Paramount // 1953 // 118 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // November 11th, 2008
"Presenting Gregory Peck and introducing Audrey Hepburn..."
Audrey Hepburn collected an Oscar for her very first role in Roman Holiday. The young actress played a princess from one of those unspecified little countries in the cinematic universe. Since her mum was a Dutch baroness, Hepburn's royal bearing came naturally, but it was still an unlikely feat for a 24-year-old actress. Co-star Gregory Peck famously anticipated Hepburn's success, suggesting that Hepburn share equal billing, as the booklet notes.
Roman Holiday also is memorable for someone who originally didn't share any billing. Ian McLellan Hunter may have worked on the screenplay and gotten credit for the story, but the story was actually the concoction of Dalton Trumbo, who was using fronts to keep working after a stint in jail for standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee. You know, Sen. Joe McCarthy's panel. This version restores Trumbo's story credit with digital magic.
Roman Holiday: Centennial Collection features a second disc full of extras.
Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) lives a totally scheduled and regimented life. While in Rome on a "goodwill tour," Ann screams at her handler and is promptly sedated by a doctor. It doesn't take right away, though, and the princess flees into Rome before the sedative takes hold.
Wire service reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), on his way home from a poker game, finds Ann sleeping on a wall near the Forum and takes it upon himself to see that the woman gets home safely. However, when Ann tells the taxi driver she lives at "The Coliseum," Joe is forced to take her to his tiny apartment for the night.
The excitement tuckers out Joe so much that he sleeps through his alarm and misses his assignment -- to interview Princess Ann! When he sees the princess' picture in a newspaper, Joe realizes who's been sleeping on his couch. He promises his editor an exclusive and Ann is upgraded to the bed.
When Ann awakens, she realizes she must go back to her handlers, but not before she and Joe go on a Roman Holiday.
In her first role, Audrey Hepburn played a princess who didn't want to play the role, meaning that she needed a regal bearing and an everyday touch simultaneously. She pulls it off convincingly in two early scenes. In the receiving line, she slips out of her shoe to stretch her foot and stumbles as she does so; she's still graceful, continuing to receive guests pleasantly as she fumbles with her shoe. When she first meets Joe while under the influence of the sedative, Ann slips between a haughty tone and sweet innocence. The latter scene is even trickier; a lesser actress would have come off as truly annoying in that first meeting, but Hepburn charms the audience as easily as she charms Joe. Top it off with a smile that'll make most men melt, and you've got a star from the get-go.
Peck shows us Joe's character with equal smoothness early on. Watch his reaction as he calls a cab for himself, but realizes that Ann might need it more. He has the selfish thought of leaving her in the street cross his mind -- and that early interview in the morning provides an ironic motivator -- but he does the right thing, first sharing the cab and then taking Ann in. While Joe spends most of the movie scheming for an exclusive, viewers know all along his heart's in the right place. Peck also gives us a primer in how people react to royalty. While he's chivalrous in the evening, Joe is deferential in the morning after he learns who his uninvited guest really is.
Rounding out the main cast is Eddie Albert (Green Acres) as Irving the paparazzo. Albert provides a clumsy contrast to Peck's smooth, charming schemer and some comic relief as he shoots photos without Ann realizing what he's doing.
While you might wish Roman Holiday, with its travelogue views of Rome, were in Technicolor, the black-and-white picture serves the story well, since Ann is leaving the glittery world of pomp and circumstance for gelato cones, Vespa rides, and cramped apartments, a milieu that someone in her circle might consider drab. There's a lot of contrast in night scenes, but the restoration is handled well.
A wide selection of extras includes two features on Hepburn's life -- "Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years" and "Remembering Audrey" -- with biographical information that'll be familiar to a lot of fans; I heard most of it in a separate DVD bio on her life recently. "Rome with a Princess" provides a guide to the scenery in Roman Holiday, showing landmarks as they looked then and look today. "Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist" talks about the writer's secret career after his tangle with the HUAC. "Restoring Roman Holiday" is a talkier-than-usual feature about the restoration process. "Behind the Gates: Costumes" shows some of the costumes in the Paramount wardrobe, both from famous pictures and from movies unknown. "Paramount in the '50s" gives a brief rundown of the studio's top films from the decade. Four galleries provide an ample selection of photos from the production and publicity.
Three theatrical trailers are included. You've got to check out the "Original Theatrical Teaser Trailer," which introduces Hepburn to the moviegoing public and features excerpts from her screen test. Two other trailers hint at a naughty romp with lines like "How did this cute little surprise package wind up in Greg's apartment?" Yeah, it hasn't been so long since a gelato cone could be considered "forbidden excitement."
If you'd rather have some reading material, a booklet provides fun facts.
Expecting a happy ending? Just keep walking. You'll notice that Gregory Peck's Joe seems to be looking for that expected happy ending, too, but it doesn't materialize. So, alas, he just keeps walking.
If you listen closely, you'll notice that two American newspapers are mentioned in the story: the Chicago Daily News and the New York Herald-Tribune. While those might sound like made-up names today, they were actual newspapers back in 1953, adding verisimilitude to the story. Even in 1953, though, the movies weren't reverential to the newspaper biz. When Joe tells Ann he's a salesman, she asks, "What do you sell?" He replies, "Fertilizer," without missing a beat.
While Roman Holiday could have been just another preposterous romantic comedy, there's a lot to recommend it, even without the glimpse of movie history in the making. Audrey Hepburn delivers a strong performance in her first major role, and Gregory Peck holds his own well. That casting and a strong script with a less-than-fairytale ending make Roman Holiday a memorable movie experience.
Not guilty. I've gotta go now; I'm hungry for a gelato cone.
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years"
* "Remembering Audrey"
* "Rome with a Princess"
* "Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist"
* "Restoring Roman Holiday"
* "Behind the Gates: Costumes"
* "Paramount in the '50s"