Monday, November 30, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Roman Holiday (1953)

I first became acquainted with ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953) around the age of 14, at a 'round-the-clock Filmex marathon of Oscar-winning films.

I must admit my enjoyment of the film at that point in my life was marred by my incredulity over the bittersweet ending. How could they end it that way?!

It also didn't help that I wasn't an especially big Audrey Hepburn fan; her voice, in particular, bothered me.

In the years since I've revisited the film again on TV on multiple occasions, with my liking for both the film and Miss Hepburn growing with each passing year. It had been quite a while since my last viewing, so it was a special treat to see the movie on a big screen again yesterday at a local theater, thanks to a nationwide screening presented by Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events.

I loved returning to ROMAN HOLIDAY for the first time in a number of years, and especially seeing it once more on a big screen. Hepburn, Gregory Peck, and Rome simply cast a magical spell -- and at this juncture in my life, I can appreciate that the filmmakers didn't take the easy way out on the ending, which is nonetheless beautiful.

I suppose most readers of this site are already familiar with this well-known film, but for anyone who hasn't yet made the acquaintance of ROMAN HOLIDAY, it's the story of Princess Ann (Hepburn) of an unnamed European country, who is feeling worn out and bored after a goodwill tour. Late one night she slips out of the embassy in Rome and has the good fortune to promptly meet reporter Joe Bradley (Peck).

When Joe realizes he's befriended an incognito princess, he realizes he has a story scoop which will bring him a huge paycheck. He cuts in his friend, photographer Irving (Eddie Albert), who surreptitiously takes photos of the princess over the next day.

Joe and Ann become closer and closer, but just when they're quietly realizing that what they feel for each other might be love, Ann must wrestle with fulfilling her duty.

The "incognito princess meets commoner" storyline had been well done before, in both the '30s (THIRTY DAY PRINCESS) and the '40s (PRINCESS O'ROURKE), but it was never better than in ROMAN HOLIDAY. ROMAN HOLIDAY was directed by William Wyler, who pretty much didn't know how to make a movie that was less than excellent, and the black and white photography of postwar Italy adds hugely to the film. The movie was shot by Henri Alekan and Franz Planer.

Front and center, though, are the two lead performances. I'm not sure Peck has ever looked more handsome on film, and with his deep voice, well...sigh. Simply wonderful.

Hepburn, in the Oscar-winning role which made her a star, is enchanting from beginning to end. ("Yes, thank, thank you!") She conveys both the wistfulness and childlike innocence of a sheltered young girl and the grace and mature dignity of a thoughtful woman who knows her place in the world.

In the introduction Robert Osborne told the anecdote that Gregory Peck called his agent early in filming and said that the unknown Hepburn had to be billed with him above the title or he was going to look pretty silly, because it was her movie!

Eddie Albert is also delightful as Joe's put-upon photographer friend, who ends up literally kicked around on a couple of occasions! Albert received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance.

The film runs a bit under two hours, at 118 minutes, but the pacing feels just right. The Oscar-winning script, incidentally, was secretly cowritten by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, whose name was later restored to the opening credits.

A funny aside: During the longer shots in the motorbike sequence, the camera's not far enough away to hide the fact that the people on the scooter are most definitely not Peck and Hepburn!

The digital print shown yesterday was excellent. Fathom and TCM will be presenting MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) in December, and I strongly encourage readers to go see it on a big screen!

ROMAN HOLIDAY is available on DVD. It can be streamed on Amazon Instant Video.


Blogger DKoren said...

Would you believe I have not yet seen this movie?? I meant to try and catch it in the theater, but the timing right now won't allow it. One of these days!

9:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Deb, you have a treat in store! Wish so much you had been able to see it at a theater. When you catch up with it I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do. :)

Best wishes,

3:49 PM  

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