Roman Holiday [DVD]
Director : William Wyler
Screenplay : Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton (story by Dalton Trumbo)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1953
Stars : Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley), Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann), Eddie Albert (Irving Radovich), Hartley Power (Mr. Hennessy), Harcourt Williams (Ambassador), Margaret Rawlings (Countess Vereberg), Tullio Carminati (General Provno), Paolo Carlini (Mario Delani), Claudio Ermelli (Giovanni)
In 1953, nobody knew who Audrey Hepburn was. She had played some minor roles in a handful of movies, but she was, for all intents and purposes, an unknown.
That all changed with the release of Roman Holiday, William Wyler’s lighthearted Cinderella-story-in-reverse in which a young princess escapes her royal obligations for a day in order to live life free from constraints. Hepburn’s being cast as Princess Ann was a stroke of genius, and it established her star persona and won her an Oscar. In a word, she is delightful, commanding the camera’s gaze from the first moment we see her, but always remaining human and approachable. Hepburn’s fragile screen beauty is legendary, but what makes her so attractive (particularly in this role) is how she projects a core of inner strength that is constantly at odds with an intense vulnerability. Hepburn’s Princess Ann is a strong-willed young woman who nonetheless projects a kind of quiet sadness from having lived her entire life being overseen and restricted—she’s never really lived, which is what she aims to do during her brief bit of freedom.
As the title suggests, Roman Holiday takes place in Rome (the film was shot entirely on location, and it has an open, bustling sense of aliveness that most studio-bound Hollywood films of the 1950s don’t) over the course of a 24-hour period. The early scenes establish Princess Ann’s dissatisfaction with her pampered and cloistered lifestyle. She escapes into the night where she winds up meeting Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American News Service correspondent. At first, he doesn’t know who she is, but once he does, he realizes that he has the biggest news scoop in Rome—the feisty young princess, who has been reported ill in the media, is actually out “slumming it” with the locals. (Although it is left intentionally vague as to what country Ann is from, the media speculation and intense interest in her life is reflective of the worldwide fascination with the British Royals.)
In a way, the basic plot here closely reflects Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), in which the cynical newspaperman accompanies a wealthy young woman who has “escaped” from her life and wants to get a great story out of it, but ends up falling in love with her instead. This is precisely what happens in Roman Holiday, and while hardly original, the movie elicits a sense of deep joy in the subtle development of Ann and Joe’s love. It’s pure romantic froth, developing over a single day and destined for the kind of bittersweet ending that leaves you teary-eyed and wishing for more.
Director William Wyler, who has worked primarily in dramas for the previous two decades (he had already won two Oscars, one for 1942’s Mrs. Miniver and one for 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives), finds his comical stride early on, giving Roman Holiday a lighthearted, easy-going rhythm. One might say that not a lot happens in the film, but that doesn’t really matter because what is truly of importance is the way what happens happens. The romance between Joe and Ann is, of course, the central focus, but Wyler also develops a good rapport between Joe and his friend Irving (Eddie Albert), a news photographer who goes along for the ride. Some of the movie’s funniest moments involve Joe desperately trying to keep Irving from saying something he shouldn’t by spilling water on him, tripping him, or knocking over his chair. They’re moments of slapstick that fit surprisingly well with the film’s overall easy-going rhythms.
But, in the end, it is the stolen looks between Peck and Hepburn, the small moments of physical contact between them, and, finally, Peck’s bittersweet walk down a long, empty corridor at the end of the movie that we remember. The final moments of Roman Holiday are among the most moving and memorable of any romantic comedy I can think of because they get right to the heart of the joys and pains of unrequited love.
|Roman Holiday Special Collector’s Edition DVD|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||November 26, 2002|
| 1.33:1 (Academy Aspect Ratio)|
As with so many classic films, the original elements for Roman Holiday were either lost or decaying, but Paramount has done a fantastic job of digitally restoring this film for its DVD release. The result is a nearly pristine image, which is sharp, well-detailed, and crystal clear, completely free of any dust, dirt, or debris. The digital clean-up process has smoothed out the image considerably, understandably resulting in a loss of film grain. Contrast and black levels looked very good, although the tones of the grayscale tends to shift somewhat at various times, appearing more bluish in some scenes while others have a slightly warmer tone to them.
| English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural |
French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is almost completely free of any ambient hiss, and the dialogue and musical track sound clean and pleasant.
| Remembering Roman Holiday|
This is straightforward 25-minute retrospective featurette that discusses the film’s production history, Dalton Trumbo’s HUAC and blacklist troubles, the discovery of Audrey Hepburn, and location shooting in Italy. It features interviews with William Wyler’s daughter Catherine Wyler, Paramount producer A.C. Lyles, actors Eddie Albert and Gregory Peck (Peck’s interview is from several years back), and film scholar Molly Haskell. There is also some intriguing costume test and casting footage of Audrey Hepburn, as well as TV footage of her receiving the Best Actress Oscar. Presented in 1.33:1.
Restoring Roman Holiday
Edith Head: The Paramount Years
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick