waif half his age with the kind of poise she demonstrated as Sabrina a few years earlier. There’s a young man that starts the movie obsessed with Ariane, Michel, who would represent a more realistic match for Ariane but gets mostly dropped by the quarter mark, only to pop up later as pretty much window dressing. This failure to address the more realistic alternative is the missing counterpoint in the film, I think. In Sabrina, that was accomplished by the two brothers, and it feels like Michel was meant to act in that same capacity here, but he just falls away.
It’s far from the highlight of Wilder’s filmography, but it’s an enjoyable, if slightly overlong, two hours.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4