Crowther's article is the original review of Sabrina that appeared in the New York Times following its premiere in the city in September of 1954. The review is very helpful in understanding Sabrina's role as a film at that point in history: as is evidenced by this review compared to more contemporary pieces discussing the film, the difference in perception of the film is substantial. Crowther cites the film as "the most delightful comedy-romance in years," and imparts the kindest words upon Humphrey Bogart and William Holden; he claims it is their film as much as it is Hepburn's. This is a sharp contrast to modern discussions of the film, which nearly all focus on Hepburn and her style in particular.
At the time of the review, Hepburn was not yet the immensely famous star that she is remembered, and it is apparent that her "image" that would stand for years to come had not fully been developed. There is no mention of her couture ensembles or style beyond her "frail and slender" frame". Yet though the reviewer had very favorable words for the film, including director Billy Wilder's adaptation of a "recognized thin" play by Samuel Taylor, as evidenced by more recent criticism, the relatively light-hearted film would not have survived as powerfully without Hepburn's growing popularity as style icon.
Crowther, Bosley. "Screen: 'Sabrina' Bows at Criterion; Billy Wilder Produces and Directs Comedy." New York Times Film Reviews. 23 Sept. 1954. 1 April 2006. <http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/22483>
The original New York Times film review of Sabrina couldn't provide the in-depth analysis later works offered through hindsight, but it does give an important peek into how the film was initially received. At the time of the film's release up until today, a review in the New York Times represents the opinion of the country's most respected and influential critics.
Sabrina opened up to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic review. Critic Bosley Crowther heralded the film as "the most delightful comedy-romance in years." This signifies that Sabrina had differentiated itself from movies of the preceding years, and as opposed to the popular screwball comedies of the age, the movie's fairy tale nature offered a welcome contrast. Crowther said a film of the sort had not been seen since "prewar days," and perhaps Sabrina provided some nostalgia for audiences, in addition to the escapism of its plot. It is also noteworthy that Crowther calls the film a "comedy-romance," because it shows that the now-ubiquitous genre of the romantic comedy had not yet been solidified.
The Times praises the story's trajectory from stage to screen, which is especially interesting when compared to Gerald C. Wood's later critique (see "Gender, Caretaking and the Three Sabrinas.") This could lead one to draw the conclusion that perhaps film at this time was less willing than theatre in embrace more modern gender roles. The Times also lauds Wilder for viewing the love story with "candid skepticism," but later scholarship also calls this into question, claiming the romance was too easy.
Each main actor's performance is acclaimed, and the praise gives further fuel to Hepburn's oncoming superstardom. Wilder is praised above all for his natural sense of what makes a good film, and this sense comes across years later in his interview with biographer Charlotte Chandler.
The review ends by calling Sabrina the best romance since It Happened One Night. Though many films earn great reviews only to fade away into obscurity, it seems Sabrina lived out the prophesy that the Times laid out for it. Not only was the movie successful in its own time, but it lives on happily ever after today, considered a classic by many.
Bosley Crowther reviews Preston Sturges’ work. He focuses on Sullivan’s Travels, in which a Hollywood director with Marxist sympathies tires of making light musical comedies, and desires to make politically significant pictures which “hold a mirror up to life.” After an altercation with a policeman and a case of mistaken identity, Sullivan finds himself on a brutal Southern chain gang, confesses to murdering the mysteriously disappeared film director John Sullivan thereby enacting his own media death in order to publicize his whereabouts and to save himself from literal death and the physical torments of life on a chain gang. During his time on the chain gang, his one release is viewing a funny cartoon, so he abandons his serious filmmaking ambitions and decides to make comedies.
Crowther sums up Sullivan’s Travel’s arguments: “Now, to all intents and purposes, Mr. Sturges is ably arguing that pictures which “stink with messages” are so much tommy-rot and the screen’s fundamental service is to hold life at an arm’s-length.” Crowther locates what he describes as “a most ingenious paradox” in Sturges’ work: cinema as an outlet for escapism, and frequently a metaphorical narration of its own escapist traditions (e.g. Chain Gang which contemplates the political implications of escaping or disappearing from society).
Chain Gang depicts spectacular escapes while advertising its own denial of narrative closure at the end, even though Great Depression film was always expected to provide an outlet for escapism and release from financial hard times. Chain Gang not only refused to provide its viewer with narrative closure, but flaunted its own display of brutality as a capitalist gimmick to attract spectatorship (real chains from chain gang in theater lobby). Whereas economic modernity argument (see Lichtenstein tag) suggests that Chain Gang elicits and co-opts political energy, the film’s commercial pitch – provoking capitalist desires to view a film that in many ways challenges them – would imply a different relationship. In the end, Chain Gang’s commercialization of its own subversion of American government participated in an elaborate New Deal propaganda campaign. However, Chain Gang’s meditation upon its implication in traditions of film escapism can be read as resisting the film’s own politics.