ROMANCE IN ROMANTIC ROME!
In 1947, Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo refused to testify before the exceptionally un-American HUAC in Congress. As a result, he was blacklisted in Tinseltown. Still, for a guy who wasn’t allowed to work, he managed to win two Oscars in the 1950s, for Roman Holiday and The Brave One (1956). The latter film was written under a pseudonym and he was presented with the Oscar in 1975. In the case of Roman Holiday, Ian McLellan Hunter had acted as a front for Trumbo and collected his Oscar. It took almost twenty years after Trumbo’s death for the Academy to give him the statuette posthumously. Even a warm film like this one has a dark background.
Ann (Audrey Hepburn), the crown princess of a European nation, is visiting Rome as part of an extensive tour. The young royalty realizes her responsibility, but it is also a burden, and one night she suffers a breakdown at her country’s embassy. A doctor gives her a sedative, but she sneaks out of her room before it takes effect. Desperate to experience “the Eternal City” as a regular tourist, she is soon overcome by the sedative and collapses on a street bench. There she’s found by Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American reporter. Failing to recognize the young, drowsy woman, Joe sees no other option but to take her to his apartment. The morning after, he leaves her still sleeping and goes off to work… where he suddenly recognizes the princess from a photo in the paper.
When his editor tells Joe that Ann has canceled all interviews due to illness, Joe says that he can get an interview anyway, especially if he’s paid $5,000. The only problem now is to go through with the arrangement without telling Ann that he’s actually a journalist who knows her real identity…
A bittersweet touch
It should come as a surprise to no one that Joe and Ann end up falling in love with each other, in spite of his deceitful behavior. We’ve seen so many romantic comedies lift this premise that we know it by heart. Still, very few of these films have been able (or willing) to capture the bittersweet touch that is evident in the final scenes where Joe and Ann meet again. This intelligent way to end the film has probably been regarded as too “complex” for the simplistic flicks inspired by it, but it certainly lifts it out of the ordinary. Some may complain about the lack of big laughs throughout the film; its funniest scenes involve Peck and Eddie Albert as a photographer who becomes part of Joe’s scheme.
There are times when it feels like the film has earned its status as a classic chiefly because of a number of excellent details, not the end result. Highlights include Hepburn’s charming breakthrough performance; she’s aptly matched with a stiffer Peck, but he also gets to show a lighter side. There’s also the case of Edith Head’s costume design; her wardrobe for Hepburn helped draw attention to the fresh star. And there’s indeed Rome itself. The filmmakers make excellent use of the city, in scenes like the scooter ride and the visit to the Mouth of Truth.
Still, so what if the (slightly overlong) whole isn’t as good as its pieces? This is nevertheless a charmer and regardless of where Peck and Hepburn’s careers would take them, they could confidently say, we’ll always have Rome.
Roman Holiday 1953-U.S. 119 min. B/W. Produced and directed by William Wyler. Screenplay: Ian McLellan Hunter, John Dighton. Story: Dalton Trumbo. Costume Design: Edith Head. Cast: Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann), Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley), Eddie Albert (Irving Radovich), Tullio Carminati.
Trivia: Jean Simmons was allegedly considered for the role of Ann; Frank Capra once intended to direct, with Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor in the leads. Remade as a TV movie, Roman Holiday (1987).
Oscars: Best Actress (Hepburn), Motion Picture Story, Costume Design. BAFTA: Best British Actress (Hepburn). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Hepburn).
Last word: “[My agent] told me a movie was going to be made called ‘Roman Holiday’. They wanted an unknown, and they were going to test a great many girls. To get the test I had to meet a man named William Wyler. I had no idea who he was. So one day I got an appointment to go to Claridge’s. I went up to his room wearing my one and only proper dress. I was quite apprehensive.” (Hepburn, TCM)