Much of the remake follows "Sabrina I" scene-for-scene, especially in the early sequences. For the rest, the changes add little, subtract a lot. Both films deal with a family of magnates on Long Island. Larrabee Industries is run by senior brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart then, Harrison Ford now), while junior brother David (William Holden, now Greg Kinnear), a company director in name only, keeps busy with wine and women (we don't know about song).
Years ago, the Larrabees imported from England a Rolls Royce along with chic chauffeur Fairchild (now a widower) and his daughter Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn in 1954, Julia Ormond in 1995). Sabrina has had forever a crush on David, who never noticed it or her. As a cure, she is sent to Paris by her father. She returns transformed into a lovely, sophisticated young woman on whom David puts the make. Bad news for Mother Larrabee (Nancy Marchand, awfully gowned and photographed like a gargoyle) and Linus.
David is engaged to Elizabeth Tyson, the daughter of powerful industrialists. Well beyond class distinctions is the fact that a Larrabee-Tyson merger is in the works. It will vanish if David does not marry Elizabeth. To eliminate the Sabrina danger, Linus begins to court her. She responds and Linus is hoist on his own petard, as anyone could have guessed from the start .
The superficial differences between the Wilder and the Pollack films are in the updating of the story by adjusting for inflation (the 1954 million is now a billion), and means of locomotion (the Concorde, private helicopters and jets). The real differences are in the cast, the direction, the Paris sequences and the dialogue.
No one, including Julia Ormond (pronounced OR-mond) could in a million years approach the beauty, charm, elegance, distinction and distinctiveness of elfin, doe-eyed, adorable Audrey Hepburn--who, by the way, also speaks excellent French. The Ormond hype of reviewers (e.g."We're melting") or of morning TV anchors ("So beautiful as to make you faint") has no basis. While throughout the first film, Hepburn convinces us with her many expressions and her romantic, schoolgirl crush on David, Ormond looks by comparison, older, stolid, rather expressionless, and generates about 70 watts of electricity with Ford and 40 watts without him.
Greg Kinnear makes an OK screen debut yet lacks the warmth of William Holden, an actor who while never a pretty-boy had a commanding presence, without even trying to assert it. You may disapprove of Holden the playboy, but he charms you nonetheless, whereas Kinnear is more leering than attractive.
Ever likable Harrison Ford is appealing but here there is vagueness about his part and murkiness about his courtship. It is said that in the original Humphrey Bogart looked uncomfortable and actually said so, but Billy Wilder knew what he was doing. Casting Bogart against type was a coup. The contrast of a familiar persona shifting from tough guy to a romantic upper-class pretender (in both senses) added a funny element that is lacking in the Ford character.
In "Sabrina II," Nancy Marchand replaces Walter Hampden as the nominal head of the Larrabees. She has a few quips but I miss eccentric Old Man Larrabee who brought much amusing zip in his complicity with Linus. At the same time, the economically stated poignancy in the first film's chauffeur Fairchild is now replaced by gimmicks.
The direction is another problem. Writer-director Billy Wilder, a sophisticate from Austria, Germany, France and Hollywood, was among many things the collaborator and inheritor of Ernst Lubitsch and arguably the premier film-cynic of his time -- along with the gentler Preston Sturges. His work reflected European sophistication. At his best, Wilder put layers of meaning beneath what seemed to be obvious situations, lines or gags. His "Sabrina" was far funnier than the remake. In this film, Sydney Pollack, a first-rate craftsman with a first-rate crew, there are no subtleties or sub-texts.
"Sabrina I" was part Eisenhower-era fantasy and part throwback to 1930s films that gave the poor of the Depression something to dream about. The remake is all of that plus a post-yuppie tale.
Bogart may have been a one-track-mind businessman, but he had a definite, marked sense of humor. Ford is given little of this and though younger is more like a caricature of the entrepreneur with obsessive tunnel-vision who only thinks, works, lives business. Notice how, during a big Larrabee garden party, one glimpses Bogart indoors, demonstrating a new product to potential buyers. In "Sabrina II," Ford is shown doing this twice (and with more screen time), to Arabs and to Japanese.
In general, the moneyed class in Number 1 was shown as rather natural within its wealth. In Number 2 there is something offensive, ostentatious, crass and tacky about the rich and famous. Typically, Kinnear says about his mother's birthday :"I bought her a little Picasso." Ford "How much did that cost me?" Kinnear: "I don't know." Later, Ford takes Ormond on his private plane and is twice rude to the bubbling lady-attendant. There's more along those lines too.
The Paris sections of "Sabrina I" are utterly charming. Sabrina goes to cooking school where the teacher-chef is very funny, while Marcel Dalio plays an elderly student, a delightful nobleman who sophisticates Sabrina. In "Sabrina II," somehow Sabrina works for Vogue magazine. The sequences are way too long, disconnected and cliched. Sabrina almost loses her virginity to a young Frenchman (who gives her silly, pithy advice, too). There is forced semi-slapstick. The French scenes feel like the hundred-franc first-timers' tour of Picturesque Paris as well as a visual derivative of the Astaire-Hepburn movie "Funny Face." The movie's guiding principle seems to be that more is more.
The first date of Linus and Sabrina is pretty straightforward in "Sabrina I" but needlessly long and complicated in the remake. Linus falling for Sabrina is gradual in "Sabrina I," too sudden in "Sabrina II." Then Ford tells Marchand something like "Don't worry, I'll ditch her" yet minutes later is ooohing over the girl.
There's overkill in several ways. For example, back from Paris, at the Long Island train station, Sabrina arrives outrageously overdressed for someone fresh off a plane. Ask any transatlantic traveler. (In the identical scene of "Sabrina I" the same error was made, but at least the young lady had come by boat).
The new film lacks the wit, class and pacing of the original. There are some improvements, no doubt, but those that come readily to mind are mostly the amusing Dana Ivey as Linus's secretary and the way in which David finds out that the chic lady he picked up at the railroad station is Sabrina.
For those who worry about May-December couples, they will find the remake more acceptable. Ormond looks pretty mature and Ford not at all over-the-hill. In real life Ford (age 53) is 23 years older than Ormond (age 30).
In "Sabrina I," Hepburn, then 25, was 11 years younger than William Holden and 30 years younger than Humphrey Bogart. In all of her movies, she looked convincingly very much younger than her age. And in something of a convention in Hepburn films, she was involved with much older leading men. The age gap ought to have been blatant, but the handling of most of those movies plus Audrey's charm made the difference in years more acceptable than expected.
=============================================== Tables of age differences.
Audrey Hepburn, born 1929 . Films where she was much younger than her leading men.
Roman Holiday 1953, Peck born 1916 ,then 40 / AH then 24 --age difference 16 yrs Sabrina 1954, Bogart b. 1899, then 55 / AH then 25 -- age difference 30 yrs War and Peace 1956, Henry Fonda, b. 1905, then 51 / AH then 27-- age difference 34 yrs
Funny Face 1957 Fred Astaire, b. 1899, then 58/ AH by then 28 ---age difference 30 yrs
Love in the Afternoon 1957, Gary Cooper, b. 1901, then 56/ AH by then 28 --age difference 28 yrs
The Unforgiven 1960, Burt Lancaster b.1913, then 47 / AH then 31 ---age difference 16 yrs
Charade 1963 , Cary Grant b. 1904, then 59 / AH then 34 --age difference 25 years
My Fair Lady 1964, Rex Harrison, b. 1908, then 56/ AH then 35 --age difference 21 yrs
Paris-When it Sizzles, 1964, William Holden b. 1918, then 46/ AH then 35 -- age difference 11 yrs
======================================================================= Other films. Younger/older Audrey Hepburn vis-a-vis her leading men.
Green Mansions, 1959, Tony Perkins b. 1932, then 27/ AH then 30, 3 yrs older Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961, George Peppard b. 1928, then 33 / AH then 32, 1 yr younger
The Children's Hour, 1962, James Garner b. 1928, then 34 /AH then 31, 1 yr younger
How to Steal a Million, 1966, Peter O'Toole b. 1932, then 34/ AH then 37, 3 yrs older
Two for the Road, 1967, Albert Finney b. 1936, then 31/ AH then 38, ====> 7 yrs older <=====
Wait Until Dark, 1967, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. born 1923, then 44/ AH then 38, 6 yrs younger
Robin and Marian 1976, Sean Connery b. 1930 then 46 /A Hepburn by then 47, 1 year older
Bloodline 1979, They All Laughed 1981, Always 1989 : comparisons irrelevant. AH's age was respectively 50, 52 and 60.