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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Audrey Hepburn Collection (Blu-ray)
Audrey Hepburn Collection (Blu-ray)
Paramount // PG // September 30, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matt Hinrichs | posted October 10, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movies:

The eternally gorgeous Audrey Hepburn may not have been the most versatile of movie stars, but she certainly had "It" - that elusive quality known as charisma. Arriving on the scene as a sophisticated waif in a sea of voluptuous curves, she charmed audiences with a cultured, genial image full of inherent contradictions. She was vulnerable yet sturdy, impetuous and flirty yet incredibly poised, tomboyish yet undeniably feminine, and possessing a natural talent that enabled her to hold her own against actors twice her age across a wide variety of film genres. To celebrate the screen and fashion icon's longevity, Paramount and Warner Home Video have released Audrey Hepburn Collection, a Blu Ray set which combines three of her most celebrated romantic comedies. It brings together Sabrina (1954), Funny Face (1956) and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) in a package as slim and elegant as the lady herself.

If anything, Audrey Hepburn Collection demonstrates what a breath of fresh air Audrey was, and continues to be. Given that her image continues to be used to sell posters, coffee cups, t-shirts and all sorts of junk, it's easy to lose sight of what made her such an icon in the first place: the films. While it might be pointless attempting to sum up the wide-ranging career of someone like Hepburn in just three movies (I kind of feel like Hepburn's smashing debut in 1953's Roman Holiday ought to be in there), the modern-day Cinderella stories in this trio epitomize Hepburn's fresh appeal as well as anything else she did.


Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.

Sabrina (1954; 113 minutes)
Billy Wilder's Sabrina captures Hepburn in the bloom of youth, as a chauffeur's daughter who captivates the two scions in the wealthy Long Island industrialist family who employ her father. Hepburn's willowy teen Sabrina spends an inordinate amount of time pining after the Larrabee family's carefree playboy son, David (William Holden). Frustrated over Sabrina's obsession with a man who barely acknowledges her existence, Sabrina's father (John Williams) sends the girl to Paris to learn cooking and hopefully forget about David. Instead, she comes back an elegant, cultured woman who has David smitten. This upsets David's workaholic older brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart), who has arranged for David to marry the daughter (Martha Hyer) of the industrialist (Francis X. Bushman) who heads the company that his Larrabee Industries is courting for a merger. After David is temporarily sidelined by an accident, Linus befriends Sabrina and succumbs to her charms as well. Romantically attracted to two different men, the former Ugly Duckling of Glen Cove finds herself in a situation bound to leave at least one heart broken.

Despite the initial awkwardness of the 24 year-old Hepburn paired up with two much older actors, Sabrina ends up being one of those rare comedies that stays consistently delightful from start to finish. Billy Wilder and co-screenwriter Ernest Lehman adapted the film from a popular play by Sam Taylor, making it a streamlined, sophisticated romp peppered with cute (yet never cloying) dialogue which seemed particularly tailored to the talents of Hepburn, Holden and Bogart. Wilder brought out good performances the lead trio, all recent Academy Award winners, although what struck me the most was the crackling supporting cast. The film definitely calls to mind the sophisticated comedies authored by Wilder and Charles Brackett in the '30s and '40s, although Hepburn's joie de vivre and Wilder's expertise make it fresh. The handsomely mounted production is highlighted by Hepburn's costume designs, credited to Paramount's workhorse Edith Head but mostly the handiwork of French couturier Hubert de Givenchy. Sabrina was the first collaboration for Hepburn and de Givenchy, in what would be a decades-long friendship.

Funny Face (1956; 103 minutes)
Although one doesn't think of Hepburn as a musical star, she did star in two musicals and introduced a song standard in a third film (see below). The best of these was 1956's Funny Face, Stanley Donen's eccentric, lively ode to love, Paris and the fashion industry. Co-starring Fred Astaire and dynamo Kay Thompson, Funny Face sports a plot that continues the wish-fulfillment escapism Sabrina laid down. At the offices of Quality magazine, brash editor Helen Prescott (Thompson) frets that the upcoming issue lacks "pizzazz," so she sends photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) and a troupe of assistants and models to a Greenwich Village bookstore for a fashion photo shoot. The intrusion is a huge nuisance for the store's mousy clerk, Jo Stockton (Hepburn), although her stony intellectual fa├žade melts a bit when Dick kisses her. The shoot still doesn't satisfy Helen's search for the "Quality Woman," a fresh-faced model who will exclusively wear an upcoming line from a hot French designer for the mag. Dick, however, has found the perfect choice in Jo - but will she go along? Yes, but the sojourn in Paris gets derailed by Jo's insistence on meeting a French philosopher she admires - and her growing affection for the photographer who got her there.

As my own introduction to Hepburn's films, I have a special fondness for Funny Face. Be aware, however, that the movie has a mean anti-intellectual streak (the philosopher Audrey's so hung up on just wants to get in her capri pants) and - despite Hepburn's grace, beauty, and charm - the character of Jo is a huge, uppity ass. Despite all that, she and the movie redeem themselves with a predictable yet life-affirming message that love (and a fabulous wardrobe) conquers all. Even with the wide gulf in their ages, Hepburn and Astaire make for an appealing contrast, while Thompson pretty much steals every scene she's in with her hard-wired vitality. Stanley Donen's brisk, airy direction lends itself well to the music, comprised of evergreens by George and Ira Gershwin and zippy new numbers (like the astonishingly staged "Think Pink") written by Roger Edens, Adolph Deutsch and Leonard Gershe. Coming along at the tail end of the classic movie musical era, Funny Face is one of those movies that remains emblematic of the '50s and timelessly enjoyable all at once.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961; 115 minutes)
More than any of her films, Breakfast at Tiffany's made Audrey Hepburn an icon as kooky bohemian gal Holly Golightly. Hepburn's ladylike presence and gorgeous wardrobe oozes style, yet she's terribly miscast in this sanitized adaptation of Truman Capote's novella. Holly's carefree spirit captures the attention of a new tenant in her New York apartment, jaded writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard). The girl who enjoys longingly gazing through the display windows at Tiffany's, helping out gangsters, and throwing wild, funky shindigs finds a kindred spirit in Paul. In the midst of struggling to write a novel with the help of his "decorator" patron, a wealthy married lady (the wonderful Patricia Neal), Paul uncovers the fact that Holly is a country girl who moved to the city to reinvent herself. Her true identity is Lula Mae Barnes, to be precise, as explained to Paul by a visiting old coot named Doc (Buddy Ebsen) - the husband whom Lula Mae abandoned back in Texas. Holly learns that she's needed back home to take care of her serviceman brother, Fred, but she impulsively decides to pursue a rich South American bachelor instead. It puts Paul in an awkward position, since he's fallen for this woman who has defined herself by her own dogged independence.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a beautifully produced showcase for Hepburn, who never looked more radiant. Like its jewel-worshipping heroine, though, I think people tend to enjoy this movie for completely superficial reasons. Director Blake Edwards lavishes the story with a lot of gloss (and, thankfully, a cheeky sense of humor), while the romance between Hepburn and her dreamy looking co-star George Peppard plays out against a well-scrubbed urban setting with Henry Mancini's swanky scoring. Whether decked out in cocktail dresses or crooning the classic "Moon River" in dressed-down denim and a sweatshirt, there's no doubt that Hepburn made Holly her own, quirky creation. People who gripe about his film tend to single out Mickey Rooney's hammy yellowface portrayal of Holly's Japanese landlord Mr. Yunoshi (it really is uncomfortable to watch), but there are a host of other problems with this strangely structured flick. Edwards knows how to create a sophisticated atmosphere, but as far as lead characters go, Holly and Paul aren't too terribly interesting. Their romance is a dance between two sullen brats who feed off each other like parasites. It gets especially masochistic in the final reels, when Paul gets possessive over the self-absorbed Holly. In the end, the only sympathy garnered comes from the attempt to shield Holly's cat, Cat, from the pouring rain.

The Blu Rays:


Video

Audrey Hepburn Collection uses the same video transfers employed on the standalone Blu Ray releases for Breakfast at Tiffany's in 2011 and Funny Face and Sabrina in 2014. All three sport excellent visuals, with Tiffany's looking especially phenomenal. Sabrina's restored 1.37:1 image preserves the original's sumptuous black and white photography and incredible detail. Blacks are nice and rich without getting too murky, while the lack of dust and specks leaves the film looking absolutely pristine. Funny Face's 1.85:1 VistaVision picture seemed comparatively underwhelming with its wishy-washy color palette and soft photography, although it too is lovingly restored with nice detail and pristine picture quality. The jaw-dropping color and detail on Breakfast at Tiffany's is probably the best I've ever seen on a '60s-era film - incredible saturation, beautiful light/dark balance, and an absolutely flawless image. If you want to impress your friends with a sumptuously preserved film on Blu Ray, this is the way to go.

Audio

Sound-wise, Warner and Paramount also did an impressive job with the options available on this set. Sabrina's restored DTS-HD mono soundtrack is a solid, clean mix that places dialogue and music on an equal level. Although limited dynamics are to be expected of a film that vintage, it's a surprisingly clean track with hardly any distortion or hiss. Funny Face is offered in both a restored mono 2.0 track and a 5.1 DTS-MA track which adds more bottom for a fuller sound. Like Sabrina, it's a professionally done high-fidelity mix with clean music and dialogue kept at a consistent, pleasant level. Along with the restored mono track, Breakfast at Tiffany's sports a gorgeous, immersive 5.1 DTS-MA soundtrack with crystal clear dialogue, lovely music and great use of ambient sounds in the side channels. All three discs come with optional subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish, along with mono soundtracks dubbed in French and Spanish.

Extras

All of Audrey Hepburn Collection's bonus features are carryovers from previous DVD releases of the films. While some of it can be superficial and silly, having little to do with Audrey or her movies, there's a lot of interesting stuff to enjoy here.

On Sabrina:

  • Audrey Hepburn: Fashion Icon (17:35; 2008)
  • Sabrina's World (11:28; 2008)
  • Supporting Sabrina (16:35; 2008)
  • William Holden: The Paramount Years (29:52; 2008)
  • Sabrina Documentary (11:46; 2000)
  • Behind the Scenes: Cameras (5:11; 2008)

On Funny Face:

  • Kay Thompson: Think Pink! (26:37; 2008)
  • This is VistaVision (24:42; 2008)
  • Fashion Photographers Exposed (17:54; 2008)
  • The Fashion Designer and His Muse (8:08; 2007)
  • Parisian Dreams (7:40; 2007)
  • Theatrical Trailer

On Breakfast at Tiffany's:

  • A Golightly Gathering (20:26; 2008)
  • Henry Mancini: More Than Music (20:57; 2008)
  • Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective (17:30; 2008)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's: The Making of a Classic (16:13; 2005)
  • It's So Audrey! A Style Icon (8:15; 2005)
  • Behind the Gates: The Tour (4:33; 2008)
  • Brilliance in a Blue Box (6:03; 2005)
  • Audrey's Letter to Tiffany (2:29; 2005)
  • An Audio Commentary from producer Richard Shepherd.
  • Photo Galleries divided in three sections.

Final Thoughts

While Audrey Hepburn Collection doesn't offer anything new, this assemblage of previously released Blu Ray editions of Sabrina, Funny Face and the overrated yet gorgeous Breakfast at Tiffany's combines three classics in a simple, affordably-priced package. For Audrey neophytes, it's a fantastic showcase for the magnetic screen icon. At the price of a single Criterion Collection release, you get three of Hepburn's better vehicles in lovely high-def transfers with a bunch of nifty extras. That's a sure-fire way to cure the "mean reds." Highly Recommended.


Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.

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