Madcap romantic comedy of inebriated screenwriter and his temp secretary.
In Cannes, a buxom stenographer in a bikini takes a memo from Hollywood movie producer Alexander Meyerheim (Noel Coward) to be delivered by telegram to his screenwriter in Paris, Richard Benson (William Holden), who has spent the past 19 plus weeks of employment water skiing in St Tropez, imbibing whiskey, sunbathing in Antibes while studying Greek with a starlet, imbibing vodka, attending a bullfight in Madrid, and gambling (in a futile attempt at recouping the $5,000/week plus expenses in his contract) in Monte Carlo, instead of writing the script for The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower.
A temporary secretary from the typing bureau, Miss Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn) arrives with her parakeet named Richelieu, whom Benson has hired to assist in producing the screenplay in two days. She has an adjoining bedroom because the hotel’s full. It’s Friday, and Gabrielle has plans for Sunday, July 14th Bastille Day, with a young man named Philippe.
Though Richard hasn’t written anything, he describes the story’s structure for Gabrielle as an action-suspense-romantic-melodrama with lots of comedy and a substrata of social comment (unlike New Wave pictures where nothing happens), very much a description of director Richard Quine’s madcap romantic comedy from George Axelrod’s screenplay based on a story and film, Holiday for Henrietta, by Julien Duvivier and Henri Jeanson, ending with “the final, earth-moving, studio-rent-paying, theatre-filling, popcorn-selling … kiss.” The dialogue is replete with delicious dietary delights.
After numerous false starts, including a cameo of Marlene Dietrich, Richard begins describing a simple Parisian working girl, much like Gabrielle, whom he names Gaby, waiting for her boyfriend Maurice (Tony Curtis), an actor, when the first switch and conflict take place, the appearance of a mysterious American stranger. But after eight pages with foreign agents in trench coats chasing the stranger and Gaby, Richard starts over as the 135th telegram from Meyerheim interrupts – “He spies on me constantly” – the already derailed train of thought.
Re-imagined, the stranger, “a liar and a thief” named Rick (Holden), is a safecracker with a master plan and a pair of gangster associates. As middle-aged boy meets girl, Interpol Inspector Gilet (Grégoire Aslan) observes his nemesis. Serendipity, chitchat (“The thing I do so brilliantly”), and dissolve to a lunch at the Bois where Rick says to Gaby, both born too rich: “I’m nobody, and I’ve done everything and nothing.”
Gabrielle remarks to her employer: “You know, I didn’t really like Rick at first. But he’s beginning to grow on me.” (“Important,” notes Benson: “The reaction of the female audience.”) After Rick plies Gaby with booze and nibbles at her neck – “I do know what happens next,” Gabrielle says, picking up the narrative: “What happens next is the second switch!” – they enter a grotto with bats, a vampire, and a laboratory table, bubbling with equipment, a bottle of vodka, Heinz and Tabasco sauces.
“A vampire’s life,” Gabrielle pronounces, comparing it to a writer’s, “must be a terribly lonely one.” Then the chase is on, a carriage pursued by a horseman dissolving to a dogfight in the sky. As Richard’s about to contact Meyerheim by phone, confessing he won’t have a script ready, Gabrielle emerges from her bedroom in a nightgown, inspiring him to write through the night.
In the morning, playing a Fred Astaire record on the phonograph singing “That Face” and dancing with Gabrielle, Richard abruptly stops: “Unfortunately, Miss Simpson, we’re not writing a musical.” The switch on the switch – “the whole situation is completely reversed” – with Rick taking the girl as “perfect cover” for his criminal enterprise, though he’s not aware of Gaby’s association with Inspector Gilet, who reminds the gregarious second policeman (Curtis) of his minor second billing in the cast.
As Rick and Gaby enter a movie studio with various sets, going from a jungle into a bedroom where the scene will eventually climax on the bed – “Well, I’m not that kind of girl,” Gabrielle on a couch declares to Richard who observes in an aside: “Did you ever realize that Frankenstein and My Fair Lady are the same story? One ends happily, and the other doesn’t.” (Hepburn, of course, had starred in the latter the same year.) At first she’s doubtful, but she does and she is.
Donning costumes – Rick in white cowboy hat with black mask and Gaby as a princess – for the movie producer’s party in the EiffelTower, the story’s denouement comes about in typical American fashion with a violent conflict, of which Gabrielle asks Benson: “Does it have to end that way?”
Paris When It Sizzles is available at UW’s Coe Library and for rent at Hastings Entertainment.