The Incredible Melting Man
Sabrina's rags-to-riches story is as old as time, but so is Linus' story. He starts out as a big meanie and ends the story as a total softy.
He's The Grinch. He's Ebenezer Scrooge. He's Mr. Rochester. He's any craggy male character that has fallen in love and been transformed into a total sweetie-pie.
It's Linus' transformation that makes Sabrina such a fairy tale—not only is Sabrina herself a Cinderella figure, but she's the Beauty to Linus' Beast. But no analysis of Sabrina would be complete without mentioning a few of the issues that critics have had with this classic film over the years… and most of them have to do with the character of Linus.
Humphrey Bogart was fifty-five years old in 1954, when Sabrina was released. Audrey Hepburn was twenty-five. That's a gap of thirty years.
Bogart was literally old enough to be her grandfather. In fact, he was older than John Williams, the actor who played her father (who was fifty-one in 1954).
The script jokes about the age difference; when he goes courting in a collegiate outfit, Linus quips "Look at me! Joe College, with a touch of arthritis." More seriously, he asks Sabrina at one point:
LINUS: Suppose I were ten years younger, and you weren't in love with David…
The film knows there's an age difference (though even if Linus were ten years younger, he'd still be twenty years older than Sabrina). Linus is supposed to be an old fogey that sits at home and pushes money around his desk. It makes sense for him to be older.
But thirty years older? That's a whole lot older. Linus must have known Sabrina since she was a little girl; he would have been an adult when she was born. Ew. Ew, ew, ew.
And that's not even to mention that Linus is deliberately deceiving Sabrina, trying to make her fall in love with him to protect a business deal. He's trading on a long-term adult/child relationship to manipulate her.
Leading Man Material
We're going to be straight with you: a lot of people are unconvinced by the Sabrina/Linus romance. He's old; she's young. He's a jerk; she's effervescent. And then there's this huge elephant in the room—he's Humphrey Bogart.
He's best known for playing a grizzled prospector in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Or a jaded P.I. in The Maltese Falcon. The closest he gets to playing a hunky romantic lead is as a depressed alky in Casablanca. He's out of place in a frothy rom-com.
Bogart supposedly felt out of place too. He wasn't the first choice for the role (that was Carey Grant, who was only a couple of years younger than Bogart) and he was cranky about it. He thought Hepburn was unprofessional. For her part, she said she was "terrified" of Bogart. (Source)
And critics say that the stars' discomfort with each other comes through on screen. This, combined with the fact that watching Bogie play a softy is like watching Seth Rogan play a brooding warrior, ends up making Linus seem like a really terrible person. (Source)
Don't get us wrong. From any perspective, Linus is kind of awful. He orders his brother to marry a woman he doesn't love:
DAVID: It's all beginning to make sense. Mr. Tyson owns the sugarcane, you own the formula for the plastics, and I'm supposed to be offered up as a human sacrifice on the altar of the industrial progress. Is that it?
LINUS: You make it sound so vulgar, David, as if the son of hot dog dynasty were being offered in marriage to the daughter of the mustard king. Surely... surely you don't object to Elizabeth Tyson just because her father happens to have twenty million dollars? That's very narrow-minded of you, David.
He also seduces his brother's girlfriend all the while planning to break her heart. He's a jerk. But in theory, Linus is supposed to become humanized through his relationship with Sabrina. They fall in love, and you learn that he isn't so bad. He may have a thick exoskeleton, but that is just a way of protecting his heart:
LINUS: Oh, yes, the cold businessman behind his marble desk, way up in his executive suite. No emotions, just ice water in his veins and ticker tape coming from his heart. And yet... one day that same cold businessman, high up in a skyscraper, opens a window, steps out on a ledge... stands there for three hours wondering... if he should jump.
But does it work? Can Bogie play a closeted romantic? Some say no; others swoon. What do you think?
A Movie With Bogie Is Always Good
The Linus/Sabrina pairing has certainly put some critics off, but the film has things that are indisputably awesome—the wardrobe, the witty dialogue, the character of Sabrina… and for that matter, the character of Linus.
Even if you don't buy Linus as a rom-com hunk, Bogart is always entertaining, and his curmudgeonly crankiness is hilarious to watch. Watch that scene where David injures himself again. Linus is having a great time as he maneuvers his brother into cutting his butt into ribbons.
Linus' schemes are charming because they're so cynical and cruel. You might not want to ever meet Linus… but he's totally charismatic.