1953 - unrated - 118 Mins.
|Director: William Wyler
|Producer: William Wyler
|Written By: Dalton Trumbo and John Dighton
|Starring: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power and Harcourt Williams
|Review by: Bill King
In "Roman Holiday," a star was born. Audrey Hepburn, my all-time favorite actress, made her screen debut in this classic 1953 William Wyler production. In this film, audiences would catch a glimpse of a woman who would later become a Hollywood legend. Her graceful and elegant presence captured the hearts of everyone who had the privilege to see her work. Gregory Peck, her co-star, insisted that her name appear above the titles. He knew she would become a star. He was right. Unimaginatively beautiful and talented, Hepburn had a career that lasted 4 decades, with an impressive list of credentials ranging from the musical ("My Fair Lady") to the thriller ("Wait Until Dark").
"Roman Holiday" came primarily from the pen of Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted in the ‘50s for alleged involvement with the communist party. At first, Frank Capra was to direct, but upon hearing of Trumbo’s name, he backed off. In came William Wyler, who had previously directed "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1944) and would go on to direct "Ben-Hur" (1959). He went forward with the production, with Trumbo’s name removed from the credits, and replaced with Ian McLellan Hunter. Leading man Gregory Peck signed on for the role of Joe Bradley, and newcomer Hepburn was cast as Princess Ann.
Princess Ann is traveling Europe to do a goodwill tour. Her country is never specified, but she has already visited many countries, and her latest stop is Rome, Italy. As the movie opens, Princess Ann feels stifled by her role, standing for long periods of time. In a humorous sequence, her slipper comes off and she nervously tries to get it back on while greeting an endless parade of royalty.
The sadness in her look, her eyes and her voice tells us what we need to know. She needs a release. She has never experienced the outside world, and she’s eager to see what Rome can offer. Just after receiving some medicine to make her sleep, Princess Ann slips out at night, for an adventurous night on the town. Little does she realize that the medicine makes her so drowsy she falls asleep on the sidewalk.
Joe Bradley, an American newspaper reporter living in Rome, sees the princess, and not realizing who she is, becomes the Good Samaritan and takes her into his home for the night. Eventually, Bradley will realize who she is, and sees the opportunity for the story of the year. An exclusive interview with Princess Ann is worth a lot of money, and only thinking about money at first, Bradley invites the princess to spend the day with him. She is grateful for his helpfulness, and she knows he can show her a life she has never seen. This sets the story into motion. Bradley will pretend he doesn’t know who she is, and the princess will not reveal her identity, choosing to go by the name Anya Smith. Throughout the day, they will enjoy each other’s company, see the sights and even invite Bradley’s photographer friend Irving (Eddie Albert) along.
We know that they will fall in love, and that the story will no longer matter to Bradley. What is a cliché nowadays was a relatively fresh concept in 1953. Even if it weren’t, the movie would have succeeded nonetheless, because the film thrives on the gentle humor and wonderful performances. Despite Joe Bradley’s agenda, he doesn’t come across as a corrupt journalist. He’s a nice man, and his offer to show Princess Ann around is genuine. The story is a great opportunity, but there is something else besides her family ties that attracts him. We know what it is. It is the sweetly innocent nature of Princess Ann’s character.
The movie isn’t bursting with laughs, but has a lot of subtle moments of humor. Consider a scene in which Gregory Peck pretends to have his arm bitten off by a statue, and the princess is scared. It was only a joke (it wasn’t in the script, and Hepburn’s reaction is real), but the scene illustrates the couple’s growing chemistry, and with that comfort comes the ability to make each other laugh. Another great scene, a dance by the river, ends in a brawl with Princess Ann dishing out a few hits.
"Roman Holiday" ends with a building sense of anticipation. By this time, Ann and Bradley find that saying good-bye isn’t so easy, and when they meet again, knowing whom the other really is, we can’t tell what might happen. She has her duty to her country, and he has a story to write. Their experiences over the previous day cause hesitation in both of them. The way the film ends is perfect, because it symbolizes the maturity of both characters. Joe Bradley and Princess Ann came into this relationship searching for something, and came away learning a lesson about doing the right thing. Their Roman holiday was a day they’ll never forget.