Two Enormous, Highly-Paid Heads

Hadn’t seen PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES before — a student who was an Audrey Hepburn obsessive said she didn’t like it, but I should’ve known better than to trust her. It’s a mixed bag but pretty interesting. The film it — very loosely — remakes — Julien Duvivier’s LA FETE A HENRIETTE — doesn’t quite work, arguably, but the narrative tricks are fun. Same here, but this one’s more interesting to me because of the confessional side. Screenwriter George Axelrod was an alcoholic and he seems to be grappling with that, and some deep self-loathing, through the medium of a chic, charming, vulgar, silly romantic comedy.

It is in fact hard to imagine Audrey being in a film as glossily lecherous as this, which may be a sound and understandable reason for my former student having disliked it.

William Holden plays the boozy screenwriter and Audrey his muse, so there are echoes of SUNSET BLVD — what if Joe Gillis made it to the top, got his pool, and STILL wasn’t happy? Turned into THE LOST WEEKEND’s Don Birnam, in fact? With enough moolah to keep the booze flowing forever…

Add in the tortured Richard Quine as director, the alcoholic Holden as star, Audrey at her skinniest, and you have a surprisingly sour aftertaste, but this doesn’t ruin the pleasure for me, though it certainly complicates it.

When Holden burns the script he’s been working on all through the movie, because now that he’s found love he’s going to quit the sauce and write a better one, it’s joyous, exhilarating, satisfying — and supremely unconvincing. And I think that’s intentional on Axelrod’s part. The old Hollywood switch on a switch — give the public what they want but wink at the intelligentsia — we know better than this, don’t we?

11 Responses to “Two Enormous, Highly-Paid Heads”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    A confounding failure, With this cast, this writer and this director it ought to be delightful — but isn’t. Axelrod and Quine teamed far more successfully on their next outing “How To Murder Your Wife.” After that Axelrod takes off on his own into the iconographic stratosphere with “Lord Love a Duck” starring Tuesday Weld and Roddy McDowell. I’ve always loved Axelrod. He doesn’t get enough credit for “The Manchurian Candidate” and while I love Tashlin it’s a shame he didn’t make Axelrod’s “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” which was a “Faust” variation featuring Jane Mansfield as a pneumatic “Marguerite.? Axelrod’s last novel was stunningly entitled “Where Am I Now When I Really Need Me?” which perfectly describes his life. Howard Fast’s wife (I went to High School with their son Jon ) had Axelrod for a first husband. She consistently referred to him as “George The Rat.” Jon was married to Erica Jong whose “Fear of Flying” brought her fame after their marriage hit the rocks. Ah Hollywood!

  2. David Melville Wingrove Says:

    I have never seen this film either. But I am intrigued by any film that can be described as “chic” and “vulgar” in the same sentence.

    Incidentally, Audrey Hepburn would later horrify her fans by appearing in the ghastly BLOODLINE. It features starlets being strangled in pornographic ‘snuff’ movies and Michelle Phillips getting her knees nailed to the floor. In the middle of all that wall-to-wall sleaze, Audrey goes on acting as if she were still in ROMAN HOLIDAY!

  3. Charles W. Callahan Says:

    It’s all true. As Kurt Vonnegut, said, “Everyone’s right, no matter what they say”. Or somthing like that. This film is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. My wife loathes it. The Nelson Riddle score is terrific. The singing voices of Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire are nice touches. How could one not like the cameos from Noel Coward, The Blue Angel, Bernie Schwartz and Mr. Hepburn, Mel Ferrer? I’ve never seen BLOODLINE nor THEY ALL LAUGHED and have no intention in doing so. Apparently Ben Gazarra behaved shabbily to A. H.

  4. revelator60 Says:

    I haven’t seen this film either, having also heard bad things about it. But I have seen “La fête à Henriette” and think it’s a briliant and very charming comedy that belongs in the metafictional hall of fame—one of the few films about writing that conveys something of the creative process. I’m curious why you don’t think it works.

  5. I want to write more about this one so I’ll get into La Fete a Henriette then.

    “Chic” and “vulgar” — this film has it all! Curiously, I’ve never managed to get into How to Murder Your Wife, despite having a New York cartoonist as a friend irl. I will keep trying.

    I was just reading how Richard Condon’s novels are essentially satires but play straight when adapted — not always true, but true largely with The Manchurian Candidate, which is ironic since it has arch-satirist Axelrod as screenwriter. His later thrillers are disappointing by comparison by The Holcroft Covenant works as some kind of unconscious self-parody of whatever it’s trying to be.

  6. chris schneider Says:

    I remember PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES for the Parcheesi. That, and Dietrich emerging from the limousine.

  7. Why was Quine a tortured man?

  8. The running gags like the Parcheesi are very smartly done. And Tony Curtis!

  9. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Sonheim has always been a Duvivier fan. Maybe now that his Bunuel musical has “gone into turnaround” he might consider “La Fete a Henriette”

  10. Axelrod clearly had some fun twisting the idea to his own ends, I’m sure Sondheim could do the same.

    As for Quine:

  11. Daniel S Reifferscheid Says:

    Would be worthwhile even if the only good thing about it were Sinatra singing “the girl that stole the Eiffel tower, she also stole my heart”.

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