How classy is this movie credit? ‘Miss Hepburn’s clothes and perfume by Givenchy’.
In Jean Luc Godard’s film about filmmaking Le Mepris (1963), screenwriter Michel Piccoli and wife Brigitte Bardot have a half-hour conversation scene in a hotel room. A year later, this glossy comedy confection goes one better by having screenwriter Richard Benson (William Holden) and typist Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn) spend the whole film in a hotel suite, at once working on a screenplay (The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower, complete with Frank Sinatra theme song) and flirting outrageously.
Screenwriter George Axelrod, working from a story by Julien Duvivier and Henri Jeanson, poke fun at Gaby’s previous employer, New Wave director Roger Rossin, who has made a whole film about a party where they don’t play Scrabble – but this is at least as incisively cynical about Hollywood as it riffs on rom-com, heist, horror, western, espionage, censor-baiting sex and slapstick comedy with interesting asides about how movies work. In proto-Charlie Kaufman style, Rick lays out blank script pages while expounding on where twists should come, notes that Frankenstein and My Fair Lady are the same story, and rues the wretched hollowness of his life – which involves spending five well-paid days a year writing trash so he can spend the rest of the time drunk on exotic locations.
In Le Mepris, Jack Palance is the stereotype crass producer. Here, it’s Noel Coward as a decadent voluptuary surrounded by bikini babes or fancy-dressed as an emperor. It’s also as blatant an exercise in semi-autobiographical wish-fulfilment (on Axelrod’s part, presumably) as anything. I am a middle-aged writer and my fantasies about copping off with Audrey Hepburn aren’t as blatant as this film-length reverie … which extends to a bit where Holden punches out the heroine’s Bastille Day date and drags her off to be a proto-manic pixie dream girl and inspire him to better work. But, as glossily directed by Richard Quine, this is a smart, funny picture and oddly avant-garde if not exactly nouvelle vague. With Gregoire Aslan as the police inspector, Tony Curtis unbilled (and very funny) as a stooge cop, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire on the soundtrack singing’That Face’, and Mel Ferrer impersonating Fredric March as Jekyll and Hyde.
The parody skits include a nicely art-directed horror lair – with bottles of vodka and ketchup amid bubbling mad science retorts and rubber bats on strings – and Holden lit red with huge fangs and a cloak as a vampire. Music by Nelson Riddle, and a lot of invention – it’s not Billy Wilder, but it can hold a candle to Blake Edwards.