REVIEW: “Roman Holiday”

Classic Movie Spotlight

roman_holidayI don’t mean to be repetitive. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, they just don’t make romantic comedies like this anymore. This 1953 classic from director William Wyler is a beautiful blueprint for a genre that seems to struggle with making quality movies these days. “Roman Holiday” brings together the always good Gregory Peck and the adorable Audrey Hepburn in a film that could almost be considered a fairy tale story. But while the film embraces some of the elements that make a good romantic comedy, it dodges a few of the conventions which have become all too familiar.

“Roman Holiday” was the star-making role for a young Audrey Hepburn. After appearing in several smaller roles this was a bigger performance that caught the world’s attention. A lot of that attention is because of Gregory Peck. Peck was instrumental in getting Hepburn’s name out there after realizing she was going to be big. Interestingly enough Peck wasn’t Wyler’s first choice. The director first sought after Cary Grant but Grant turned it down after reading the script. Peck once said that anytime he received a comedy script he knew Grant must have turned it down first. Well I don’t think anyone is griping about how things turned out. Peck and Hepburn have a charming chemistry as they explore the unique relationship between their characters.

The story for “Roman Holiday” was written by Dalton Trumbo but it was credited to Ian McClellan Hunter. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten and was blacklisted for his communist ties and failure to cooperate with Congress. It was during that time that he penned the story. To make things even more interesting, “Roman Holiday” won the Academy Award for Best Story (as the category was known at the time). Hunter would accept the award but it was Trumbo who earned it. Only in 2011 was full credit given to Trumbo was his work on the film.

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His story follows Ann (Hepburn), a princess of an unmentioned country who is on a European tour stop in Rome. Ann is young and adventurous and she wants to experience the life outside of her closed in ornate walls. She’s tired of the strict itineraries and stuffy hobnobbing so one night she lets out her frustrations. The royal family doctor gives her a sedative to calm her down but before it can kick in, she sneaks out of the embassy to experience the sites and sounds of Rome. An American reporter named Joe Bradley (Peck) stumbles across Ann sound asleep next to a fountain. He doesn’t recognize her at first but after a comical series of events he learns her identity and sees her as a big story that could eventually land him back in New York.

Joe doesn’t let Ann know that he recognizes her and Ann tries to keep her identity secret. He calls a photographer friend of his Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) to secretly capture some photographs of Ann for their big story while the three of them spend a playful day exploring Rome. Of course Joe begins to have feelings for Ann. I mean who wouldn’t? This is Audrey Hepburn were talking about. He’s faced with the decision of caring for her or cashing in his feelings for a big payday. It’s such a wonderful story filled with good humor and a lovely romance. Hepburn and Peck light up Rome with Albert playing the tag-along who gets in some good laughs.

“Roman Holiday” was shot in Rome, something that you didn’t see a lot of during that time. Unlike now where on location shoots are the norm, then it was a pretty special thing to have such an extensive shoot especially I’m a city like Rome. It was a brilliant decision. The city and all its beauty is on display throughout the film and Wyler treats Rome like one of the film’s characters. But it’s a supporting character. The city shows itself often but always as a support for the bigger love story. There are several magical scenes with Ann and Joe at some of the city’s major locations. One of my favorites is a playful moment at The Mouth of Truth monument. Peck pretends as if his arm is stuck in the mouth of the monument and he lets out a scream. Hepburn new nothing of this little gag. Only Peck and Wyler were in on it. It genuinely startled Hepburn who let out a loud scream of her own. It was completely spontaneous and Wyler was able to capture it therefore requiring only one take.

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“Roman Holiday” ended up with 10 Academy Award nominations. I mentioned Trumbo’s win but that wasn’t the biggest story. Audrey Hepburn, a relatively unknown actress at the time, would take home the Best Actress Oscar. This catapulted her into the spotlight and opened the door for her to star in several of my favorite classic films. Peck was right with his appraisal of the young beauty and she was always appreciative. They remained close friends for the rest of their lives. Their admiration for each other and their friendship translated into their performances and they give us a truly memorable screen couple.

I still love “Roman Holiday”. It’s a beautifully filmed movie that tells a wonderful story through some top-notch performances. The Rome locations provide such a pleasing sense of place and even in black and white Wyler gives you a very real feel for the city’s allure and vibrancy. It’s also one of those movies with several scenes that you’ll never forget. It’s easy to get lost in “Roman Holiday” and as an avid movie watcher that’s what I want. I want to be swept away by an interesting story about interesting characters. And in a romantic comedy I want to care about what I’m seeing. I want the story to be smart, the humor to be sharp, and the romance genuine. We get all of this and more in “Roman Holiday” which is one reason this great film has stood the test of time.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

THE END

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36 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Roman Holiday”

  1. a very appropriate post for such a lovely film. You’re right: as with most things, they just don’t make these types of films like they used to. and Hepburn+Peck was def a movie-match for the history books. Both so full of class…current actors would do well to take note!

    Great review here, my friend! I know Ruth will love it when she gets around to reading it! 🙂

    • Thanks buddy! Love hearing your appreciation for this film. You wrap up my feelings about this movie and so many of the classics perfectly. Appreciate you checking out my post.

      • YES T, I’ve been anticipating this review since Keith tipped me off yesterday. I love, love, love this movie… I actually bought it before I had a major crush on Peck, so when I saw it again after, I fell in love with it all over again.

        I LOVE that Wyler decided to shoot it in ROME. Did you know that he decided to make it black & white as not to distract people from the beauty of the city? As if the actors weren’t beautiful enough, ahah. Hepburn is such a sublime beauty, she’s got such innocence and spunk here, an interesting dichotomy. And Peck, well he’s just one of the most beautiful men God ever created. Such a perfect pairing that made this film so timeless.

      • Thanks Ruth! I hadn’t heard about the black and white idea. Interesting. My wife thinks Peck is a doll as well. Of course I think Audrey is just stunning so we’re both in good shape whenever we watch it LOL!

  2. Saw this movie for the first time last year and it really is one of those fairy tale type stories, with a different ending compared to what I expected.

    • Thanks for the great comment. I agree with you. He was such a brilliant director. As for Roman Holiday, I had seen most of the movie a number of different times and liked it. But it wasn’t until I finally sat down to watch it through that it really connected with me. I love it.

  3. I really like both Peck and Hepburn but I’ve never seen this one before. I must dig into the classic vault and expose myself more to these gems. Beautiful write up though Keith.

    • Thanks my friend. I really appreciate it. Even more I appreciate your enthusiasm. My whole goal in this is to see these classic movies get a broader audience today. These great films should never be forgotten.

    • Nothing today matches what these movies were able to accomplish. It’s really sad. I know that’s one reason these are considered classics but they are just head-and-shoulders above today’s rom-coms in terms of acting, story, and filmmaking technique.

  4. I saw my first Audrey Hepburn film in the late 1990s, fell in love with her screen presence, and proceeded to see every film that I could find that she was in. “Roman Holiday” was excellent; I agree wholeheartedly with your review. Some of my favorite Hepburn films are “Two for the Road” and “How to Steal a Million

  5. “Peck once said that anytime he received a comedy script he knew Grant must have turned it down first.” – this is the kind of thing that makes Peck so loveable off screen, he always strikes me as humble and that is the more underrated quality of all.

    Roman Holiday is lovely, and always a pleasure to watch – a great example of its genre, indeed. And the ending is very surprising.

    • I adore this film and the ending is a big reason. It doesn’t just go the conventional route. And can you imagine the movie with anyone other than Peck? I can’t!

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