Director Billy Wilder salutes his idol, Ernst Lubitsch, with this comedy about a middle-aged playboy fascinated by the daughter of a private detective who has been hired to entrap him with the wife of a client.
Fashion photographer Dick Avery, in search for an intellectual backdrop for an air-headed model, expropriates a Greenwich Village bookstore. When the photo session is over the store is left in a shambles, much to salesgirl Jo Stockton's dismay. Avery stays behind to help her clean up. Later, he examines the photos taken there and sees Jo in the background of one shot. He is intrigued by her unique appearance, as is Maggie Prescott, the editor of a leading fashion magazine. They offer Jo a modeling contract, which she reluctantly accepts only because it includes a trip to Paris. Eventually, her snobbish attitude toward the job softens, and Jo begins to enjoy the work and the company of her handsome photographer. Written by
Gershwin, Paris, Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Avedon, and John-Paul Sartre
This 1957 musical is a little odd. It has a title based on an original 1920s Gershwin musical (that included the title song) which starred Fred and Adele Astaire. It was a musical and scenic valentine to France (but only one tune in it deals with France - "Bonjour Paris!". It is a spoof on the modern fashion magazines, fashions in general, and advertising - but the spoof while sharp at times is never pushed. The opening sequence, "Think Pink," describes how Kay Thompson plans a campaign to make the American woman go for "pink" clothes, accessories, toothpaste, etc., only to admit to her assistant she personally loathes the color. It takes full advantage of the attractive face and features of Hepburn, who is convinced to be a model and help push a new line of fashions in Paris. And it makes two characters into imitations of Richard Avedon the photographer (Astaire as Dick Avory) and Jean-Paul Sartre (Michel Auclair as Prof. Emile Flostre).
Avedon was a rarity - a fashion photographer who became a great artistic portrait photographer. Astaire never is shown taking pictures of great or famous people in the film but several times he demonstrates a refinement that separates him from the rest of Kay Thompson's entourage (most of whom don't care what havoc they cause, as long as they get their jobs done). He also has enough sense to question Hepburn's accepting of "empathicalism", and it's viability. Witness his moment in the bistro pouring wine to the two old codgers who are quite pleasant to him while he insults them in English. Hepburn, of course, is so insistent on the validity of her philosophical beliefs that she rejects Astaire's warnings, and jeopardizes the fashion show.
The final blow (seemingly) to the Astaire - Hepburn relationship is when he confronts Flostre at the author's home. He knocks out the Professor, and his brutality demolishes the relationship with Hepburn. But within minutes Hepburn sees another side to Flostre which is unexpected, and suddenly realizes that Astaire may be right after all.
The character of Flostre is obviously based on that of Jean-Paul Sartre, the founder of "existentialism". Based on in some details, but not in theory. "Empathicalism" has to do with trying to empathize with others so as to have a proper response to their needs and aspirations. "Existentialism" has to do with: "An introspective humanism or theory of man which expresses the individual's intense awareness of his contingency and freedom; a theory which states that the existence of the individual precedes his essence." This is from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Sartre has a more complex view of man and society, and one can plow through BEING AND NOTHINGNESS to try to understand it. In fact some critics have wondered if the Nobel Prize Winner eventually got very wrong headed about his theory. But he certainly seems a meatier philosopher than his celluloid copy.
But Flostre does have the trappings of Sartre on him. He is revered by his followers world wide (such as Hepburn). He is a man with sexual appetite (as Sartre was with his long time companion and fellow writer Simone Beauvoir). And there is some traces of an anti-capitalist, even anti-American attitude in him. It is not definitely pushed, but when Astaire and Thompson break into his house during a party, they pretend they are American share cropper singers whom Flostre had brought to France to perform for his guests. Now, we never hear what this actual pair actually would sing, but judging from their background they would have to throw in some protest songs. Sartre was very critical of the U.S.A. and capitalism (today his fans have to explain Sartre's willingness to accept Russian imperialist moves under Communism in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s - they find it very hard to do so).
On the whole the parts of the film work well, so I give it seven stars. Kay Thompson is best recalled for being the creator of the little girl at the Plaza "Eloise", but she shows here a highly entertaining performance as Maggie Prescott, the editor who pushes and loathes pink. The film would have been better if somehow Avedon's portrait photography had been brought into the story, possibly in a final scene with Flostre as his subject. However, even without such a sequence the film is rewarding to watch, especially in the musical numbers. Astaire does equally well with Thompson and with Hepburn as his partners here.
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