Love in the Afternoon (1957): Billy Wilder Romantic Melodrama Starring Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn

Intermittently charming, Love in the Afternoon is a low-key comedy, produced and directed by Billy Wilder, and co-written by him and his regular partner I.A.L. Diamond.

The screenplay is loosely based on Claude Anet’s French novel, Ariane, Young Russian Girl, which had been filmed as Scampolo in 1928, and Scampolo, ein Kind der Strasse (Campolo, a Child of the Street) in 1932, co-written by Wilder.

Its strongest merit is teaming together Maurice Chevalier with Audrey Hepburn for the first and only time.  Chevalier earns (not steal) every scene he is in, and the contrast between his easy-going charm and the wooden performance by Gary Cooper, the leading man and Hepburn’s romantic interest is too visible to disregard. In some scenes, Cooper looks like Hepburn’s uncle or father (age-wise, he could have been), underlining the lack of chemistry between the two stars.

While the model for this film is the subtle romantic comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, who Wilder admire, the execution falls short. Wilder was always better in hard-hitting features, such as his noir masterpieces, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard.  Wilder said he was also inspired by Paul Czinner’s 1931 German adaptation of the novel Ariane.

Hepburn plays Ariane Chavasse, a French detective (popular crooner Maurice Chevalier) daughter, who loves to snoop through her father’s private dossiers.  While digging her nose where she is not supposed to, Ariane becomes fascinated with the file of an American playboy Frank Flannagan (Cooper) and a certain Madame X.

Upon learning that Monsieur X has sworn to kill the American, she goes to his hotel suite to warn him.  Intrigued by the girl and her good heart, Flannagan begins to court her the very following afternoon, hence the title.  Despite significant age difference, they make an interesting couple: She is captured by his sophistication, and many an afternoon rendezvous follows.

Concealing her identity, Ariane tells Flannagan of the many lovers she has had in her past, and he begins to be overly concerned about her and her love life.  One day, in a steam bath, Flannagan meets Monsieur X, who advises him to consult detective Chavasse.  He does, asking the detective to find out the identity of the mysterious girl.  Chavasse later reports that the girl is his own, innocent daughter and that he must leave Paris to save her.  By this time, however, Flannagan has fallen deeply in love with Ariane, and, at the last minute, takes her with him as the train departs.

The black-and white “Love in the Afternoon” is not one of Wilder’s jewels in the crown, but the romantic comedy exhibits some charm, nice locations, and most importantly, offers a good part for the aging Chevalier.  As for Cooper, the movie did not do much for his career, which was in decline; he died four years later, at the age of 60.

I much prefer Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy “Sabrina,” also starring Audrey Hepburn, this time around torn between two brothers: the older Humphrey Bogart and the younger William Holden, though Wilder got better performance from Holden than Bogart.

The last scene at the train station, which resembles many other films set in this particular locale, may be too sentimental, but is nonetheless effective.

Released  on June 19, 1957, Love in the Afternoon was a commercial flop in the U.S. but more successful in Europe (where it was released under the title Ariane), barely recouping its budget of two million dollars.

Cast

Gary Cooper (Frank Flannagan)

Audrey Hepburn (Ariane Chavasse)

Maurice Chevalier (Claude Chavasse)

John McGiver (Monsieur X)

Lise Bourdin (Madame X)

Bonifas (Commissioner of Police)

Audrey Wilder (Brunette)

Gyula Kokas, Michel Kokas, George Cocos, Victor Gazzoli — The Four Gypsies (Themselves)

Olga Valery (Lady Hotel Guest)

Leila Croft, Valerie Croft (Swedish Twins)

Charles Bouillard (Valet at the Ritz)

Minerva Pious (Maid at the Ritz)

Filo (Flannagan’s Chauffeur)

Andre Priez (First Porter at the Ritz)

Gaidon (Second Porter at the Ritz)

Gregory Gromoff (Doorman at the Ritz)

Janine Dard, Claude Ariel (Existentialists)

Francois Moustache (Butcher)

Gloria France (Client at Butcher’s)

Jean Sylvain (Baker)

Annie Roudier (First Client at Baker’s)

Jeanne Charblay (Second Client at Baker’s)

Odette Charblay (Third Client at Baker’s)

Gilbert Constant, Monique Saintey (Lovers on Left Bank)

Jacques Préboist, Anne Laurent (Lovers near the Seine)

Jacques Ary, Simone Vanlancker (Lovers on the Right Bank)

Richard Flagy (Husband)

Jeanne Papir (Wife)

Marcelle Broc, Marcelle Praince (Rich Women)

Guy Delorme (Gigolo)

Olivia Chevalier, Solon Smith (Little Children in the Gardens)

Eve Marley, Jean Rieubon (Tandemists)

Christian Lude, Charles Lemontier, Emile Mylos (Generals)

Alexander Trauner (Artist)

Betty Schneider, Georges Perrault, Vera Boccadoro, Marc Aurian (Couples under Water Wagon)

Bernard Musson (Undertaker)

Michèle Selignac (Widow)

 

Credits

A Billy Wilder Production.

An Allied Artists Pictures Corp. Film.

Director: Billy Wilder.

Producer: Billy Wilder.

Screenplay: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the novel Ariane by Claude Anet.

Photographer: William Mellor.

Editor: Leonid Azar.

Art Director: Alexandre Trauner.

Second Unit Director: Noel Howard.

Associate Producers: William Schoor and Doane Harrison.

Assistant Director: Paul FEyder.

Sound Recorder: Jo de Bretagne.

Sound Editor: Del Harris.

Musical Adaptation; Franz Waxman.

Music Editor: Robert Trany.

Musical Compositions: “Fascination” by F.D. Marchetti and Maurice de Feraudy; “C’est Si bon” by Henri Betti and Andre Hornez; “L’ame Des Poetes” by Charles Trenet; “Love in the Afternoon.” “Ariane,” “Hot Paprika” by Matty Malneck.