Release Date: September 2, 1953
Runtime: 118 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: William Wyler
Cast: Gregory Peck; Audrey Hepburn; Eddie Albert
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to go romantic. I didn’t want a weepie, nor did I want some saccharine Nicholas Sparks adaptation (“Safe Haven” – now playing). So I decided to turn to the classics of the genre. Once again, I sing the praises of Xfinity On Demand, which had 1953’s “Roman Holiday” available.
I had never seen this movie, which won Audrey Hepburn an Oscar, in her first substantial film role. I can see why. She is luminous…even in black and white! She plays Princess Ann, a sheltered, bored, and restless royal of some unspecified European country. On the Roman stop of her European tour, Ann’s anxiousness finally reaches its breaking point and one night, right after receiving a shot of some sedative by her doctor, Ann says, ‘Screw it!’ and decides to go out and experience life as a civilian. So she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, so what? Suspension of disbelief. She goes out, wanders around, and, when the sedative finally kicks in, passes out on a bench on the side of the road. Enter Gregory Peck, as Joe Bradley, American journalist in Rome, who passes by and mistakes her, quite reasonably, for a drunk.
Ok, sidebar….Gregory Peck is so gosh darn handsome here it is really unfair! He is the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. The man so oozes classic masculinity, he almost gave me the vapors!
Ok, I’m back. So, Joe reluctantly takes Ann back to his pad to crash (he is unaware of who she is), and the next day goes to work whereupon he lies to his boss about having interviewed that very morning, who else, the Princess! Unbeknownst to Joe, Princess Ann’s office has released a statement that she is sick and has cancelled all appearances for the day, when, in reality, they don’t know where the hell her fool ass is! So, Joe’s busted, but after seeing a picture of the Princess in a local newspaper, realizes that he’s got her passed out in his apartment! Quick thinking Joe hatches a plan to get an exclusive story on the Princess by, essentially, being her tour guide for the day (she doesn’t know who he truly is either). He accompanies her around Rome, taking in some sights, eating gelato, going for a ride on one of those Vespa-like scooters, etc. He drags his photographer colleague (Eddie Albert) along too in order to get some candids of the Princess smoking, dancing, and generally cavorting around town. Meanwhile, Ann is kept in the dark the whole time and believes Joe to be nothing but a gentleman, when, quite honestly, he is a total dick who is just playing her for his own selfish reasons. Of course, this being 1950’s romantic comedy, they end up falling in love.
So this is about as fluffy as fluffy can be, but who cares? Did you actually intend to take this seriously? I can absolutely see why this was such a hit back in the day. Its got gorgeous people and exotic locations, all held together with a whimsical love story thread. Audrey Hepburn is sweet and lovable (although not that smart, passing out in a strange country and going home with random men!) as Princess Ann, and Gregory Peck is a perfect knight in shining armor. He is all alpha male, yet you can sense that when he addresses Ann, he melts a little, becomes almost weak in the knees around her. You can see it in his face and in the way he seems to get pleasure out of just speaking to her. It’s a nice chemistry that these two have and so easy to watch. This is one of those movies where you get the feeling that the entire cast and production team were in great moods from beginning to end.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, it is easy to understand why this is considered a classic. I don’t think it’s too far off the mark to say that this is seen as a classic today the way that a movie like “Pretty Woman” will be considered a classic in, like, twenty years. You have two legendary actresses in Oscar-worthy roles (Hepburn won Best Actress, Julia Roberts was nominated) and both films have that tone of whimsy that never goes out of style and no matter how good the movie is (“RH” is a much better movie technically than “PW”), will always put a smile on the viewers face. You have accomplished directors like William Wyler (“RH”) and Garry Marshall (“PW”) and swoon-inducing leading men in the primes of their careers (Gregory Peck – “RH”; Richard Gere – “PW”).
“Roman Holiday” is a romantic throwback to a cinematic time when men were chivalrous, plots were thin and uncomplicated, and princesses were poised and proper. Even if they did pass out on the sides of roads!