Billy Wilder’s Love In The Afternoon (1957) is a rare gem from screenwriters I.A.L Diamond and Claude Anet: a frank and funny, charmingly original take on May/December romances. The film begs the question of 'what is the longevity of true love when interrupted by the more immediate course of carnal lust?
Aspiring cellist, Arian Chavesse (Audrey Hepburn) is a precocious teenager attempting to learn the specifics of her father's latest case. Arian's father, Parisian P.I. Claude Chavesse (Maurice Chevalier), who specializes in digging up dirt for alienation of affection suits and divorce case, is determined to shield his daughter from the sordid aspects of his work. His latest case involves catching middle-age playboy, Frank Flannagan (Gary Cooper) with his pants down.
But when Arian learns that the lady in question's husband Monsieur X (John McGiver) intends to assassinate Frank for an 'indiscretion' with his wife, she intervenes to save Frank's life by pretending to be Frank's mistress instead.
Confused, Monsieur X retires from his plan to murder Frank. And although Arian is most grateful for this change of heart, she is entirely unprepared for what happens to her next. Frank lures her to his room and the two begin a secretive affair. Arian’s young friend and fellow musician, Michel (Van Doude) cautions Arian against loving Frank. He warns her that if she stays on her present course, her life will be unfulfilled and her career as a cellist over. Secretly, however, Michel longs to be Arian's boyfriend.
Certainly, all evidence seems to point to as much. Frank is a notorious boulevardier whose past romances with much younger women have resulted in no concrete commitments to any of the ladies he has known. Ultimately, Claude’s frankness takes a backseat to purposeful tolerance, but more to the point, Frank discovers that his days of carousing with an assortment of Miss-Right-Now’s has suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, come to an end. He is deeply in love with Arian.
Love in the Afternoon is overshadowed by Billy Wilder’s other considerable masterworks (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, et al).This is a genuine shame because Love in the Afternoon is a superior romantic melodrama peppered in honest and sobering reflections about love with more than a hint of intoxicating, playful light comedy. The film's clairvoyant perspective on the older man/younger woman scenario is refreshingly contemporary on a subject usually taboo (or at least not discussed) in Hollywood films of its own vintage.
Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer is disappointing. The original film elements are not in particularly great condition. The B&W image fluctuates from a reasonably crisp and nicely contrasted filmic quality with adequately refined details, to lengthy portions that are overly soft, slightly out of focus and suffering from extremely weak contrast levels. Film grain appears digitized and age related artefacts are everywhere. The result: an image that is never smooth and at times barely tolerable.
The audio is mono but exhibits a muffled characteristic during certain scenes. The main title music sounds as though it is being recorded inside an acoustic tunnel. There are no extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)