#296) Roman Holiday (1953)

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#296) Roman Holiday (1953)

OR “Veni Vidi Vespa”

Directed by William Wyler

Written by Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton (and Dalton Trumbo). Story by Hunter Trumbo.

Class of 1999

The Plot: Princess Ann’s (Audrey Hepburn) goodwill tour of Europe culminates in Rome, where she has a breakdown of physical exhaustion. When she is told she must keep to her relentless itinerary, Ann sneaks out of the embassy at night, and has a chance encounter with American reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). Only after they part ways does Joe realize she is the princess everyone is trying to interview. With the help of his wisecracking photographer friend Irving (Eddie Albert), Joe attempts to get an exclusive interview with Ann without her finding out who he is. There’s laughs and love aplenty in Rome’s unofficial tourist video.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “a quick pace, light-hearted comedy” and praises Trumbo, Hepburn, and Albert.

But Does It Really?: “Roman Holiday” won me over pretty quickly. Trumbo’s well-crafted script is further boosted by the star power and chemistry of Hepburn and Peck. Hepburn is confident and radiant in her first leading role; Peck is charming and funny in his rare excursion outside of heavy drama. Throw in the polished storytelling skills of William Wyler and some beautiful and expertly chosen locales, and you have two of the most enjoyable hours in film history.

Everybody Gets One: Although there were many writers and various drafts, the final credit for the “Roman Holiday” screenplay goes to screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter and playwright John Dighton. The story, while credited to Hunter, was written entirely by the infamously blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. Hunter agreed to be a front and gave Trumbo his salary for the project. Trumbo, Hunter, and Dighton all passed away before Trumbo could receive proper recognition for his work on “Roman Holiday”.

Wow, That’s Dated: The film starts with a meta-reference to the long-gone Paramount newsreels. Also, can you imagine Princess Ann trying to go incognito amidst TMZ and smartphones?

Seriously, Oscars?: One of the biggest hits of 1953, “Roman Holiday” received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The film lost several awards to the unstoppable “From Here to Eternity”, but did manage to pick up three: Best Actress for newcomer Audrey Hepburn, Best Costume Design for Edith Head, and Best Story for credited writer Ian McLellan Hunter. 40 years later, Dalton Trumbo received a posthumous Oscar, as well as a proper listing in the film’s opening credits.

Other notes

  • “Roman Holiday” was the first Hollywood movie shot entirely in Rome. This made a sizeable dent in the film’s already tight budget, forcing Wyler to shoot “Roman Holiday” in black and white. In addition, Wyler had to cast an unknown as Ann, rather than a preferred star such as Elizabeth Taylor or Jean Simmons.
  • I do love me some non-verbal character development. Never has so much been said about a character by one shoe.
  • The film makes a point to never say which European nation Princess Ann hails from. My guess: West Dakotastan.
  • I love Audrey Hepburn, but playing hysterics isn’t necessarily her strong suit, at least not at this point in her career. Thankfully it’s only for one scene early on.
  • Shoutout to Hartley Power as Joe’s editor Hennessey. The scene where he calls Joe’s bluff is the funniest in the movie.
  • Before we go any further, a readout from the Michael Douglas Scale. Gregory Peck is 13 years Audrey Hepburn’s senior. Charming as they both are, I’m going to have to give “Roman Holiday” a written warning. I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them.
  • This movie really takes its time (Ann doesn’t actually explore Rome until about an hour in), but Hepburn and Peck are so appealing you really don’t mind. The two-hour running time goes by faster than some shorter movies.
  • Those are two of William Wyler’s daughters – Cathy and Judy – as the children Joe tries to steal a camera from.
  • Eddie Albert is a lot of fun in the standard “rom-com best friend” role, but an Oscar nomination? That’s a bit much, don’t you think?
  • The Vespa ride is justifiably iconic, and one of many fun sequences during the actual “holiday” part of the film. I am, however, very disappointed that it doesn’t end with Ann and Joe crashing into either a fruit stand or two guys carrying plate-glass.
  • Surprise cameo by Olmec from “Legends of the Hidden Temple”. But seriously, the Mouth of Truth scene is just delightful. Hepburn allegedly didn’t know what Peck was going to do, and the result is one of the most endearing moments in this or any movie.
  • The most impressive thing about “Roman Holiday” is how good the actual storytelling is. There’s not a lot of dialogue, and much of the story is told visually. I suspect that if it had been made 30 years earlier, “Roman Holiday” would have been an equally enjoyable silent movie.
  • Audrey’s performance is definitely not the flashiest to ever win an Oscar, but she’s just so effortlessly alluring. Is it any wonder generations of filmgoers have fallen in love with her?
  • I was steeling myself for the film’s inevitable Hollywood ending, and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t happen. “Roman Holiday” opts for a realistic ending that, while it denies its audience a traditional happy ending, does manage to conclude on a satisfying note.

Legacy

  • Although not her film debut, “Roman Holiday” is the film that turned Audrey Hepburn into a bona-fide movie star. She would reunite with William Wyler for the underrated “How to Steal a Million”.
  • Practically every romantic comedy has been influenced by “Roman Holiday”, some right down to the Vespa ride.
  • “I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to acknowledge what a blatant rip-off this movie is of ‘Roman Holiday’.”
  • Rumors of Peck and Hepburn reuniting for a sequel in the ‘70s never amounted to anything. Still, part of me is intrigued by the squandered potential of a “Before Sunset”-esque follow-up.
  • Don’t worry, they remade “Roman Holiday” for TV in 1987, starring Tom Conti and “Dynasty” star/daughter of an actual princess Catherine Oxenberg.
  • There’s been a stage musical floating around for a while with a score of repurposed Cole Porter tunes. I just…why?

Further Viewing: Audrey Hepburn’s now-famous screen test. Wyler discreetly told the camera and sound technicians to keep rolling after he called “Cut”, and Hepburn’s ensuing spontaneity won her the role of Ann.

7 thoughts on “#296) Roman Holiday (1953)”

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