Sep 19, 2011

CMBA Guilty Pleasures Movie Blogathon: "Paris when it sizzles"

These are selected opinions of reviewers who apparently didn't enjoy this movie and make of Paris When It Sizzles (1964; Richard Quine) a guilty pleasure:
  • "Paris when it stinks"
  • "Beyond stupid. A waste of time. Avoid."
  • "Incredible mess"
  • "Give this one a pass."
  • "Nothing sizzles" 
  • "No style or substance"
  • "3/10 is being generous."
  • "A big disappointment in all departments"
  • "Oh dear!"
  • "Paris When it Fizzles- This Sizzler A Dud"
  • "One of the worst films ever"
  • "Why did I buy it ? It was part of a set."
  • "I gave this one ten minutes"
  • "Paris when it ... SNORES!"
    All quotes from Imdb reviewers who didn't like this story --adapted by George Axelrod from a French story/movie-- about a writer (William Holden) that has only a few days to finish a script helped by his new assistant, typist Audrey Hepburn. A film-within-the film: any idea William has becomes the movie you're watching, even if it's crazy or developed by a drunk character.

    Here are a few more quotes:
    • "Makes fun of classic movies, when the film itself is not very good"
    • "The script is bad"
    • "At the end there are two stupid scripts: the fictional and the real one"
    • "Lacks fluidity"
    • "Some scenes are unimportant but really long"

    Those are from an unpublished review written

    Yes, I hated the film the first time I saw it. I also knew this one was Audrey's least favorite movie of her filmography and that some years later she almost didn't film Two for the road: she was done with movies that experimented with the storytelling. I had also read that William Holden was drinking heavily during the filming of this movie and had to enter an alcoholic clinic.

    Everything about it was bad.

    Until it wasn't.

    The third time I saw this film I started watching it from a new point of view: here we had a powerful studio, Paramount, plus several stars making fun of themselves. They were all laughing at the way movies are made; showing how obvious the business in which they worked can be when it's made for commercial purposes, how superficial famous people can be...

    Everything started to make sense. Audrey didn't mind the lines that made fun of her movies, like Breakfast at Tiffany's and My fair lady; William and Tony Curtis didn't mind playing parts in which, for example, they made clear how important looks are for leading actors, and how narcissist they can be. And that's awesome, it's like saying: "hey, don't take us too serious, this is all about pretending and having fun".

    The dialog is filled with movie techniques cliches, exaggerated to made them obvious. And because William Holden is writing a screenplay, there are cliches from the main title to the end. I love, for example, how William describes the opening credits of his new movie, The girl who stole the Eiffel Tower:
    Superimpose: ''An Alexander Meyerheim production''. Cut to the Eiffel Tower. The main title.The trumpets segue into the inevitable title song. Maybe we can get Sinatra to sing it. There follows an interminable list of other credits acknowledging the efforts of all the quote little people unquote, whom I shall graciously thank in my acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.

    Or how he explains to Audrey how a fade out works:
    Over the years, the audience has been conditioned to understand that when a scene fades away, like an old soldier, before their very eyes, and another scene gradually appears to take its place, a certain amount of time has elapsed.
    Or what a kiss really is in the commercial movie business:
    The final, earth-moving, studio-rent-paying, theatre-filling, popcorn-selling...kiss.
    The list goes on and on and you actually learn something about screenwriting process.

    With director Richard Quine.
    Besides the fun provided by desconstructing a movie script, Audrey and William are a delight to watch together. Knowing about their impossible love during the filming of Sabrina, it was nice to see them working in a fictional hotel in sunny Paris. Even when Audrey didn't like the film, she called it "a joy to make". And even when William said of the first day he arrived to Paris: "I realized that I had to face Audrey and I had to deal with my drinking. And I didn’t think I could handle either situation", they seem at ease and relaxed.

    Despite what some reviewers have said, I think Audrey --dressed and "perfumed" by Givenchy here too-- had a great timing for comedy, I love the way she delivers her lines, and how she responded to the scenes which required physical comedy. Because everything was a parody, she  exaggerated her movements, especially in the sequence where, drunk, her character starts to invent a parallel story. Vampires, horse races, aviators, everything was included in her crazy sequence, maybe the most criticized of the film. I found it hilarious.

    William as a vampire...

    ..seconds later the action takes place in the sky...
    All the genres conventions are parodied in Paris When It Sizzles: detective stories, horror movies, slapstick, romance, etc etc. For example, if the next frame, a man and woman in bed, fades out... obviously means...that they were playing Parcheesi!

    I also loved the bits about the French New Wave, movies where, according to the screenwriter, nothing happens.
    Audrey aka Gaby: The picture's terribly interesting. Very avant-garde. About people who go to this party and decide not to play Scrabble. lt was called The Scrabble Game Will Not Take Place. His next one's about a girl who won't have a birthday party - Blow Out No Candles. Roger believes what's important on screen is what doesn't happen.
    There are great cameos: Marlene Dietrich and Mel Ferrer; supporting players include Tony Curtis and Noel Coward; Frank Sinatra sings the title (literally) The girl who stole the Eiffel Tower; there's a song by Fred Astaire that introduces a tong-in-cheek dance sequence that's abruptly interrupted because this one is not a musical...

    Tony Curtis as an egocentric Method actor (video)...

    Marlene as...Marlene Dietrich.

    George Axelrod, who also wrote the screenplay for Breakfast at Tiffany's, included a crazy party scene here too. Although it's not as memorable as the one in B@t, it has some great moments and costumes:

    Mel Ferrer as Dr. Jekyll...

    ...and then as Mr. Hyde...

    Another great thing of this film is the music, although it doesn't have a great presence throughout the movie. It was composed by Nelson Riddle and I think it captures the light spirit of the film. One of the themes that stand out is Gabrielle (hear)

    TCM said of this movie "Over the years, however, the film has earned a reputation as a guilty pleasure for those who enjoy in-joke movie spoofs and an absurdist storyline played out against the glorious backdrop of the City of Light".

    I don't even feel guilty anymore :) In my opinion, Paris When It Sizzles was ahead of its time and therefore, underrated and a commercial failure. I think of it as an antecedent of films like Airplane! and Monty Python's movies, only classier.

    So, yes, maybe this movie is a mess. But a delightful and sunny mess, if you decide to relax, give it an opportunity and go "absolutely ape" watching how these unforgettable people enjoy living.


    Written for the CMBA Guilty Pleasures Movie Blogathon.Check the rest of the entries here.

    PS: It's funny that writer George Axelrod provided another guilty pleasure  to this blogathon :)


    1. Clara, when I found out you were going to cover PARIS...WHEN IT SIZZLES! for the Guilty Pleasures Blogathon, I went absolutely ape, much like the lovely and winsome Audrey Hepburn! :-) I'm reminded of a movie review of the original film version of CASINO ROYALE (the funny one) -- "It's the worst movie I ever enjoyed!" :-) Seriously, I've always had a soft spot for PARIS... because as a fiction writer, I've wrestled with plots and dialogue plenty of times, with all kinds of wacky results. I love this movie's smart, good-natured spoofing of writing and writers and movies in general. Whatever issues William Holden and Audrey Hepburn struggled with while making SABRINA and PARIS..., they still had tons of romantic chemistry between them, and the vampire bit notwithstanding, I was laughing for all the right reasons. I'm so glad you covered this kooky little film (which, by the way, was based on a French satire). By the way, Clara, if you liked PARIS...WHEN IT SIZZLES, I also recommend ALEX AND EMMA, another flawed but still enjoyable comedy about writing and writers!

    2. I bought this film a few months ago (I had never seen it before), mostly for Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. I actually enjoyed it, too. :) I liked its quirkiness and how it spoofs classic movies. I absolutely cracked up at the beginning when he mentions Frank Sinatra singing the title song, and I loved Tony Curtis' role, too. So even though it was a strange film, I thought it was interesting and funny anyway. :)

    3. This is a great post, and the movie is cute, fun, and very enjoyable. Perhaps the calibre of the stars sets the critics, and the audience, up for The Best Movie in the World, when it's really not supposed to be. The project was a lark, and if we take it for any more than that, we disappoint ourselves.

      Movies about typists are always exciting. Good choice.

    4. Clara! I love this horrible little movie that is impossibly beautiful beyond belief. I don't care that it's lame - it has Paris, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Paris, William Holden, Tony Curtis, Audrey Hepburn.... oh my head is spinning. And her wardrobe! To die for. Who says every movie has to be a work of art? Great pick and great post.

    5. What a great post. I really enjoyed this movie when I saw it and never really tried to take it seriously. Just fun to watch.

    6. You found the magic key to "Paris When It Sizzles". I have a soft spot for the movies of Richard Quine, but I've been afraid to tackle this one because of all those vehemently negative reviews. I will be more brave in the future. Wonderful post.

    7. I'm sensing a theme with these guilty pleasure movies--I've obviously avoided most of them because I've heard or read that they weren't very good. I'm glad we had this event because now I get to think again about watching some of them. This, of course, is one I haven't seen. I'm not a big fan of Audrey Hepburn, but I do like her in her more recognized well as, yes, Two for the Road. So, I might try this one just to see if she can win me over a bit. BTW, Bill Holden looks really bad in some of those doubt his alcoholism contributed to this.

    8. Clara -I have to admit I'm not sure I've ever made it all the way through "Paris When it Sizzles," but I love your deconstruction/reconstruction of it. I'll have to see at again - from your point of view. On a more superficial note, there's always been one thing (besides lovely Audrey) that I've admired in this movie - actually, I've coveted it - that apartment in Paris where they wrote!

    9. Great review! I saw about 2 thirds of this film at a friends house and thought it was insane! But when you think it over afterwards you kind of start to get it!


    10. Wow! I never thought of seeing the film in that light before. When I watched it YEARS ago I could barely get through it. Now I want to watch it again and see it as you do. Wonderful article! Thanks for changing my opinion. :)

    11. It's a flawed film for sure but George Axelrod is a terrific writer. I watched the film for the first time years ago and cannot say I liked it but there was something about it that pulled me back again. The second viewing did not improve my thoughts on it. i kept saying to myself it has Hepburn and Holden and George Axelrod wrote it, give it a chance! Well, after reading your take on it, I am going to have to give it another try. I always like films about writers, artists, etc.

    12. Clara,
      I've seen PWIS but I did not have the same reaction to it that you do, which is fine. Like Kim, I'm not a huge fan of Audrey's but I've seen all of her 'must see, she's the greatest actress on the planet'' films because that's what we do isn't it? I don't even remember how I stumbled on to this film because I certainly wouldn't have rented it (or to be clear any of her other films) The only thing that really stood out to me was Dietrich, well because she's Dietrich and fabulous.

      This was a fun post and an interesting take on PWIS. That's the fun of having a guilty pleasure isn't it? The film choice is unique to just US.
      Thanks for sharing your Guilty Pleasure with the rest of us in your very clever and entertaining way.

    13. Yes! Yes! I completely, 100% agree with you (by the way, writing without the light on because I'm too lazy to get up and almost wrote 199% agree... which would have been really funny). I love this movie! I always try to show it around and people think it's so odd but I just find it hilarious. I think my absolute favorite scene is Tony Curtis's first scene: "Like bonjour baby." So funny!! I also keep getting random quotes stuck in my head like "with a criminal record as long as your arm..."

      P.S. That photo of William and Audrey and the director is too cute!! Love it!

    14. I haven't seen this movie, but it sounds like a post-modern exercise before post-modern came in! I got a kick of your description of how you came to view this movie differently and see things in it that you hadn't before; I know what that experience is like. Seems like audiences today may have finally caught up to this film and can appreciate it better.

    15. You always manage to hit the nail on the head when you review movies :D I love PWIS but have never really thought of it in the same light that you do. I think another viewing is in order! I will never understand how most people don't fall in love with it...

    16. The screen caps have sucked me into this one...I've always found the title of the movie to be a turn-off because films about couples I care little about romancing it up in faraway places are sort of down the list of my must-sees. I may have to check this one out the next time it turns up on TCM.

      On an unrelated note...thanks for promoting my blogathon, Clara!

    17. I hope you enjoy it, Ivan! And you're welcome, I'm trying to showcase in that widget all the upcoming movie blogathons :)

    18. Thank you, Sophie! Yeah, it's a fun and light little movie, nice to know that more people like it!

    19. Thank you :) Hope you can watch it someday.

    20. YAY, Sarah, that's cool! Nice to find more PWIS fans! Yeah, Tony Curtis is really funny in it! One of my favorite parts is when Audrey talks about her previous job, with the French New Wave director...she says all that quotes about "The Scrabble Game Will Not Take Place" and "Blow Out No Candles" so seriously that always cracks me up :) Oh, yes, that picture is lovely, I hadn't seen it before. Thanks a million for your comment!

    21. Thanks for your comment, Page! I won't try to convince you to see Audrey's "The Nun's Story" and "Two for the road"...but I really recommend them to you, in case you haven't seen them. Uhm, yeah, it's nice to have a guilty pleasure :)

    22. Yeah, films about writers are artists are always interesting, especially if they portray their creative processes :) I hope you can give PWIS another try, and I hope you enjoy it :) Thanks for your comment!

    23. Thank you very, very much, Katie! I hope you can see it again :)

    24. Yeah, that apartment was awesome!! The sunny terrace, the Eiffel Tower, the spacious rooms! Very cool, great you noticed it too! Oh, and I hope you can watch Paris when it sizzles again, just for fun.

    25. Ooooh, well, William didn't look THAT bad. Maybe the pics weren't very good. Oh, cool you liked "Two for the road", I love that movie! Thanks for your comment, Kim!

    26. Be brave, Caftan Woman!! Hope you can give "Paris when it sizzles" a try! It's perfect for a relaxed afternoon/evening :)

    27. Thank you Craig! I'm glad you like this movie too!

    28. Marsha, that's COOL, glad to find more people that enjoy watching this light film :) Thanks for your comment, I agree with you.

    29. Jacqueline, nice to know that you like this film too!! Yeah, movies about writers and typist are always entertaining. Thanks for your kind comment :)

    30. Hey Kristin, cool you enjoyed "Paris When It Sizzles"! Yeah, it's quirky and light...and I love the Frank Sinatra line too...and Tony Curtis! Thanks for your comment!

    31. :) Yeah, this movie is really to go "absolutely ape", I agree with everything you said. Oh, yes, I've seen "Alex and Emma", I love Luke Wilson :) Thank you Dorian for your kind comment!

    32. Thank you Bette! Yeah, maybe this is an acquired taste instead of a guilty pleasure :)

    33. Marvelous post. I adore Audrey Hepburn and put off for years watching this film because of its reputation. Perhaps because I wasn't expecting much, I liked it more than I expected to. It may not be perfect, but you put your finger on it: They were having fun and making fun of the art of making movies. The satire could have been sharper, the comedy more biting. But it's not the clunker that everyone thinks it to be. And you are dead on when you say Audrey had great comic timing. One of her greatest gifts was her instincts. (I'll stop now before I linger off into an incoherent lovefest of Audrey.) :)



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