Paris When It Sizzles

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PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES doesn’t. For most of the first hour it bubbles, even sparkles, then for the remaining 50 minutes it flickers before sputtering to an overdue finish. With two super-attractive stars reteaming under a successful director in a script provided by a talented writer, on Parisian locations with $4,000,000 to splash around, it seemed likely to roll a winner. But things only half-gelled, the shoot was hamstrung, critics savaged the finished product and it flopped at the ticket booth in 1964. While hardly as bad as its awful rep (the first half is certainly fun enough to warrant a look), still the initial pep and promise dissipate into tiresome repetition. The sad behind-scenes story holds more dramatic ballast than the film delivers of steamy froth. *

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Bloody Mary-ing away the days in his Parisian hotel suite to blot out his case of writers block, a professional screenwriter and veteran Lothario (William Holden, 43) has just two days left to whip up a promised script for his producer (Noel Coward). Hired to type it up, a charming assistant (Audrey Hepburn, 33) ends up acting out scenarios with him. and their make-believe blossoms into…well, Make-Believe.

Now then, the mysterious stranger. Who is he? What does he do? What suffering, what torment caused the deep sadness that lurks behind his eyes? And why, while we’re asking questions, didn’t I listen to my father and learn some sort of useful trade?”

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Richard Quine, an adept hand at comedy as well as drama, directed; he’d guided Holden’s last big hit, 1960s The World Of Suzie Wong. He soon found his hands full (asterisk below). Screenwriter George Axelrod’s intensely wordy material pokes fun at moviemaking types and tropes: hard-drinking writer, fatuous producer, Method actors, genres, clichés.  For a while the hook works, with the two leads playing their characters and their movie-within-movie imaginary folk, lampooning spy films, heist capers, horror flicks, westerns. Holden’s disarming smile goes a long way, and whether he was half-crocked or not, he gets credit for whamming through reams of dense dialogue with polish and verve. Hepburn is all right (she’s never bad) but I just as easily could see other actresses of the day selling this artificial role better—Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds, Edie Adams…

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By the time it winds down, Axelrod’s torrent of words seem to be written pointedly for Holden more than the person he’s playing, and the self-poking joking about excess summons more rue than wry. Even so, the wattage of star power is enough for many fans (it does have loyalists out there among the hissers).

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Coward attacks his small part with vigor (though as written it’s not in the least amusing), and along with some desperate scenes with a game, unbilled Tony Curtis (is he wearing eye-liner?), pancake-flat cameo walk-ons from Marlene Dietrich and Mel Ferrer (Hepburn’s hubby) are tossed in. Decent scoring from Nelson Riddle.  With Grégoire Aslan, getting to play a good guy for a change, and Raymond Bussières. It labored into 47th place at the box-office.

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* Quine: “Making a movie is a bit like having a baby. All you can hope for is that it won’t have two heads and that it will be an entity in itself: who cares if it’s a girl or a boy?”

Sabrina, Holden and Hepburn’s big hit a decade earlier left a major love affair behind them. She’d married Mel Ferrer, but Bill still carried a torch: “I remember the day I arrived at Orly Airport for Paris When It Sizzles. I could hear my footsteps echoing against the walls of the transit corridor, just like a condemned man walking the last mile. I realized that I had to face Audrey and I had to deal with my drinking. And I didn’t think I could handle either situation.”  paris when it sizzles setHis liquor problem was in full flood during this assignment, including breaking an arm after crashing his Ferrari into a wall. While he dried out, Tony Curtis was called in to help salvage things with his extended cameo.

Quine: “Bill was like a punch-drunk fighter, walking on his heels, listing slightly, talking punchy. He didn’t know he was drunk.” For the star, that same year saw the fine The Counterfeit Traitor do well but the interesting The Lion and the lousy Satan Never Sleeps both tanked badly. Filming on this wrapped late in ’62, but release was delayed for 18 months until spring of 1964, when its failure (and pillory by critics), along with the odd bombing of the underrated The 7th Dawn surely didn’t help the extremely well-liked but tragically self-destructive actor with his ravaging trajectory. It hurts to see his character blithely pound back the Vodka in this picture.

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Hepburn didn’t care for the resultant movie, but nonetheless called it “a joy to make”; she bracketed it with hits Charade and My Fair Lady. Quine helmed another comedy in ’64, the lame Sex And The Single Girl; it was worse than this yet performed 27 slots higher at the till.  Axelrod’s script was based off a hard-to-find 1952 French film, Le Fete Henriette/Holiday For Henrietta, directed by Julien Duvivier. Fan write-ups on the Net make it sound well worth uncovering.

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