Paris - When it Sizzles review by Tom Blain
Its sad when a movie with two great actors doesnt work at all. Its even worse when it doesnt particularly age well. Thats the case with William Holden and Audrey Hepburn in Paris When it Sizzles. P-WIS is a movie that sets out to lampoon screen writers with well-tested livers, as movie genres of the time but the whole thing is an exhausting exercise of the audiences patience.
The setting is, of course, Paris. Rick Benson (William Holden) is an excessive screenwriter who is put up in what is probably the most expensive hotel/apartment in Paris to get a screenplay finished and off to his producer. The producer is off in the French Riviera gambling and sun bathing; hard life. Benson has had plenty of time to put it all together but with that old college spirit, procrastinates and with a few days left has zero pages and a slight case of writers block. Needing a quick fix, the producer hires flighty typist Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn) to process the writers thoughts into approximately 130 pages of workable screen play.
The two start off in how do you do, lets waste time displaying my immense personality way, and then get to work on the screen play which Benson seems to have all in his head (even if none of it makes sense). The whole writing process is spur-of the moment as scenes are added and deleted at the drop of a hat. With each new scene, the movie seems to jump into a different genre with parody that has yet to ripen. As each scene is worked through and talked out, we see it performed on screen as a movie-within-the-movie. The rough idea is that the two main characters in the movie-within-the-movie are played out by Benson/Holden and Simpson/Hepburn, and that as they work together on the movie they fall in love in both. Ironically, the movie-in-the-movie love story is much more believable than the movie-outside-of-the-movie-in-the-movie.
Got that? Makes sense? Good.
The real movie (the real movie, not the one being written) is light-and-airy bordering on boring and tedious. Holdens character is full of wit and quick one-liners but has no clue what type of movie he is writing and in the end writes a very clichd boring movie. Writer George Axelrod seems to have been on a mission to lampoon most genres in Hollywood (as well as a few screenwriters) with Paris When it Sizzles and may have accomplished that with slightly passing grades. He hits on mystery films (like Charade), drama (think Casablanca), horror (a mini-spoof of Dracula is a laugher since it represents horror films of the 40s/50s) and even some of Axelrod/Hepburns work (a couple reflective comments on Breakfast at Tiffanys). But despite having two great actors, he pulled it all together into one coherent and enjoyable film. The movie jumps all over the place, and the two characters in their writing scenes and out are a bit too goofball. Holdens screenwriter is pretentious and loud, and talks a bigger game than he writes. Hepburns typist is an airhead who seems to take to Holden without pause for rational thought or any thought at all.
By the time the movie finished, I was left wondering Why did it take so long? and Do I really care how all of this gets resolved? Its a movie that is easy to turn off about half way through and just completely forget.
This movie was remade in 2004 as Alex and Emma with Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson in roles similar to Holden and Hepburn. Again, it was a movie that really didnt work. I think what you get in these types of films is two halves of a bad movies instead of one good whole movie. The screen-writer has to work double duty to make the screenplay or book that is being created within the film but, honestly, how good can that story end up being? If it was any good, the writer would have turned it into a separate film instead of having it play second fiddle to another story. I just think that the whole formula has failure written all over it; prove me wrong Hollywood.
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