Audrey Hepburn, The Paramount Years: A Review of The ‘Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie Collection’

I don’t remember what year it was that my family got their first DVD player. It had to be the early 2000s, but I do remember what our first DVDs were: Lilo and Stitch and Billy Wilder’s Sabrina. Lilo and Stitch was for me, Sabrina for my mom, but today there’s no doubt which one made the larger impression.

Until Audrey Hepburn, I had never set out to watch an actor’s entire filmography before. Her films would go on to earn their own shelf in my room, but for those who might only know Hepburn as a fashion icon, or from the image of her in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Paramount has come up with the perfect starter collection to indoctrinate new fans (and give old fans the chance to revisit some classics).

Roman Holiday (1953)

Starting with the film that would earn Hepburn her only Oscar (though she would be nominated four more times), Hepburn’s “introducing” credit is a little like Dalton Trumbo’s story credit — deceiving. As explained in the featurette “Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Paramount,” Trumbo had to originally let a friend (Ian McLellan Hunter) take credit for his work on the screenplay with John Dighton due to being blacklisted. For this Blu-Ray the opening credits have been corrected, so anyone unaware that this happened won’t know without watching the featurette.

For her part, Roman Holiday wasn’t Hepburn’s first film, but it was the role that put her name on the map. Frustrated with having to keep up appearances while on a good will tour of Europe, Princess Ann (Hepburn) runs away and straight into the arms of a reporter. It’s not until the next day that Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) realizes the story he’s sitting on but, with the help of a photographer friend (Eddie Albert), he’s able to convince Ann to spend the day with him.

Leonard Maltin makes note of this during his featurette on the film, but one of the best parts about Roman Holiday (besides the fact that it was shot in Rome) ) is watching director, William Wyler, convey so much about these characters through their actions. The first time we see Ann, Wyler keeps cutting to her feet, which nobody else can see. Because they’re hidden beneath her skirt, though, they’re the one body part that can giveaway how she’s feeling. With Joe, it’s the lengths he goes to make sure he gets to sleep in his own bed while Anne is relegated to a chair. Anyone else would admit defeat, after finding Anne asleep in their bed, but not Joe, and without having to speak a word, Peck and Wyler are able to get across that Joe is a person who’s used to putting his needs first.

Other notable featurettes on Paramount’s Blu-Ray include “Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years,” which touches on all of the films in this set (except My Fair Lady, which was filmed on the Warner Brothers lot) and Hepburn’s collaborations with fashion designer, Givenchy. There’s also “Remembering Audrey Hepburn” in which Hepburn’s son, Sean Ferrer, and her companion, Robert Wolders, talk about Hepburn.

Sabrina (1954)

There are some loves that not even enrolling in a cooking school in Paris can cure. Such is the love Sabrina (Hepburn) feels for David (William Holden) in Sabrina. Despite being of different classes (and the fact that David is a major playboy), Sabrina can’t get over the guy, which is why her father (John Williams) sends her away to France.

As it turns out, though, Sabrina might not have to get over him. Upon returning, David finally notices her, except David’s brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart), is counting on David to marry someone else and decides to interfere. Maybe it’s nostalgia that colors my opinion of this film, which seems to take for granted that Sabrina will fall for the other brother just like that, but the scenes between Holden and Bogart where they’re testing out their company’s new products are very entertaining.

Best Bonus Feature: “Supporting Sabrina,” which shines a spotlight on the supporting cast (all films should do this). There’s also a 30-minute featurette on Holden.

War and Peace (1956)

When a movie is 3.5 hours long it shouldn’t feel like important scenes were left out, but King Vidor’s Russian epic is a mess. Hepburn plays Natasha, a young woman who meets and falls in love with a soldier (Hepburn’s real-life husband, Mel Ferrer) yet almost their entire courtship takes place offscreen. Viewers have to settle for internal monologues, where they recall their interactions, which creates no investment in their relationship. Henry Fonda also stars, though it’s not clear whether he’s supposed to be a love interest, or Natasha’s platonic friend.

Funny Face (1957)

From a photo shoot in New York to the streets of Paris, France, Stanley Donens Funny Face follows Jo (Hepburn) as she gets discovered in a bookstore and chosen to be Quality Magazine’s first Quality Girl. More interested in Paris’ beatnik scene than modeling, however, it falls on photographer, Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) to make sure Jo shows up for her commitments on time. While the age difference between Astaire and Hepburn could’ve been awkward, it helps that their romance isn’t a foregone conclusion and the musical numbers in this film are a lot of fun.

Best Bonus Feature: A featurette on Kay Thompson, who plays the magazine’s editor and whose career was remarkable. Besides starring in Funny Face, she also wrote the Eloise books and so much more.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

There might be no more famous image of Hepburn than as her character, Holly Golightly, wearing pearls and a little black dress, but Blake Edwards‘ Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an imperfect movie. Mickey Rooney in yellowface is extremely offensive, and Holly’s love interest, Paul (George Peppard), somehow has this idea that Holly owes it to him to love him back. The scenes at Tiffany’s are the strongest, but Hepburn’s had better vehicles.

Best Bonus Features: “A Golightly Gathering,” which manages to round-up some of the actors who appeared in the film’s famous party scene, and a featurette on Henry Mancini (“Moon River”), which is less a career retrospective than a personal tribute to the composer by his family.

Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

The last time I watched Richard Quine‘s Paris When It Sizzles, I didn’t know all of the references or who Tony Curtis was. Watching it today was a completely different experience, and one that definitely benefits from a deeper knowledge of Hollywood. Hepburn is once again joined by William Holden, who plays a screenwriter on a tight deadline. Hepburn is his secretary, and the film involves characters acting out scenes as they’re written and revised. There are digs at the French New Wave. Digs at the stars’ own filmographies. Callbacks to earlier scenes in the movie. It’s a smorgasbord of awesomeness. It also gives Hepburn multiple chances to play against type and act in roles she wouldn’t typically be cast in, like a femme fatale.

My Fair Lady (1964)

Unlike War and Peace, George Cukor’s My Fair Lady makes three hours go by in a flash. This loverly musical is about a phonetics professor (Rex Harrison) who decides to take on Eliza (Hepburn) as a challenge to himself. The goal: to help Eliza get rid of her cockney accent so she can pass in high society. Lovers of language will find much to savor in Alan Jay Lerner’s wordy lyrics, which are both clever and biting at the same time, Harrison’s Professor Higgins is a relentless monster, yet in a love-to-be-outraged-by kind of way, while Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) acts as the perfect counterbalance to his cruelty. Stanley Holloway is hilarious as Eliza’s father and, like Harrison, was part of the original Broadway cast.

My Fair Lady comes with a whole second disc of bonus features but the best part was getting to hear Hepburn’s vocals on “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “Show Me.” Hepburn’s voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon for most of the songs (though you can hear her voice a little on the non-soprano parts of “Just You Wait Henry Higgins”) and while it’s noticeable that Hepburn isn’t a professional singer on “Show Me,” her version of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” could’ve totally passed muster.

The Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie Collection is available on Blu-Ray and digital now from Paramount Pictures. If you haven’t gotten the individual releases, this is a great set that’s bursting with bonus features. I did move the disks to another case because they started to fall out when I was flipping through them. I don’t know if that was just my case or if others will have the same problem.

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