REVIEW: “Love in the Afternoon”


Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn. Folks, that’s all I needed to hear to be interested in 1957’s “Love in the Afternoon”. And as if I needed any more prodding, this romantic comedy was directed, produced, and co-written by the great Billy Wilder. And then to add even more personal intrigue, “Love in the Afternoon” is set in the magical city of Paris. So you have an unlikely love story filled with good humor, some really strong central performances and the City of Lights. Sounds good.

One of the first things you’ll notice when watching the film is the dramatic age difference between Cooper and Hepburn. Cooper was 55 years old at the time and there were some people who had a problem with his casting. Hepburn plays a beautiful (and much younger) girl named Ariane. She lives in Paris with her father Claude (brilliantly played by Maurice Chevalier) who works out of their home as a private investigator. Watching Hepburn and Chevalier is pure joy. They have an adorable father/daughter chemistry which shows itself in her playful curiosity about his work and his father-like encouragement of her cello playing.


One day Ariane eavesdrops as her father reveals to a client that his wife is having a fling with a wealthy American named Frank Flannagan (Cooper). She hears the trysts are taking place in Flannagan’s hotel room and that the husband plans to kill him. The curious and adventurous Ariane decides to go warn Flannagan of his upcoming demise. In doing so she finds herself smitten by the millionaire playboy’s charm. Her innocence and inexperience with love creates new feelings within her. On the other hand Ariane is initially just another victim of Flannagan’s globetrotting womanizing. But she leaves him in the dark about many things including her name and her far-fetched tales of her many boyfriends intrigues him. But is that enough to cure him of his playboy ways?

Wilder does a great job of getting us to love Hepburn and her character. She instantly comes off as pure and sweet and her childlike curiosity is adorable. That’s one reason we dislike Gary Cooper and his Flannagan character. We see that she is enamored with him but he sees her as just another toy. We genuinely worry for her as this unusual story plays out. But Wilder also shows that she’s not just a child with a bout of puppy love. She’s clever and, as Flannagan finds out, she can be abstruse. All of this is key to developing what is a well conceived love story.

This was the first of many screenplay collaborations between Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. As you would expect from anything that Wilder has a hand in writing, the dialogue is slick and smart and his two lead actors handle it nicely. Hepburn was Wilder’s one and only choice to play Ariane but he wanted Cary Grant to play Flannagan. Grant turned down the role (as he did with several other Wilder offerings) which opened the door for Cooper. I admit, Cooper was an unusual choice and at first I wondered if he was going to fit. But as things move along, I think he captures what the role calls for.


The film also features some good bits of humor. The dialogue itself can be quite funny and there are several running gags that become pretty outrageous. There’s a hilarious reoccurring bit with gypsy musicians who Flannagan pays to play for him whenever he has a woman over. But we later see them popping up in some of the most absurd locations. It’s very funny. I also have to again mention the fun moments between Hepburn and Chevalier. She is her usual peppy and sprightly self. But Chevalier is a real scene stealer and for me some of the best moments featured him on screen.

“Love in the Afternoon” is a movie I’m glad I finally caught up with. This is another energetic and intelligent Wilder film that hits the romance and humor it shoots for. “Love in the Afternoon” may not be up there with the great romantic comedies of its time, but it’s still a solid film featuring a wonderful cast, beautiful Paris locations, and a smart director who has no problem putting all of his pieces together.



“The Seven Year Itch” – 4 STARS

Classic Movie SpotlightSEVEN YEAR POSTERAcclaimed director Billy Wilder’s “The Seven Year Itch” was a movie that at the time drove the Motion Picture Production Code enforcers crazy. As risqué and seductive as the film was, it’s based on a much edgier play by George Axelrod. Wilder co-wrote the screenplay with Axelrod and ended up making several changes to satisfy the censors. But these alterations did nothing to hurt the picture. “The Seven Year Itch” is a smart and funny romantic comedy – exactly the kind of movie you would expect to get from Billy Wilder.

The story is set during a hot Manhattan summer when wives and children leave the city for cooler vacation sites leaving behind the men to work. This exodus, which resembles a massive animal migration, leaves a nerdy, insecure business executive named Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) alone while his wife and son head off to Maine. It doesn’t take long to see that Richard is a bit eccentric and unsure about himself. He also has a vivid imagination and often times finds himself daydreaming about things that feed his insecurities. He spends a lot of time carrying on conversations with himself, discussing his wife’s skepticism over his ladies man status as well as his unquestioned faithfulness to his wife while she’s away. While other husbands may be out catting around, not Richard Sherman. There will be no drinking, smoking, or womanizing for him.

Well that may be easier said than done, especially when he bumps into the new tenant in his apartment building. Now this is no ordinary tenant. The a gorgeous blonde bombshell is played by Marilyn Monroe. Apparently that says all you need to know because we never get her name (which may give us an indication of where Richard’s mind is at). She’s simply credited as The Girl. As you might expect, Richard is smitten with his beautiful neighbor and regardless of his best efforts and outspoken arguments with himself, he places himself right in the path of temptation.


Richard’s array of flirtatious errors begins with inviting ‘the girl’ to his apartment for a drink. Bad move. The girl’s ditzy, playful, and seductive charm is more alluring than Richard imagined and soon he finds himself in too deep. A little fib here and a poor decision there has the already paranoid Richard a little on edge. The question becomes will he go too far and irreparably harm his marriage or will he come to his senses? On the other hand, does he even have any senses to come back to?

Tom Ewell was never what you would call a leading man. The consummate character actor, Ewell had a familiar face for film fans but his biggest career successes came on Broadway. His greatest recognition came with his lead performance in the stage version of “The Seven Year Itch”. He would play the role for three years, eventually winning a Tony Award. So Ewell was the natural choice to reprise his role of Richard Baxter in the film version. While the material was altered between stage and screen, Ewell handles it well and his common, everyday man persona works perfectly within Wilder’s film. In fact, my wife has said that Ewell’s portrayal of Richard’s neurosis is so convincing that it makes her antsy.

SEVEN YEAR2And then there’s Marilyn Monroe lighting up every scene with her radiance. While Ewell was clearly the lead character, it was Marilyn who received top billing. In 1955 Monroe was a hot property and it was her name that would serve as the biggest draw. She’s fantastic in this film. It’s easy to dismiss her character as another air-headed blonde but I think there’s more here than that. She certainly has her ditzy moments but its also feasible that she knows what she’s doing. Marilyn sells both sides and when combined with her obvious beauty and undeniable sexiness, she gives us one of her better cinema performances.

“The Seven Year Itch” has earned it’s place as an appreciated movie and many call it a true classic. There are several things about the film that is etched in pop culture history. Of course nothing more so than the iconic scene with Marilyn standing on the subway grating. The subway zips by underneath, the beautiful white dress of hers billowing from the air blowing up. But “The Seven Year Itch” has also been called an overly simplistic movie that at times feels too much like a play. I think that’s a fair criticism but one that doesn’t subtract too much from film. It’s witty and intelligent and ultimately unforgettable. The story never grows dull and the performances are a blast. While this may not be Billy Wilder’s best film it’s still a fun picture and a nice part of his amazing résumé.