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4 January 2014

Love in the Afternoon (1957)

1957
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Starring: Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier, 
John McGiver, Van Doude, Lise Bourdin
However beautiful and romantic snow looks in films, I can assure you that 'beautiful' and 'romantic' are not the words that come into my mind when another snowstorm hits us. It is absolutely no fun going out into the sub-zero weather, with a cold, blustery wind chilling your breath and the blood in your veins, to shovel your driveway and the steps leading up to your front door. But coming in cold and wet and tired after shovelling all that snow, it does feel good to wrap myself in a fleece blanket, pull the drapes, and watch a film.

In another post, I wrote about how I was never a hopeless romantic, though I often looked wistfully at love stories that seemed to be real - and happy. Life and experience has made me pretty cynical about love, so when I looked at the latest arrival from Netflix - Love in the Afternoon - I looked at it with a jaundiced eye. I remember having added it to my list because it was a Billy Wilder film, and because I had this vague recollection of having watched this film a long time ago, and having liked it. (I was wrong. I have never seen this film before. I think I mistook this for Funny Face.) Most importantly, it starred Audrey Hepburn. I have adored Ms. Hepburn from the time I first saw her in Roman Holiday, from her absurd bangs to her slightly crooked teeth. 

So, jaundiced feelings shoved to the back of my mind, I settled down to watch the film. Ten minutes into the film, my husband said, Oh, I've seen this film. Isn't this the one where she... ugh! It's too sweet! Then he promptly picked up a book and lost all further interest. Uh oh. Not an auspicious beginning, that. I don't like movies that are 'too sweet'. But then, Audrey came into the frame, looking ridiculously young (I'm not joking; she looked like a child!) and I forgot everything else but that gamin grin. 
I'm so glad I persevered. It is a sweet film, not 'too sweet', and what is more, it is witty and humorous and entertaining.

Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier) is a private investigator, and a damn good one at that. He is discreet, he is expensive, and he delivers. Most of his clients are spouses who hire him to investigate marital infidelity, and when we first spot him, he is on top of a tower outside the Ritz, Paris, spying on the occupants of Suite 14. 
Here resides Mr Frank Flannagan (Gary Cooper), millionaire playboy, and the subject of Monsieur Chavasse's scrutiny. Chavasse has been hired by a Mr X to confirm that Madame X is having an affair with the American libertine.

Sadly for Mr X, Monsieur Chavasse can confirm the bad news - yes, indeed, she is. He can even give Mr X the time that Madame enters the infamous suite, and the time she exits. Mr X moans that people know them at the Ritz. Oh, that is okay, murmurs Chavasse, in his most Gallic manner. Madame is discreet; she enters and exits through the service elevator, and she always wears a veil. The belaguered husband (John McGiver) takes out a newly-bought gun; huffing nervously, he makes it clear that he is going to shoot his wife's lover. 
Failing to convince him otherwise, a practical Chavasse tells him that Flannagan will be alone only after 10 p.m.; he then asks to be paid for his services before the client leaves - who knows what will happen if Mr X goes ahead with his plan? And perhaps he should ask for a larger payment than usual? (Half of Chavasse's income comes from Flannagan's amourous dalliances with the wives and girlfriends of other men while he is in Paris on business. )

What neither Monsieur Chavasse nor Mr X know is that the former's daughter, Ariane (Audrey Hepburn), who is fascinated by her father's case files in general, and by Flannagan in particular, has been spying on them, and has overheard their entire conversation. 
She decides she has to prevent the killing one way or the other. All through the rest of the day, even when she is at lessons (she is learning the cello at the conservatory nearby), she ponders the issue - how can she save Flannagan from being killed? She first calls the Ritz to warn Flannagan, but the front desk refuses to put her call through to him; Flannagan had left strict orders that he was not to be disturbed. Her friend, Michel (Van Doude), from whom she borrows the coins to make her calls, advises her to call the police. 
Unfortunately for her, the police are helpless. The inspector tells her to call them after the crime has been committed. Realising that she cannot expect any help from that quarter, she armtwists Michel into driving her to the Ritz. 

Ariane is in time. Mr X has seen his wife going into Suite 14, but is waiting until the gypsy musicians hired by Flannagan leave the room. 
While he is impatiently walking up and down the corridor, Ariane manages to warn Madame X, who escapes through the same route that Ariane took to come in - out through the balcony onto a small ledge and then into the adjacent room and out. When Mr X bursts into the room once the musicians leave, he is chastened to find not his wife, but a strange girl in Flannagan's arms. 
Apologising profusely, he stumbles out of the room, feeling both uncomfortable at having broken in, and happy that his wife is innocent after all. Flannagan, who was completely taken aback by Ariane's appearance and confused by the resulting imbroglio, decides to turn his charm on the young girl. (One woman is as good as another to him.)
He doesn't seem to get very far with Ariane, who seems slightly bored by the whole exercise now that everything has gone well, and keeps him decidedly at arm's length. When asked why she decided to warn him, she says it is because she is against violence. The world would be a better place, she says,  "...and if people loved each other more, they would shoot each other less." Flannagan is intrigued by the air of mystery surrounding this slight wisp of a girl who just fell into his life (she refuses to even provide him with her name), and fascinated by Ariane's charm. 
He begs her to come to dinner the next day; Ariane, who knows all about Flannagan and his numerous affairs from her father's files, plays the ingénue - she invents a date the next night. Flannagan exhorts her to come for lunch instead; she claims a prior appointment. He tries to persuade her - come at 5, he says, or 4, or 3... Ariane gives him a noncommittal answer and makes her way back to the entrance where the faithful Michel is still waiting. 
Mr X, meanwhile, had returned to Monsieur Chavasse to give him the good news - the room was the right one, the man was Flannagan, the gypsy singers who Monsieur Chavasse referred to were there as well, but the woman with Flannagan was not his wife! Chavasse is surprised. He's never made a mistake before.  He offers Mr X a 20% refund. Filled with the exhilaration of 'knowing' that he is not a cuckold, Mr X refuses. As he leaves, he runs into Ariane coming up the stairs, and is taken aback for a moment. But Ariane, having seen him before he sees her, has taken adequate precautions against being recognised.
That night, Ariane steals her father's (rather thick) file on Flannagan, and discovers many more details about his several love affairs. The man has been cited as a co-respondent in several divorce cases, women have committed, or tried to commit, suicide for love of him, and he seems to be the sort who needs to have 'love 'em and leave 'em' embossed on every lapel button. 

Ariane decides she is not going to meet him, and writes him a note telling him so. However, despite herself, she is intrigued by Flannagan's sophisticated charm. And though she will not admit it to herself, the kiss they shared the previous night is still very much on her mind. The next afternoon sees her back in Suite 14 at the Paris Ritz. Of course, she tells Flannagan that she only came to tell him she was not coming, a sentence that both puzzles and charms Flannagan. 
He is at his habitual flirtatious best, but he is also puzzled by his reaction to her. She is not his usual petit amie; for one, she is much, much younger than the other women he's had affairs with. Secondly, she seems such an innocent. He is soon disabused of that notion. She tells him she is living with a man, who will be angry if he knew she was visiting Flannagan. Flannagan persuades her to stay for the afternoon, for an apéritif  at least. She succumbs, and ends up becoming his lover that afternoon. He still does not know her name, and Ariane resists all his attempts to guess. 
Finally, he ends up calling her 'thin girl' and 'not Adolph'.

Flannagan is leaving for the US that night, and Ariane, sad though she is, sees him off, still keeping up the pretence of being a woman of the world. After all, Flannagan's motto is: He who loves and runs away lives to fight another day.  But she cannot hide her feelings when she returns home, and her father notices the difference. But he doesn't yet know the reason. 
When he questions her, Ariane tells him that she will stay out of his files if he will stay out of her icebox. A year passes, and Ariane is inured to her solitary life. Michel is still courting her, but she is disinterested. But they are good friends, and life, after all, has to go on. One evening, she is out at the opera with Michel when she notices Flannagan in the front row with a beautiful woman. He is back in Paris, and doesn't seem very interested in the performance of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde that he has ostensibly come to watch. 
Ariane connives to meet him during the intermission, and is deeply hurt when she realises that Flannagan has no clue who she is. It is only when she speaks to him that he suddenly remembers the 'thin girl'. Used to striking while the iron is hot, he promptly invites her to his suite the next day, apologising for not recognising her at once - 'It's been a crazy year', he tells her. 
Ariane decides to fight fire with fire. It's been a crazy year for her as well, she tells him; and then makes up stories of all the men she's been seeing in the interim. Including a wealthy businessman who presented her with a Siberian ermine coat; he exports perfume and imports bananas, 12 bananas for every bottle of perfume. Flannagan is disbelieving - that is a pretty bad business proposition, he tells her. Oh, no, not at all, she responds nonchalantly. It was a very small bottle of perfume, and they were very large bananas. 
But he is not to worry, she claims; he is her first American. Oh, he is? Well, no, she forgot the Canadian ice-hockey player! When he, slightly taken aback, persists in questioning her, she informs him that there was also an alpine guide who had dimples on his knees, and a Spanish bullfighter, who had scars on his. 
Later, it is her turn to be jealous when, after their afternoon tryst, they are interrupted by his ex-lovers - twins - from Stockholm. They are in Paris, and Flannagan schedules a meeting with them, both of them.
Humiliated, she retaliates by dictating a long list of her alleged lovers into his Dictaphone - 'to the best of her recollection'. Item 1, she says (mimicking him), was a redheaded Algebra teacher, Item 2, a very sweet boy who was now a missionary in French Equatorial Africa. Item 3, a riding instructor, and so on and so on, until she reaches 19, a Dutch alcoholic... wickedly, she stops the recording when she hears him coming, with a 'More later'.  Flannagan, she tells him later, is No. 21.

Her list is made up completely from her father's files. And Flannagan, amused at first, becomes completely tormented by thoughts of Ariane's lovers. Even if he is not sure whether they are real. Drunk and hurt by Ariane's 'sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose' strategm, he finally ends up in a Turkish bath (accompanied by his gypsy musicians) to clear his head. 
There, whom should he run into but Mr X, who is delighted to see him. The only reason a man would come so early in the morning to the Turkish Baths, Mr X says all-knowingly, is because he either had a good night or a bad one. Now, he, Mr X, he had had a very good night. What about Flannagan? The latter grunts in response. But that does not deter the good Mr X from talking. His wife forgave him, he tells Flannagan, even though he had suspected her fidelity. He had hired the best detective in Paris, he tells Flannagan, and even though the detective had got his facts wrong in the case of his wife, everyone is allowed one mistake. Flannagan is very near getting up and punching Mr X just to get him to shut up, but Mr X is incorrigible. And indefatigable.
With nothing to lose, and wanting to know the truth behind his 'thin girl's' tall (he hopes) tales, Flannagan approaches Monsieur Chavasse. There is this girl, he says; she lives with one man, she talks of dating many other men. She will not stay the night with him; in fact, she runs away by 5 in the evening. She won't even accept anything from him even though she has come to his hotel room wrapped in an ermine coat that she claimed her wealthy businessman had given her. He, Flannagan, must know whether there have been so many men in her life, or any man at all. 
Monsieur Chavasse is intrigued - the men that Flannagan name as his mystery girl's lovers sound so much like some of the men he has investigated. Only the facts are all mixed up. But he sets that aside for the moment - is Flannagan finally in love with this girl? Not at all, says Flannagan impatiently. He is merely interested. Aah. Monsieur Chavasse understands; he will surely solve the mystery and will bring Flannagan the report personally.

When, if ever, will Monsieur Chavasse realise that the 'thin girl' who is 'not Adolph' is his own daughter, Ariane? And what will he do if he knows the truth? Is Ariane in love with Flannagan or is she just leading him on, giving him a taste of his own medicine? And Flannagan? What about him? Is he, as he claims, 'just interested', or is he beginning to fall in love with his thin girl with her waifish charm and her whimsical behaviour? Will the leopard change its spots, or the tiger its stripes? 

Love in the Afternoon was based on Ariane, Jeune Fille Russe, a novel by Jean Shopfer, who wrote under the pseudonym, Claude Anet. The German adaptation of the novel, named Ariane, had been filmed in 1931; inspired by this film, a third adaptation called Scampolo, ein Kind der Straße was filmed in 1932, with the script co-written by Billy Wilder. When Wilder met I.A.L Diamond, he suggested the two collaborate on the German script from 1932 and adapt it, so it could be made in English. 

Wilder's only choice for Ariane was Audrey Hepburn and he waited for her to finish filming War and Peace. He had wanted Cary Grant for the role of Flannagan, but Grant refused on grounds of the age disparity between him and Audrey Hepburn.  (Strangely enough, a few years later, Grant would go on to star with Hepburn in Charade, where he accounted for the age difference by changing the plot so she was pursuing him.) Wilder always regretted that he never directed Grant; his previous films - Five Graves to Cairo and Sabrina - had also been offered to Cary Grant first, but for some reason (Grant and Wilder were good friends), Grant always refused. Maurice Chevalier, however, joined the cast as Claude Chavasse, telling his agent that he would give up his grandmother's secret recipe for bouillabaise for an opportunity to act in a Billy Wilder film.

A frothy romance, Love in the Afternoon is dream woven from gossamer and mellow afternoon sunshine. Shot on location in Paris (upon Wilder's insistence), the plot is implausible and requires you to suspend disbelief quite a few times. But ably helmed by Wilder, the film is held together by Audrey Hepburn's puckish charm, Maurice Chevalier's incredible wit (helped by the intelligent lines he gets to declaim), and the light-as-air screenplay, with its several laugh-out loud lines.
  • When Ariane tells the inspector the whole sordid situation and asks for his help to stop the crime before it is committed, he responds with Gallic pragmatism: Mademoiselle, there are 7,000 hotels in Paris, 220,000 h0tel rooms, and on a night like this, I'd say that in about 40,000 of those rooms, a similar situation is taking place. He ends the conversation saying that in order to police all these rooms, they may even need to call in the Boy Scouts, and 'Certainly madam does not want boys in short pants breaking in on situations like this! 
  • Or when Monsieur Chavasse, telling Ariane about a new case, says that the wife of his new client from Brussels had run away to Paris with her husband's chauffeur; the client has hired him to find the two because he wants the car back. 
  • Or even when Flannagan who upon learning that Ariane knows a lot more about his many conquests than he is comfortable with, asks her whether she isn't a bit too young to be knowing about such things. Ariane, not at a loss for words responds quite cheerfully:  I was just about to ask you that same question. Aren't you a bit too old for that? Flannagan is cut to the quick: That hurts! First you save a man's life, then you stab him. Is that kind? 
  • Or even when Flannagan meets Monsieur Chavasse for the first time and the latter recognises him immediately. "You know me?"  he asks. "Do I know you? Does an art student recognise Picasso?" retorts the detective.
Wilder's screenplay did not focus on morals at all. If you look at the film as a whole, it is completely and unapologetically amoral, using humour and wit to drive the feather-light plot. In fact, because of its ending, the film ran afoul of the Catholic Legion of Decency's 'condemned list'; much to the director's disgust, the studio quickly brought back Maurice Chevalier to give a quick voiceover (in the American version) over the final scene to explain the 'immorality' away. 
Not only that, to dispel the impression (given by the director) that Flannagan and Ariane have been lovers during their afternoon trysts, they dubbed in a sentence of dialogue (with Gary Cooper's back to the camera) during the Flannagan-Chavasse meeting where Flannagan admits that he had 'never got to first base' with Ariane. Wilder was furious, but his hand was forced. 

A commercial and critical failure when it was released, most critics blamed Gary Cooper's wooden performance and the age disparity between him and Hepburn, for the film's lacklustre performance at the US box-office. (The film was a huge success when it released in Europe.) It hurt Cooper a lot - he had been very pleased with his performance. 

Did I think Gary Cooper had been too old to play Flannagan? I must confess to wondering what Ariane saw in Flannagan to make her fall in love with him. Gary Cooper, at 56, was definitely going to seed by this time. (Plus, Audrey Hepburn looked all of fourteen in most scenes (she was 28, actually), so it was quite a stretch to watch her with Cooper.
 
I must also confess to wondering what Cary Grant would have done with this role. If a role begged for Grant's presence, it was this, and if I had to see a May-December romance, I would much rather see Grant-Hepburn than Cooper-Hepburn. That said, once I was a third into the film, it really did not matter. 
 
Implausible as it seemed, Audrey's Ariane made me believe that she was in love with Flannagan. (Though, at 17, one wonders whether she was in love with the man, or in love with the idea of being in love. I mean, Cooper's Flannagan has nothing to recommend him other than his wealth, and his libertine ways. Was she enamoured of the idea of being the woman who 'changes' him?)
 
And two-thirds into the film, when Flannagan is tormented by thoughts of Ariane with the multitude of other men, I was still not sure whether it was Flannagan's heart or his ego that was tormented.  There just didn't seem to be a connection between the two.

The film, however, belonged to two people - Maurice Chevalier as Claude Chavasse, and Audrey Hepburn as his daughter, Ariane. And I cannot but help mention John McGiver - he was absolutely fantastic as the cuckolded husband. The man has an incredibly mobile face, and he did the nervous cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof act very, very well indeed. In fact, the first few scenes that drew me into the film were his scenes with Maurice Chevalier.
All that said, I found my eyes wet during the scene leading up to the climax, and then grinning happily as the film wound down to its predictable (and implausible) end. My cynical side tried to bring me back to my usual pragmatism by questioning whether I thought the aforesaid leopard would change its spots, but slinked away in disgust when it realised that I was grinning inanely, all the while sniffling quietly into my sleeve. 
By which statement, I'm sure you've all figured out that the movie has a happy ending. So bottomline, I'm still a sucker for romance. Cynicism be damned. 

8 comments:

  1. I remember bombaynoir reviewing Love in the Afternoon on her blog, and me thinking, "No, perhaps not." I'm not absolutely certain why - perhaps the age difference between the two main characters (not the actors) is too much? Probably not, because I've seen other films where this has worked, and knowing Billy Wilder, I'm sure he'd have done a good job of it. But I have to admit I'm not much of a fan of either Maurice Chevalier or (yes, hang me! :-D) Audrey Hepburn. It's not as if a dislike either of them, but I wouldn't go out of my way to watch a film for either of them. Coop, in his early days, yes (or in High Noon), but at 56... oh, I don't know. I don't know.

    On the other hand, romance? I'm an utter romantic. So maybe.

    Thankfully, I have a huge stack of movies yet to be watched, so this can be left as a to-be-decided question. ;-)

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  2. I'm more inclined to watch this than I have been . . . so your review has that going for it! The striking difference in age between the leads always seemed a strike against it. I don't know why it would be an issue for other people, necessarily, as Audrey ALWAYS looks like a child in comparison to her lead men in the 50's. If people aren't going to complain about the age difference in Funny Face (which is far more pronounced and off-putting than the pairing with Cooper in my opinion), or even Sabrina, they better darn well approve of the age difference in LITA.

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  3. I think you will like it despite the age difference, Madhu. And despite Maurice Chevalier and Audrey Hepburn, actually. :) If you like romantic films, you will like this. You know I don't say that lightly. Whatever you do, don't watch this film for Coop.

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  4. Thank you, Filmi-Contrast. :)

    I have never seen an age difference as a strike so honestly, I could care too hoots. I need the leads to make the romance believable on screen, though. I mean, I loved Charade and that had Grant (who refused this film) paired with Audrey.

    In this film, I did go through a couple of moments of 'Huh, why the heck?' but that was more because Cooper was quite wooden, and I wished there was a more charming roué than Cooper on screen.

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  5. "Whatever you do, don't watch this film for Coop."

    :-(

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  6. Hi! I'm trying to find an email address to contact you on. Thanks and have a great day!

    ReplyDelete

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