Paris When It Sizzles (1964): Richard Quine’s Romantic Comedy, Starring Audrey Hepburn (Top Billing) and William Holden

Richard Quin directed Paris When It Sizzles, a romantic comedy from a screenplay by George Axelrod, based on the 1952 French film Holiday for Henrietta by Julien Duvivier and Henri Jeanson.

The film teams William Holden and Audrey Hepburn for the second time, a decade after making Billy Wilder’s romantic comedy, Sabrina.

The supporting cast includes Grégoire Aslan, Raymond Bussières, Noël Coward, and Tony Curtis.

The film’s title derives from the Cole Porter song “I Love Paris”:

I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

Alexander Meyerheim hires vet playboy screenwriter Richard Benson (Holden) to write a screenplay. Immersed in his playboy lifestyle, Benson procrastinates writing the script until two days before the due date.

Gabrielle Simpson (Hepburn), a temp secretary Benson hired to type the script, arrives at Richard’s hotel room, only to discover that little has been written.

Richard tells her that Alexander will be in Paris by Sunday morning, in two days’ time, and that they have that long to write a 138-page script.

Richard and Gabrielle begin to weave the script together–he is awakened and inspired by the beautiful Gabrielle. They imagine various scenarios for The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower, which is based on their unfolding romance as Gabrielle goes back and forth between thinking Richard is a good man and her budding attraction to him, and her hesitancy when he described himself as a “liar and a thief” for taking Meyerheim’s money and not delivering the script earlier.

The screenplay, with small but inspired and comedic roles for Noël Coward, Tony Curtis, and other famous stars, spoofs the movie industry, actors, studio heads, and itself.

Both reflexive and self-reflexive, it is rife with allusions to the earlier film roles of both Hepburn and Holden.

In addition to the uncredited role played by Tony Curtis, dressed in red jumper, white pants and riding a Vespa, the film also features uncredited cameo appearances by Marlene Dietrich as herself, dressed in white, stepping out of white Bentley, and Mel Ferrer, Hepburn’s real-life husband at the time, who plays a party guest dressed as Dr. Jekyll. Frank Sinatra sings a few bars of the opening song, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower.

The film, whose working title was Together in Paris, is a remake of the 1952 French film Holiday for Henrietta, directed by Julien Duvivier.

Paramount exercised an option on their contracts with both Hepburn and Holden, forcing them to make the film together. Holden, having had an affair with Hepburn during the making of Sabrina a decade earlier and been in love with her ever since, attempted without success to rekindle a romance with the now-married actress. Holden’s alcoholism was constant challenge for Quine, who moved into a rented house next to Holden’s during production to keep an eye on him.

Holden later commented on both of the problems: 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.”

Tony Curtis was brought into the production during a week when Holden was undergoing treatment for his alcoholism.

Noel Coward worked on the film for three days, and a cameo from Marlene Dietrich meant to duplicate the many cameos of the 1956 Oscar-winning travelogue, Around the World in 80 Days.

The film was shot at the Billancourt Studios and on location around Paris. The sets were designed by art director Jean d’Eaubonne.

Hepburn’s choice for cinematographer was Franz Planer who had photographed several of her films. However, when Planer got ill, Hepburn agreed to hire Claude Renoir. Later on, Charles Lang replaced Renoir as the director of photography during production, a change demanded by Hepburn after she saw the “unflattering” dailies.

Audrey in Paris: Charade

Hepburn shot the film in the summer of 1962, back-to-back with Charade, which she made that fall. The films shared several locations, most notably a Punch and Judy puppet theatre in the park in front of the Théâtre Marigny.

Though finished shooting in October 1962, a screening led the studio to deem the film unreleasable with the exception of the attraction of its two stars.

Variety called Paris When It Sizzles “marshmallow-weight hokum”, and quoted a line from the film as an apt description of the film itself: “contrived, utterly preposterous, and totally unmotivated.” But the two leads, were praised. Hepburn is a “refreshingly individual creature in an era of the exaggerated curve,” and Holden “handles his assignment commendably.”

Time magazine said the film was “multimillion-dollar improvisation that does everything but what the title promises” and suggested that “writer George Axelrod (The Seven Year Itch) and director Richard Quine should have taken a hint from Holden’s character Richard Benson, who writes his movie, takes a long sober look at what he has wrought, and burns it.”

Self-Reflexivity: Film-within-Film

In one scene, Holden’s character remarks that the film-in-the-film could have a theme song by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s voice is heard singing the laughable lyric, “The girl who stole the Eiffel Tower also stole my heart” over the fictional credit sequence.

My Fair Lady is mentioned as being the same story as Frankenstein. Hepburn would film the movie adaptation of that musical a year after shooting this film. This line comes moments after a reference to a prostitute with “a heart of gold,” which is an allusion to Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

 

Cast

Audrey Hepburn Gabrielle Simpson Gaby
William Holden Richard Benson Rick
Grégoire Aslan Police Inspector Gilet
Raymond Bussières François, the gangster
Tony Curtis Gaby’s narcissistic boyfriend; Maurice, the second policeman
Noël Coward, Alexander Meyerheim, the Producer