Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

I’m afraid Paris does not as much sizzle as it fizzles to a complete flop. It’s got plenty of moxie and it really tries to be a good movie. Oh how it tries. It’s is a very frustrating movie in so many aspects. The premise has plenty of promise, the performances are for the most part pretty good, Paris certainly lends itself well as a background for such an outlandish fantasy tale and the story within a story structure offers ample opportunities to do something truly memorable and unique. But it never succeeds in taking all these ingredients and make them into something truly entertaining. The problem even isn’t that it’s trying to be too damn clever, it’s just that nothing really works.  It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where half the pieces don’t seem to fit anywhere and you’re left with an incomplete picture. It didn’t really come as much of a surprise, I had read in Audrey’s biography how this was only briefly mentioned as something that didn’t really work at all as a movie and that was proven to be painfully accurate.

All the wacky comedy in this is in theory amusing on paper, but fails utterly to be funny when the jokes are lined up and delivered. The entire sequence where Hepburn’s character is drunk and she starts to add increasingly absurd twists to the screenplay is a prime example of just how awful it gets. It’s very clearly suppose to be this cute and very off-beat joke on absurd twists in stories but when you inexplicably have William Holden turn into a Count Dracula that leads to a completely random horse carriage chase scene that goes from a park to an empty race track before cutting into a World War One  aerial battle, it never even gets to the “it’s getting so ridiculous it’s actually funny” level and is just nonsensical, contrived and anything but amusing.

The meta aspect in general doesn’t  work as well as you might have wanted. Tony Curtis’s glorified and uncredited double role was a neat idea, as was Sinatra singing the opening title song, but they don’t really add much to the movie. The gimmick seems to mostly just add things that don’t work at all. This is especially true in the beginning when they are writing the start of the screenplay. Holden at one point suddenly decides to completely rewrite the beginning, so they rewind everything that just happened on screen by putting it the movie on reverse mode, and it’s incredibly boring to watch the scene going backwards because the rewind speed is only moderately fast, so it actually takes a bit to get to the point where the revisions start. And of course the scene that gets revised completely wasn’t particularly entertaining to begin with before it got rewritten, so you just spent couple of minutes setting up a gag that wasn’t very funny or visually amusing, and then you had to wait a little before the movie can replay the scene again, but a bit differently this time. There’s also the ending where they build the finishing kiss with this cutesy screenplay talk about the  cliché of having the two expensive movie stars end the movie by kissing passionately each other. It’s meant to be insightful and cute but ends up being just corny and off putting. The movie isn’t sweeping you off your feet with a hearted warming and romantic kiss scene, instead it just leaves you cold and a bit annoyed.

What basically brakes the movie is not the entirely ludicrous plot turns or the poor comedy but instead the horrible chemistry between Holden and Hepburn. After all , the big pay off to the movie is suppose to be the two of them falling in love and sharing a big romantic kiss at the end of the movie. There are several factors that all combine to ruin the romance vibe between the two. Being forced to make the movie by the studio, Holden’s problems with alcoholism and his failed attempts to rekindle a romance between him and Hepburn despite Audrey being a married woman, there’s just too much baggage there. The obvious awkwardness shines through so brightly that every scene where they are meant to share a romantic moment just feels unconvincing and cold. And to make matters worse, both actors do a commendable job otherwise in the movie, individually they are pretty great, but put them together and geez, the (failed) romance scenes look all the more jarring.

When you reach the ending, you basically repeat what so many often have already said about this movie: you wish the filmmakers had stolen the idea from their own movie and had had the movie be stolen, so that they wouldn’t have had to release such a stinker of a movie.


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