Love in the Afternoon (1957)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Love in the Afternoon</strong> (1957)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) From a twenty-first-century perspective, looking at the totality of an actor’s filmography at once certainly has a different impact that chronologically living through it one movie at a time. As much as I like Audrey Hepburn, for instance (and I do!), it’s hard not to notice that in between 1954 and 1967, she made no less than seven movies at least partially set in Paris, and at least four of them with significantly older men. While Sabrina was partially set in Paris but obviously not filmed there, Funny Face and Love in the Afternoon (both 1957, shot a month apart) get the subgenre properly started. In the latter film, Gary Cooper plays an aging playboy who sets his sights on an inexperienced young daughter of a detective. The remarkable difference between the two characters (in age, in social status, in understanding the world) is enough to make any viewer uneasy, and it’s a measure of writer/director Billy Wilder’s skill and both stars’ charm that the film (barely) holds together. Hepburn is up to her usual self here, although if you want another Paris movie in which she calls her father an ebullient “Papa!”, you’ll be better served by How to Steal a Million Dollars. Cooper is a bit less bland than usual here, with a character that does service to his stature in the industry at the time. Maurice Chevalier rounds up the marquee names with an on-target role as a wise, compassionate and knowing private investigator to the stars. There’s no avoiding that the material here is tricky, and that Wilder steers his movie through material that would instantly doom other directors. (Although much of the same can be said about Funny Face and Charade.) There are, fortunately, quite a few laughs along the way, my favourite being the gypsy band following Cooper’s character around, mixing diegetic and non-diegetic musical cues. But while the film does have its strengths (seeing Hepburn, Cooper, Chevalier and Wilder working together being the best of them), its place in a well-defined sub-sub-genre of “Hepburn with older men in Paris” also invites unfavourable comparisons. Funny Face has Astaire dancing and Hepburn keeping up, while Charade plays far more smoothly with the romance with the far more charismatic Cary Grant. If Love in the Afternoon makes you queasy despite its old-school Hollywood charm, you’re not alone.

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