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.


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.


“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.



REVIEW: “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Classic Movie SpotlightMOCKINGConsidered an American movie classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the best films to come out of the 1960’s and features what many consider to be Gregory Peck’s finest performance. It was nominated for eight Oscars, a winner of three, and was listed in The National Film Registry in 1995. In many ways “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a time capsule. Each time I watch it I’m transported back to a time that in many ways was kinder and gentler but not without its own open wounds. What’s most impressive is that it manages to do this without ever feeling unimportant or dated. It feels just as powerful and relevent now as it did when I first saw it.

The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee about the small town of Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930’s. Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a town lawyer and a single father of two young children. Atticus is asked to represent Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who is accused of beating and raping a white woman. Atticus believes in the judicial process and believes Tom to be innocent. But even before the trial, many in the town have already judged Tom to be guilty and tensions soon reach the boiling point.

Peck won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance and many have said it was because of the striking similarity between him and his Atticus character. Atticus is a true man of character and integrity. He stands up for what’s right and tries to instill that same principle in his children. But while the trial and the fallout is a key part of the story, it’s not the main part. The movie’s bigger focus is on Atticus’ children, his son Jem (Phillip Alford) and his daughter Scout (Mary Badham). We first see them in all their innocence, from their imaginative playtime to their light-hearted mischief. Jem and Scout just live their life with a care-free child-like approach that I was really, really drawn into. Perhaps the wonderful portrayal of their innocence helps make what comes later so much more powerful.

At its core, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about the loss of innocence. Eventually things unfold through the eyes of the children that reveals to them the darker and more troubling aspects to the world they live in. As the town begins to react to the alleged rape and the tensions leading up to the trial date rise, the kids see things that leave them confused and often times scared. The way director Robert Mulligan switches his camera to the children as they’re watching these harsh and disturbing things unfold is beautifully executed yet so heart-breaking. But yet it’s true and authentic. Unfortunately, as kids we’ve all had those moments. Moments when we realized that the world wasn’t just about tire swings and ice cream. Moments that we see the dark side of society and the people around us. But that’s also when the light shines the brightest and for these kids, their father Atticus was certainly a shining light.

There are several other smaller but equally enthralling side stories and side characters in the movie. Jem and Scout make friends with a young boy named Dill (John Megna) who comes to visit his Aunt Rachel each summer. I loved Dill and the three have some great scenes together including their investigations into Boo Radley, a mysterious crazy man who is believed to only come out of his creepy broken-down house after dark. Robert Duvall plays Boo in what was his big screen debut. I also loved Jack K. Anderson’s performance as Bob Ewell, the slimy and disgraceful father of the rape victim. He’s a despicable man and his vitriol hatred makes him an easy character to dislike. Everyone is well cast and the performances are spot-on.

I also loved the way the film visually captured the 1930’s Depression-era South. By the end of the film you really feel as though you know Jem and Scout’s neighborhood as if it were your own. The subtle things such as porch swings, school attire, and southern accents all give the movie such a homey and believable feel. But the movie doesn’t shy away from the deep racial divide and clear bigotry that was a problem at that time. It shows a warped and broken social structure that put personal hatred above justice and makes no apologies. We see this in not only the story itself but also in the striking visual details as well.

 I think my only real issue with “To Kill a Mockingbird” was with the courtroom scene. Now don’t misunderstand me, it was a great extended scene. But it felt to me like something was missing. With a couple of exceptions, there wasn’t a lot of emotion or intensity. It also seemed as though everything moved and flowed perfectly with nothing to buck the plans of the defense or the prosecution. Now I understand that the courtroom scene itself wasn’t intended to be the centerpiece of the picture. But I really felt it could have had a little more “pop”. That said, Peck was fantastic in the scene and his questioning of Bob Ewell and Tom Robinson were fantastic moments in the film.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” does so many things right that it’s easy to overlook the small faults. Peck certainly deserved his Oscar as he is brilliant playing, as many believe, himself. Atticus Finch really touched me especially as a father trying but failing to shield his kids from the sick side of the world they live in. That father/children relationship really, really worked for me. But the movie also had so many other components that resonated with me and that’s another reason it’s so good. It’s a multifaceted story that’s told with a great visual and technical style and that isn’t ashamed to address the deep-rooted problems of that day. It’s been called “timeless” and I have to agree. It never gets old and it still has the same effect on me today as it always has.