Film Review: Paris When It Sizzles

You every get that feeling when all you want to do is to sit down in front of the TV and watch something that doesn’t require too much effort? Something that doesn’t ask too much of your concentration? Maybe you’ve been on your feet all day toiling and sweating and you’re physically exhausted or maybe you’ve got too much on your plate and it’s hard to focus on any one thing and all you wish is for something to take your mind of it for a little while. Either way, sometimes losing yourself in a slice of good-looking, light-hearted silliness can be just the ticket. Paris When It Sizzles is just such a slice of good-looking, light-hearted silliness.

It’s a 1964 romantic comedy and it stars William Holden and Audrey Hepburn who ten years earlier had set tongues wagging by having a brief romance of their own while making the film Sabrina. Holden was married at the time, after all. However, this most delicate bloom of an actress decided to end the relationship either on account that her lover was plagued with alcoholism or that he’d undergone a vasectomy and couldn’t have children. Or both. Years later Holden apparently still carried a torch for her so one can imagine their feelings when Paramount Studios insisted on them making the film together. Fortunately for us, if there was any awkwardness between the stars, it didn’t translate to the screen.

The plot revolves around Holden’s playboy screenwriter Richard Benson (he played another screenwriter in Sunset Boulevard 1950) who hires Hepburn’s secretary Gabrielle Simpson to stay with him in his hotel room over Bastille weekend in order to type up the screenplay that he has promised to his boss, Alexander Myerheim (Noel Coward). Trouble is, even though he’s already been paid for it, he hasn’t got a clue what he’s going to write and the several possibilities he comes up with stink. But he is soon inspired by the lovely Gabrielle and comes up with the title, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower. The rest of the film flits between their growing relationship in the hotel room and the imagined film playing out as Benson narrates. The end result is of course, utterly predictable but the journey is a lot of fun and it involves inept police and international spies. It also takes a few hilarious potshots at the movie business and there are several noteworthy cameos too, particularly from an uncredited Tony Curtis.

I laughed loudest at Curtis’s antics (his comedic ability has always appealed to me – see Some Like It Hot, The Persuaders etc) particularly towards the end when he shares the screen with Holden but the truth is, while the film has some incredibly silly moments, the entire cast manages to carry the absurdity of the story in an almost pantomime-like style and for me, this ensures there are laughs to be had all the way. There are a couple of marvellous cameos too (don’t we just love cameos?), one if which is the voice of one of the greatest singers the world has ever known. Check it out. I guarantee you’ll laugh – or at the very least giggle.

The film was directed by Richard Quine whose other credits include Bell Book and Candle (1958) and How to Murder Your Wife (1965). George Axelrod, – he of The Seven Year Itch (1952) fame – adapted the screenplay from an earlier French film called Holiday for Henrietta (1952). The music is from Nelson Riddle – composer, bandleader, arranger – who worked with some of the greatest singing talents ever and the exterior shots of Paris, which make you just want to go there, come courtesy of cinematographer Charles Lang, whose credits include A Farewell to Arms (1932), Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). Whether it’s a bright sunny day or a neon-lit night shot, seeing Paris on film always makes me want to jump on Eurostar.

While it might not have a place in the pantheon of romantic comedies like say, Hepburn’s Roman Holiday (1953) or Jack Lemmon’s The Apartment (1960), it is worth a look. It teems with that glamorous ’60s European chic and there are some great lines from some of Hollywood’s greatest stars. And besides, you didn’t want to be  entertained too much anyway.