IMDB #243: Roman Holiday

So I missed some time. Maybe I just wanted to roll over in bed and petulantly shirk away my duties like some sort of princess or something. You can all have your money back, I promise. Anyway, let’s get to 1953’s Roman Holiday.

The Key Players:

Our director: William Wyler, thrice an Oscar winner and helmer of similar romantic classics like Funny Girl and How To Steal A Million, and then also Ben-Hur. What?

Our screenwriter- Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood ten blacklisted for supposed communists sympathies. This screenplay actually won an Oscar, but Trumbo’s widow didn’t get it on his behalf until 1993. Good thing Hollywood is completely devoid of prejudice these days, right?

And of course this is Audrey Hepburn’s big coming out party. Do I need to write some sentences about who Audrey Hepburn is? Or Gregory Peck, for that matter? I say no, no I don’t.

A supporting role for the city of Rome in this one- allegedly the decision to shoot in black and white was made so the stars weren’t overshadowed by the background vistas.

The Story:

Pretty simple: Hepburn is a princess (of somewhere that isn’t Italy) visiting Rome, Peck is an American journalist (like all the real journalists are).

Hepburn, weary of her life of constant public appearances and functions and royal oppression, has a pseudo-panic attack, and so her handlers give her a shot and put her to bed. Then she decides to escape for a night on the town, only to start falling asleep on the sidewalk from the drugs.

Enter reluctant savior Peck, who eventually realizes who she is, and that a story about her highness with her feathers down would sell some newspapers- hence a plan is born.

But wait- what’s that in the air? Is it love? Is it pizza? Nope, probably love.

The Artisticness:

For a Hollywood just emerging from the studio system, I imagine the great appeal of Roman Holiday was the novelty of location shooting- who wouldn’t prefer the palaces and alleyways of Rome to the same fake snow and dance halls that you saw in the last twenty Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies?

And to Wyler’s credit, he uses the location well- letting the first third of the film unfold slowly as Hepburn sleepily makes her escape.

Hepburn and Peck don’t overplay the romance either, at least not until late in the game. But even then, the plot doesn’t approach anything ridiculous or contrived.


So I think the best part of the movie, and maybe it’s just from the fifties, is that Hepburn and Peck don’t have a torrid affair or anything, they just realize they really care for each other after only a couple of days, and then get sad when she has to return to her princessy duties. And it's not to be chaste or anything, just that anything more would be ridiculous for the time frame (but you can fall in love with Natalie Portman in four days. Just getting that straight).

So there is a tearful goodbye, but otherwise it’s light on melodrama, which is nice. In fact, it’s kind of amazing to me that a film this laid back in scope could be nominated for so many Academy awards and win three of them (Hepburn, screenplay, and… costume design? Okay…).

No romantic comedy about a little two day jaunt through Italy would ever get a Best Picture nomination these days, which is a shame.


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Man, I’m really blowing though this entry, aren’t I? They won’t all be 1400+ words, I guess. But really, I liked this film, and I’m glad I finally saw it for historical purposes, but I don’t see a particular need to see it again.

So let’s say 243 is just right, who knows? Maybe I’d watch it if I felt like going to Rome.

The Legacy

Clearly, Hepburn went on to a long and storied career, mostly as a princess-like character in other things. She never did win another little golden statue, though, not even for acting like a blind person.

Peck was actually top-billed for this film but has been overshadowed by his costar in hindsight, and is mostly remembered for being semi-creepily sixteen years older than Hepburn’s 22 years when this was filmed. He won an Oscar much later for killing a mockingbird, or something.

Roman Holiday, for it’s part, has become one of the many films selected for the US National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." But I won’t be buying a copy. Maybe as a gift…

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Gregory Peck with the good old Ancient-Statue-Bites-Off-Hand bit. And I know this is because I’m familiar with Peck’s later work as a wise older gentleman and not his early work taking roles Cary Grant turned down (as this role was), but it’s scenes like this that get a little too “kindly old grandpa” to overcome the age difference.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • Eddie Albert does have some fun slapstick scenes where Peck spills things on him to keep him quiet. There’s some other fun screwball moments, but not enough to watch this again.
  • I thought I missed the country Hepburn’s “Princess Ann” is from in the opening newsreel, but it’s actually never named, and not really important. The point is in her country no one has any fun, which is why she needs an American journalist to show her how.
  • This was however, a huge step up from Network. Gah.
  • The trailer up there informs us that "all the things happen to them that you'd always hope for on the happiest day of your life!" So don't feel bad about your miserable existence, John Q. Moviegoer, just escape to Rome and forget it.

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