When I was a kid, I didn’t get Audrey Hepburn. My mom would rent me movies at the dearly departed Take Two Video, and when I wasn’t renting Grease for the millionth time, I found my way to My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I love musicals as a general rule, but My Fair Lady just irks me. Henry Higgins is the absolute worst, and Eliza Doolittle’s exaggerated Cockney accent is painful. As for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I was probably too young to enjoy it.
Then at some point in high school, I saw Roman Holiday on Turner Classic Movies and realized that Audrey Hepburn wasn’t always irksome. In fact, I liked her as Princess Ann because the character fit her regal demeanor so perfectly. And it doesn’t hurt to have Gregory Peck and his beautiful baritone sharing the screen.
Now, after watching several more of her films, I finally get it. She’s not just cute—she’s effervescent. Behind the posh voice and impeccable wardrobe is an actress who wasn’t afraid to use her image for laughs. Case in point, in Roman Holiday she sneaks out of the palace after being given a sedative to stop her “being a princess is no fun” outburst. When Gregory Peck finds her, she’s practically incoherent on a bench. He rather hilariously assumes that she’s drunk. So here’s the charming Miss Hepburn, presumed drunk and making absurd pronouncements to a stranger. Perfection personified! Equally hilarious is her baffled way of eating a sandwich while Walter Matthau explains her husband’s secret identity in Charade.
After watching even a few of Audrey Hepburn’s films, it’s impossible to ignore that she was usually cast opposite significantly older men. The most glaring example is Funny Face, a musical confection in which she stars with an almost-sixty Fred Astaire. The visual disparity is intensified by the fact that Hepburn looks twenty-three even in her thirties. I’ve tried to find an article about this pattern but to no avail. I suppose she was well-suited to play the ingénue characters, who usually have an older man to “guide” them. (Yes, that sentence made me throw up a little bit too.) In Roman Holiday, Peck’s character is very paternal toward her, holding her wrist instead of her hand and bossing her around. As much as I like the movie, it creeps me out when they finally kiss.
I said that Audrey is more than her impeccable wardrobe, but we need to talk about those clothes for a minute. When she wears her beatnik outfit in Funny Face, I want to wear black cigarette pants and a turtleneck all day, every day. In Charade she wears a series of monochromatic outfits in black, white, beige, or red. You just don’t see those matching sets anymore, with a dress, coat, and hat all made to be worn together. I love mixing colors in outfits, but Audrey is causing me to rethink my position. Girl looks gorgeous!
I like watching multiple movies with the same actor, especially spanning different points in their careers. As my Classic Hollywood education continues, I should have more opportunities to write actor-focused posts. That is, if Anne Helen Petersen hasn’t already done it.