William Holden was born to play David Larrabee, with his perfectly combed golden hair and that little smile that always bordered on a smirk. He has that whole likeable cad thing, like George Sanders, Basil Rathbone and Richard Widmark down to a tee. He looks louche and sunkissed (even though the film’s in black and white), the perfect example of a blue blood. Which is interesting, because while Holden’s background was middle class and Bogart’s was upper class, Holden fits the bill more than his co star does.
He also manages to strike a perfect balance between the comedic side of his character, the David who sits down on champagne glasses and doesn’t recognise the now sophisticated Sabrina at the station, and the more serious part of David. The part of David that had always been in his brother’s shadow, who believed that there was no necessity to even try and compete with his older brother, Linus. Holden doesn’t allow a character that could easily have been subsumed by Sabrina and Linus to be a background one. He steals every scene he’s in, especially the one where he’s so doped up on medication he doesn’t know what’s up and what’s down.
While Audrey and Bogart have middling chemistry at best, seeming more like good friends than lovers, despite Bogart’s terrible treatment of his young costar on set, Holden and Audrey’s is like a forest fire. This was probably partly due to the fact that they were having a passionate affair in real life, and Audrey wanted to marry Holden.
But I think it’s also because their acting styles just click. Firstly Bogart is just too old to believably be an object of desire for a girl like Sabrina, who is young, funny and sophisticated. Linus is a likeable enough character, but Bogart looks old enough to be Audrey’s father (which he could’ve been at thirty years her senior), and he also looks as if he’s imitating a plank of wood in their scenes together. He had apparently wanted his wife to play the role of Sabrina, which obviously wouldn’t have working seeing as Bacall was firstly a bit too mature to play the role and also far too sexy.
What Holden allows Audrey to do in the movie is show her range, and she does the same for him. She’s a love sick teen in the beginning of the film, trying to off herself in a moment of terrible heartbreak, but during her scenes with Holden she becomes a woman transformed, slowly wise to the insincerity of childhood fantasies.
Holden starts the film as a shallow playboy, who slowly reveals that he’s really just a wounded, disappointed man, trying to rebel against his brother’s seeming perfection. That’s probably why I never really bought the ending of the movie. I understand why Sabrina ends up with Linus: he genuinely loves her, he offers stability but also wants to allow Sabrina to show him another side to life. David steps up and becomes the CEO of the Larrabee empire. But David and Sabrina just have far more chemistry the whole film, and somehow it’s as if the film wants you to ignore this.
Wilder shows his usual memorable, creative flare at the end of the film. And I love that, and as I said, I understand why Sabrina ends up with Linus, but would you really choose Bogart over Holden? Some of you are probably shouting at the screen right now saying “Yes! Every time!” But should it really be this time? Don’t Audrey and Holden look at each other with naked desire instead of a soft understanding? Doesn’t he hold her as if wants to feel every part of her instead of convince her that he doesn’t think she’s all that bad despite being the chauffeur’s daughter?
I’ve always believed that if Alan Ladd had played Linus, as he was supposedly slated to, it would’ve been a far more convincing set up. Firstly he and William Holden always reminded me of each other: golden haired, blue eyes and handsome, with that same natural acting style that showed an ability for drama and humour, although Holden got to showcase his ability for the latter far more than Alan.
I think that Audrey definitely deserved her Oscar nod for this film. But I think Holden deserved and deserves far more recognition that he received and receives for his portrayal of David. He’s not just the comic relief, the foil to Bogart’s serious-guy-whose-life-is-changed. He creates a fully formed character, which is something I’ve come to understand as I’ve grown older. David isn’t the pratfall, like Linus he’s soul searching. Where Linus finds Paris, David finds a purpose, something they both needed long before Sabrina came along.
This is my contribution for The Fourth Golden Boy Blogathon being hosted by Love Letters To Old Hollywood, The Wonderful World of Cinema and The Flapper Dame. Please visit their blogs for more information and to read everyone’s contributions.