As a big movie fan, I’m willing to watch all kinds of movies at least once. However, one category that’s always baffled me is romantic comedies. There are few romantic comedies that I admit to liking and even fewer that I can watch over and over again. But there are a couple of films that I truly enjoy, and one of them is 1995s “Sabrina.”
Directed by Sydney Pollack, “Sabrina” starred Harrison Ford as Linus Larrabee, Julia Ormond as Sabrina and Greg Kinnear as David Larrabee. The film’s supporting cast featured Lauren Holly, Angie Dickinson, Richard Crenna, Nancy Marchand, John Wood, Dana Ivey, and Fanny Ardant.
Although “Sabrina” was released in late 1995, I didn’t get to see the movie until it was released on home video sometime in 1996. I was working at the video store at the time and had become good friends with one of my supervisors. Even though she was almost two years older than me, we hit it off because of movies. She loved older movies so she introduced me to Spencer Tracy and Erroll Flynn. I, in turn, took her to her first James Bond movie.
We spent a lot of time together both at work and at the movies. But one of our favorite things to do was to stay at her place, order food, and watch movies. That’s exactly what we did when the “Sabrina” VHS came out. I remember she was really excited to see the movie, I later found out it was because she was a fan of the original “Sabrina” film from 1954.
That film was directed by Billy Wilder and starred Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden. But I didn’t know that before seeing the Harrison Ford version, or that both films were based upon a play titled “Sabrina Fair” by Samuel Taylor. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t know about the 1954 movie because I would have spent the time comparing the two rather than enjoying the Sydney Pollack film for what it is: a love letter to the source material.
If I had to explain the plot of “Sabrina” to someone new I’d tell them the movie is a little bit like Cinderella meets the Ugly Duckling. I think it makes sense after all Sabrina Fairchild is the awkward daughter of a chauffeur played by John Wood. I don’t mean awkward in a bad way, but the Sabrina we meet early on is shy, timid, and easily forgettable to the family her father works for.
Sabrina and her father live and work at the Long Island estate of the wealthy Larrabee family. For most of her life, Sabrina has been enchanted from afar with the Larrabees’ world of privilege and wealth. She’d often sit in a tree watching the lavish parties the Larrabees threw. But Sabrina is especially enamored of younger Larrabee brother David (Greg Kinnear), a notorious womanizer.
After the once-plain Sabrina returns from living in Paris, she’s transformed into a remarkably poised and attractive young woman, who at long last catches David’s eye and the ire of his brother. In a calculated effort to manipulate David away from her and into a more financially advantageous marriage, older brother Linus (Harrison Ford) pretends to woo Sabrina himself but finds himself unintentionally falling in love.
The main reason I like “Sabrina” is because of the cast. Julia Ormond as Sabrina is exquisitely regal, relatable, and likable. Ormond makes a lovable duckling hidden behind glasses and long, tangled hair. Watching the movie I immediately liked her, especially when she spies on the rich people at their parties. Later Julia Ormond transforms herself into a young woman so beautiful, so self-confident, that when she returns she isn’t even recognized by the playboy younger brother she’s loved all her life.
Greg Kinnear as David Larrabee proved himself to be a skilled actor. He was able to play a clown in a few scenes (like when he sits on champagne glasses), and he was able to play things straight (like when he announced he was taking over the company). And even though his character disappears for a good chunk of the film, Kinnear gave him enough personality that made later scenes more impactful.
Meanwhile, Harrison Ford plays older brother Linus Larrabee as a workaholic who has never had time for romance. During most of the film, he’s obsessed with the possible merger between his company and another conglomerate owned by the family of David’s fiancée, Elizabeth Tyson (Lauren Holly). The Tyson’s own patents on an indestructible flat-panel television screen that is sure to earn millions for everyone involved.
Despite the seriousness of the character, Ford manages to give Linus a great deal of humor. One of my favorite scenes takes place during a garden party at the Larrabee home. Through a garden window, we Linus ignoring the party in order to impress potential investors by assailing the panel with blow torch and hammer. This comes only minutes after Linus shows David hos indestructible the screen is by shooting it point-blank.
Long before “Crazy Rich Asians” gave us a couple of hours of escapism, “Sabrina” did the same thing in the 90s. Sabrina Fairchild wasn’t the only one escaping into this movie world of wealth. We as the audience did as well, and Sydney Pollack wasn’t shy about playing up the fairy-tale aspect of the story. This movie was fun and filled with wonderful performances by an excellent cast.
There’s one scene near the end of the film between Harrison Ford and Sabrina’s father. It’s basically Mr. Fairchild telling Ford he’s not good enough for his daughter. This is risky to say to your boss, but Ford actually agrees with him. Ford then wins him over by saying that he needs Sabrina, or he doesn’t need anything at all. It was at this point where my friend/supervisor grabbed my hand and started crying.
This may seem like an odd thing to remember after all these years, but as far as I can remember this was the first time a girl had grabbed my hand like that. Now, nearly twenty-three years later, whenever I watch this particular scene, that’s the first thing that pops into my mind. But that’s just one of the many reasons why I still enjoy “Sabrina.”