best film: My Fair Lady and it is not terribly close with her second best film (which could be Funny Face or Charade). Audrey often outperformed the films she was in (Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) but My Fair Lady is a glowing exception. It is so handsomely mounted on a large canvas (65mm- and stunning) by George Cukor and of course Rex Harrison is perfection in the co-lead role. Hepburn does not sing here (and Harrison does) but she is near his equal overall in the film and this is a major feather in her cap.
best performance: Sabrina. Hepburn was so damn consistently good throughout her career that the difference between this performance and her ninth best performance (maybe Robin and Marion) is miniscule. But if forced to choose, her work here in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina is as fine a choice as any. One main reason this gets the top slot is Audrey so clearly out acts both Humphrey Bogart and William Holden- two of the truly great actors of that era.
stylistic innovations/traits: It feels odd saying this, but the two categories above are not really the strength for Audrey Hepburn’s case for this category. It is possible that she is a top 50 all-time female actor, without giving one of the best 100 female acting performances in film history. But Hepburn’s resume has incredible depth and she did not miss often. The Brussels-born actor was in fourteen (14) archiveable films in roughly only 27 overall films. So she was choosy with her roles and films in an era when not many actors were- obviously knowing what she was doing. Hepburn has become an icon of style (it is harder to find stills of her from her films because it is often all about her hair or clothes on internet searches). She could play both a child-like nymph and clearly a romantic, gracefully leading lady. In fact, most of her great roles feature a character duality or transformation. In Sabrina she goes abroad and comes back different and matured, in Roman Holiday she is a princess in disguise, in My Fair Lady she goes from a flower girl to a woman of sophistication. She had charisma and an honesty that connected with audiences in every performance. She was also just a big star- a lead or co-lead in twelve (12) in films—all except the first and last on the list below (not many tiny performances where she did not contribute much to the overall film) and terrific in all of them. Her weakness would be that she does not appear in enough top-level films.
directors worked with: Stanley Donen (3), Billy Wilder (2), William Wyler (2) and George Cukor (1), King Vidor (1), Blake Edwards (1) and Fred Zinnemann (1) once a piece
top five performances:
- My Fair Lady
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- Roman Holiday
|1951- The Lavender Hill Mob|
|1953- Roman Holiday|
|1956- War and Peace|
|1957- Funny Face|
|1957- Love in the Afternoon|
|1959- The Nun’s Story|
|1961- Breakfast at Tiffany’s|
|1964- My Fair Lady|
|1966- How to Steal a Million|
|1967- Two for the Road|
|1967- Wait Until Dark|
|1976- Robin and Marion|
If forced to rank her her greatest performances i would plump for a nun’s story , roman holiday , two for the road , sabrina , breakfast at tiffany’s . I’m just glad to see her in the top half.
Man i wish we got that kubrick film with her 😔
Two For The Road is one of my favorites from her in terms of range (perhaps an underrated film too). She’s typically so elegant and demure that it’s really quite shocking to hear her swearing and talking about sex.
@DeclanG- Great catch here. Thank you. Fixed now. I had the order flipped in my older Audrey page and neglected to make the change here.
@Drake-How important is it for a film to have a good ending? Are there any films which lost a grade because of a bad ending or gained a grade because of a good ending? Plus are there any examples of films do you think people underrate/dismiss because it had such a bad ending but was very good until that point?
Interestingly I once saw an interview with Stephen King at a university and he gave a tip to the young writers to always finish their stories even if they’ve given up on them. He said writers get very very good at writing the first act ( and 2nd) because they practiced it so much in the past as they started a story and then realized it was going nowhere and began a new one. I’ve always kept this in mind regarding 3rd acts, as they can often seem phoned home. The MCU is famous for making ever one (until She Hulk) of its stories essentially go back to the exact same 3rd act (WandaVision would be so much better if it didn’t do this) and only a few directors have excelled within the MCU rules. The 2nd act is often going to be the most interesting part of a narrative but I have huge respect when a film nails its ending too.
@Malith- Great question- not one I think about much. What do you have in mind? The two that came immediately to mind are Minority Report from Spielberg and Flight from Zemeckis- I mean not all time great films- but certainly would be better with better endings.
@Drake-Not sure. The question came to my mind because The Hobbit lost its way in the 3rd act. Which kind of diminished what came before and left a sour taste. Polanski’s The Ninth Gate is another film with a bad ending. Vice versa Polanski’s Ghost Writer has a superb ending which takes it up a notch I would say.
@Malith- Gotcha, I’ll keep thinking. The Dark Knight Rises has a terrible death for Bane with a cheesy one-liner from Hathaway’s catwoman- but there have to be more examples I’m just forgetting about.
A low-key film(but I think it is in the archives) I thought The Freshman(1990) had a terrible ending. It is very rare that a good film gets it so wrong in the final act. Some films get criticism for excessive violence at the end like Rambo 2 but I didn’t though it was particularly hard to get through.(This is in the archives too)