Paris When it Sizzles (1964) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Paris When it Sizzles (1964)

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Danny INDIFFERENTThe early 1960's as a dead period in American film, a time where the turmoil of studios, as they fought off encroachments from television and the loss of their theater chains, left a pallid stench over most of their cinematic  output. Though I have nowhere near the clout to pull this off, I will forever refer to this tumultuous period as 'Shit Hollywood'.

Hepburn, so far, has escaped most of these indignities by working with solid established directors (Donen on Charade, Wyler on Children's Hour); even the eclectic Breakfast at Tiffany's doesn't indulge in its excesses (doubly amazing considering freaking Blake Edwards was at the helm).

But nothing great lasts forever. Desperation hangs off of Paris When it Sizzles like a smothering blanket: the screenplay is dead weight, the chemistry is kiboshed by the terrible plot device, and the gags are so broad that Hepburn looks grizzled in comparison.

If Bill Holden wasn't an alchoholic before this picture...

Directed like a three camera sitcom, Sizzles is the story of a screenplay writer named Richard Benson whose latest opus is due in 48 hours. He has a title (The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower) and a lovely typist to seduce in the meantime. The typist is Hepburn, playing a character so flat that it's a wonder she wasn't accidentally loaded into the typewriter at some point.

Benson is played by William Holden, her romantic costar from back in Sabrina that seemed a little old then, and is maybe much older now. Holden throws himself into the role of the drunk wastrel writer with characteristic aplomb, but it's easy to see that he's not taking the role with an ounce of gravitas. I'm sure he would agree that the movie doesn't deserve it, but I'm not sure that I could say that it doesn't need it.

Hepburn, held in check for quite a while, seems to relish in the opportunity to ham it up, as her typist and the writer begin to fantasize themselves into the madcap movie within the movie.

This movie within the movie, a story of thieves stealing film cans and spies wearing coats, is emphatically a very bad movie. The filmmakers intended it to be this way, and to that extent they succeeded; unfortunately, they also wanted to use this movie within a movie as the crux of the action and drama for most of the film, leaving you to realize that three quarters of the running time are spent on this goofy Saturday morning cartoon-esque film (think The Great Race only mercifully shorter) that's too twee by half.

Hepburn seems to enjoy letting loose here, though the results aren't properly transmitted.

This structure robs the reality out of the screenwriter/typist romance, and undermines any character arc the characters are trudging through in their own reality. As soon as you see Holden as a vampire in the film within a film, you realize you're about ten seconds from The Monkees running on and playing a tune.

But all of this isn't a complete indictment. For as lame as it is, this movie does have a few inspired moments, and nearly all of those come from Tony Curtis popping up just to be Tony Curtis for a while. Tossing off lines as a beatnik such as, "Like... Bonjour, baby.", Curtis's complete inconsequentiality to the plot allows him enough freedom to escape the vortex of suck set up by the film's structure.

A series of illusions collapsing one after another, Paris When it Sizzles is a good idea that's a jumbled, hopeless mess. There's scant pickings for enjoyment that I found, but it's unlikely anyone who doesn't at least get tickled from seeing the same puppet stage from Charade in the opening credits will get much out of this film.

Thank god 'sizzles' rhymes with 'fizzles'. It just makes this summary so easy.

On a completely unrelated note, by some minor calculation on my part, if anyone out there was joining me on this jaunt through Hepburn-dom, statistically, every fourth movie of hers that you watch is set or at least has major portions take place in Paris. Just sayin'.

Audrey Hepburn Sundays

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Posted by Danny

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  1. Pallid stench? Who wrote this drivel? “Nowhere near the clout” hits it on the nose. The Apartment, The Sundowners, Elmer Gantry, Spartacus, Wild River, Pollyanna, West Side Story, Judgment At Nuremberg, The Hustler, Splendor In The Grass, Bird Man Of Alcatraz, Lonely Are The Brave, The Longest Day, Long Days Journey Into Night, The Music Man, Ride The High Country, To Kill A Mockingbird–and we’re not even to ’63. Get over yourself.

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