Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Holden & Hepburn: ‘Paris When It Sizzles” 1964

Audrey Hepburn & William Holden teamed a second time for "Paris When it Sizzles."

Here's the link!

I’ve avoided the ‘60s rom-com Paris When It Sizzles because of its rotten reputation. Until recently, I wrote it off as just another lame sex comedy, a campy spoof from the ‘60s. Bedroom farces are one of my least favorite film genres. In this era, it was mostly talk about sex, with much winking and nudging. These movies are usually loud and frantic, with lavish visuals and slim plots—not to mention a dated mentality. Think That Touch of Mink, A New Kind of Love, What a Way to Go!, and What’s New, Pussycat? These films are just a few of many titles.

Audrey Hepburn brings her usual class and comedic style to "Paris When it Sizzles."

What sets Paris When it Sizzles apart is that it spoofs sex farces and the film industry. Richard Quine deftly directed this comedy and screenwriter/playwright George Axelrod supplied the zingers. The shaggy dog style of storytelling perplexed critics and audiences alike when Paris was released. More than a few critics pointed out that William Holden wasn’t Cary Grant. Hey, Cary Grant himself once said, “Even I want to be Cary Grant!”

William Holden as a hard-drinking screenwriter wasn't exactly a stretch, but Bill
gives a solid comedy performance in "Paris When it Sizzles."

Holden’s subtle comedic skills are one of the saving graces of Paris When It Sizzles. William Holden seemed to be playing Norman Maine of A Star is Born off-camera; Audrey Hepburn, his once co-star in Sabrina, was now a superstar. And Audrey chose not to be his Vicki Lester. The stars apparently had an affair during Sabrina. But his bad marriage, drinking, and vasectomy put an end to any thoughts of Audrey marrying Bill. While she remained most fond of Holden, Hepburn was now married to Mel Ferrer and starting a family. This disappointed Holden and furthered his drinking despair. Still, the two got on well during the shoot, despite Bill’s angst and antics. Holden and Hepburn displayed a warm chemistry on film, if not sizzling.

I love this shot of Bill & Audrey, on location for "Paris When it Sizzles."

As Richard, the screenwriter who drinks more than he writes, Holden has most of the dialogue, with the showbiz veteran sharing his font of knowledge to Hepburn’s newbie secretary. The writer with the gift of gab also narrates the film. This seemed to be a Holden hat trick, especially with his Hollywood-set films: Sunset Blvd., Paris When It Sizzles, and Fedora. That’s just fine, because Bill had a warm, distinctive speaking voice.

Audrey Hepburn is a secretary sent to Bill Holden's screenwriter to get the script done!

Yes, William Holden looks prematurely aged in Paris When It Sizzles. But his weathered looks had been noticed for a decade, as when Bill’s hair was dyed blonde in Sabrina as the carefree playboy. It was again noted a year later, when Holden played 20-something Hal in Picnic, at age 37. Even on Sunset Blvd., when clean-living Gloria Swanson refused to wear old-age make up at 50, they gave Bill a college boy haircut and plenty of pancake makeup.

Bill Holden in "Sunset Blvd.," a dozen years before filming "Paris When it Sizzles."

Now William Holden was 44, and people were really startled by his fading good looks. This was a bit of karmic irony, since back on Sabrina, the main criticism was that Humphrey Bogart was too old to play Bill’s brother and Audrey’s suitor—and rightfully so. Perhaps Holden should have played the older brother and a younger star should have played the young playboy, like Tab Hunter or Robert Wagner. Or John Kerr, who looked like Holden.

Just four years after "Sunset Blvd.," Bill at 36, with Audrey Hepburn in "Sabrina."

Despite Bill’s face, he’s in fine form. Holden is semi-shirtless for the first segment of the film and he doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. At one point, Audrey’s character even finds him doing a headstand! Bill’s quite graceful in his extended comic moments, literally laying out the empty script pages as he moves about the apartment, spouting non-stop dialogue all the while. And he’s relaxed and loose in the dance scene that spoofs Funny Face.

William Holden's drinking was taking it's toll on his face, but his body was still fit.

While the movie genres spoofed are more silly than smart, Holden and Hepburn are most game. What really provides most of the genuine laughs are the asides that the duo delivers on the sex comedy genre and movie industry. The plot revolves around a weekend where the screenwriter must finish a long delayed project, “The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower.” The producer has sent a charming typist with a background in film to help him finish. Holden and Hepburn’s characters strike me as equals: Holden isn’t a wolf looking to seduce a helpless woman; Hepburn isn’t a desperate female looking for a hapless male.

A nifty scene when Bill Holden's erratic screenwriter decides not to quit writing.

None of the nonstop banter and flirting is the heavy-handed double entendres that were typical of the era. It’s true that Paris When It Sizzles doesn’t have the snap of Billy Wilder’s best films. Yet, the type of ironic banter reminds me of later TV shows like Friends or Seinfeld. Apparently ‘60s audiences or critics didn’t appreciate subtlety in their sex comedies.

The scenes where Bill and Audrey’s characters are holed up in his lavish apartment, feverishly working on his script, are the most charming. I especially love where the script’s sophisticated lead characters order a sumptuous lunch which dissolves to the scriptwriter and secretary ravenously ordering lavish room service. And when Bill puts on those glasses like he did in Born Yesterday, they are framed by his warm blue eyes and wry smile.

Occasional scenes like this show Holden's premature aging in "Paris When it Sizzles."

The only cringe-worthy moments are during a horror movie spoof , where Holden is supposed to be Dracula and the Wolf Man, with colored lights shining up his face to make him look scary—but just makes 40-something Bill look 60!

Audrey has some good lines, too. Unlike most of the ‘60s sex comedies, Hepburn is no unwilling participant, defending her honor. At one point, Gabrielle says, “I’m not that kind of girl.” Then she looks toward the camera and says, “I hate girls that say things like that!”

Audrey Hepburn lets her hair down as a "seductive spy" in "Paris When it Sizzles." 

Hepburn uses her lanky physicality well, when getting chased by Bill in his various movie spoof guises. Audrey’s charmingly flirtatious in her understated way and of course looks like a million in her Givenchy wardrobe. In several scenes, Hepburn’s lovely frocks and Holden’s classy casual wear would make Mad Men’s Don and Betty Draper green with envy.

Holden & Hepburn make a stylish couple as they work on his film script!

George Axelrod’s script doesn’t feel dated like some of his previous work, since the leading lady’s not the butt of his jokes, as in The Seven Year Itch. He also wrote the script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and must have had a crush on Audrey. Because while Holden gets much of the dialogue, Hepburn gets so much homage from her previous films it’s like Audrey’s greatest hits. Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and My Fair Lady all get a nod here.

Tony Curtis is a riot as a vain, clueless actor in "Paris When it Sizzles." 

There are a few star cameos: Noel Coward is his usual latter day precious self as the crass producer; Marlene Dietrich looks divine for the hot minute she’s on screen; Tony Curtis, not a favorite, is hysterical as the ham actor. Curtis is at the absolute peak of his great looks here—and knows it! First, he’s the actor pretending to be a method actor, through Holden’s eyes. Tony is utterly daft in his delivery, but also quite funny in his mannerisms and catchphrases of the hip serious actor. Later, Curtis shows up again, this time as a different version of the character, playing a preening movie star who was impersonating a method actor. Curtis’ clueless actor is just as funny and Tony steals the show. Lucky, Bill was delivering his performance or Curtis might have replaced Holden!

When I was a wee child of the '60s, I used to get
Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy mixed up!

Two great stars in lovely Paris, lovely clothes and sets, tossing some clever lines—a classic it ain’t—but Paris When It Sizzles is pretty breezy fun.

William Holden & Audrey Hepburn in a close-up clinch for "Paris When it Sizzles."

Bonus!Here's my look at Bill Holden's breakout year!

Director Richard Quine, Bill Holden, & Audrey Hepburn in "Paris When it Sizzles."



  1. I adore William Holden and Audrey Hepburn, so I am surprised that I haven't seen Paris When It Sizzles yet. Maybe because it has that "1960s weak romantic comedy" reputation. But you have convinced me! It's worth a look because of the stars and all the other points you mentioned: Tony Curtis, the costumes, better yet,the lack thereof on Holden!

    1. Marianne, it's worth checking out for sheer entertainment. Cheers, Rick

  2. It's funny how those dismissed comedies of the late 50s and early 60s hold up and the hot movies of the day fade in comparison. You simply can't beat a professional product with top notch stars and quality production values. Audrey can do no wrong in my book and as for Holden's aging, for me he had a sexy, mature look here. Of course, his hard drinking really took its toll over time, but he is still pretty nifty here.

    1. Agreed! I was surprised when I gave "Paris" a chance. It's a fun, light movie! Rick

  3. I love Paris When it Sizzles! I haven't seen it in awhile; but I remember it being a lot of fun. I am also a big fan of William Holden and Audrey Hepburn, so it's fun to see them in another film together. I don't mind the 60s sex comedies, like What a Way to Go!, because I find the manicness of them amusing; but I agree that Paris When it Sizzles definitely brings something different to the genre and doesn't seem like just another rom-com. Great article!

    1. Aside from the spoofs of movie genres, Paris is most fun when it spoofs its own genre! Cheers, Rick

  4. I haven’t seen this one in years. I ought to revisit because in my memory it’s not a big favorite. Great write up, though, and a wonderful pick for our fun in the sun blogathon. Who could fail to have fun in the sun in Paris???

    Lady Eve

  5. Christian EsquevinMay 20, 2022 at 2:29 PM

    Like you Rick I avoided watching Paris When it Sizzles for the same reasons you gave. Your review has changed my mind and I'll have to seek it out. Of course I like the acting duo and Quine is a great director. Thanks for selecting this movie for the CMBA Blogathon and changing my mind about it.

    1. Hi, Yes Quine was a stylish director of comedy and had an adult attitude toward sex farces. And the playwright was George Axelrod, a witty writer... Hope I haven't oversold it! Rick

  6. I haven't seen this one for years and my memory of it is fairly vague. Having read your take, I'm interested in a revisit. I never could resist Paris, or Audrey Hepburn and sometimes Wm. Holden.

    1. It's a fairly forgotten movie, and while no classic, it's better than it's reputation... Cheers, Rick