PARIS – WHEN IT SIZZLES (1964)
Article 4379 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Richard Quine
Featuring William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Gregoire Aslan
What it is: Romantic comedy
A female typist is hired to help a screenwriter complete a promised screenplay, and discovers that not only has no writing taken place at all, but that the script is due in two days.
Romantic comedies don’t crop up very often in this series, but then, I wouldn’t expect them to, and those that do are probably more than a little bit weird around the edges. This one manages to get included because of the presence of a vampire and a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character into the action, as well as references to both werewolves and Frankenstein. It’s the central conceit of this movie that makes these touches possible; half of the movie deals with the relationship between the screenwriter and the typist, but the other half of the movie deals with the screenplay being written, which is featured in the action of the movie rather than just being the subject of conversation. The vampire scene appears when the typist, having been plied with drink, begins speculating on the further plot developments and imagines that the main male character in the screenplay turns out to be one of the undead, and the Jekyll/Hyde character shows up at a costume party later in the screenplay. Though it’s only mentioned in passing, the Frankenstein reference is one of the more interesting moments in the movie, as the screenwriter begins dwelling on innate plot similarities between the movies FRANKENSTEIN and MY FAIR LADY.
In fact, that last point hinges upon the oddest aspect of this movie; in the writing of the screenplay, we are treated somewhat to a blow-by-blow account of screenplay writing, which deconstructs the action in the “movie within a movie” at the same time it’s going on. It’s the various parallels between the real-life making of this movie, the action in the main plot of the movie, and the story in the “movie within a movie” that go a long ways towards making this one fun to watch. Just for example, this movie features William Holden as a man with a drinking problem, and in real life, the production was held up when Holden had to check into a clinic for alcoholics. I also find it interesting that the title of the “movie within a movie” (called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER) turns out to be a “movie within a movie within a movie” as well in a plot twist that I won’t give away here. My favorite touch in the movie turns out to be have been a change made during the middle of filming when Holden became unavailable and Tony Curtis was called in to appear in a bizarre role that was doctored up at the last minute; he plays “Second Policeman” as an egotistical actor who can’t quite accept that he’s playing an unimportant featured role, and the way this character figures in the story is rather mind-boggling.
Still, with all the weirdness here and its attempt to deconstruct and show up the cliches in a “super criminal vs. the police” plot, I can’t help but notice that it makes no attempt to deconstruct its own “romantic comedy” plot, and so the movie does manage to fall prey to its own cliches before it’s all over. Nevertheless, it’s to the movie’s credit that it didn’t make me want to cover my eyes and ears and sing loudly while it was on, and that says something about it.