Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roman Holiday

 I know I know, it's one of the oldest proverbs in the book but I have to use it...they don't make 'em like this anymore!! In that one proverb I think I've summed up everything about this 1953 romantic comedy that I love so much. I'm sure I don't need to remind you that it stars the incomparable legends of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck...but I will anyway! I've wanted to watch this film for a long time, and finally I managed it a few weeks ago.

 Like all films the history behind it is of interest, because initially the role of Princess Ann wasn't written with Audrey Hepburn in mind. At that stage Hepburn was still a relative unknown in the US, and Elizabeth Taylor was envisaged as Ann. But Hepburn got the role after a screen test, where the cameras were left rolling without Hepburn's knowledge, and her effervescent personality inadvertently came through.  The role of Joe Bradley was originally written with Cary Grant in mind, but he declined considering himself too old for a love interest.

 Instead Gregory Peck was offered, and got the role. He obviously had no qualms about being the 37 year old love interest to a 24 year old Hepburn! I can't remember why it was, but I did read somewhere why it was that Hollywood at the time intentionally paired young actresses with older actors. It was something to do with the archaic, absurd censorship laws the industry had to work under at the time.

 Under Peck's contract he had solo billing for the film. Hence his name was to be displayed first in the credits. But in an incredible act of generosity half through filming, he asked for Hepburn's name to receive equal billing with his own. A remarkable gesture from an old hand to an up and comer. But Peck was an acknowledged nice guy in Hollywood. Maybe with the on screen chemistry he had with Hepburn, he recognised a star in the making, and done it to help her launch her career. It is certainly no secret that the pair remained life long friends. I wonder why?!!

 In 1953 Gregory Peck was an established, well known star. But Hepburn was a virtual unknown. What Roman Holiday did was to propel Audrey Hepburn into the public eye. She had previous experience in the English film industry, and had played Gigi on stage in the States. And yet it didn't stop her putting in an inspired performance that won her a well deserved Oscar, ( her first of two ), a remarkable feat in quite literally her first big role.

 Of course the director was William Wyler, who Hepburn went on to make one other film with. An accomplished director, he had the distinction of making the epic Ben-Hur in 1959. The script was written by John Dighton and Dalton Trumbo,  which won an Oscar for Best Screenplay (as did the costume design ).

 The plot revolves around a young princess named Ann. She is from an un-named country who, on a European tour, becomes frustrated, and bored by the repetitious banality of it all. She escapes her royal escort and ends up meeting an American journalist. Thinking her drunk she inadvertently ends up back at his tiny flat. She wakes up in the morning and all the fun begins!! She takes off just as Joe ( Peck ), realises who she is. He follows her as he realises the money making opportunity she presents. Suffice to say all sorts of escapades ensue and slowly the pair fall for each other, even in the company of Joe's photographer buddy, Irving Radovich ( Eddie Albert ).
But after her fun and escapades she realises she has to go back to her royal duties.

 She has caused a real uproar with her disappearance, and even some royal heavies are called in to track her down. She returns to her world and meets Joe and Irving, who having decided not to publish their surreptitiously taken photos, show their journalistic hand at a 'meet the press' held by the princess.

 This is a fine film, and as I said, they don't make em like this anymore! What I like about it is the lack of what blights films today. There is no nudity, swearing, graphic sex, violence, or any such thing that modern film makers seem to think makes a film. What we get is a genuinely charming film, that is funny and heart warming, without being cheesy or cliched.  But what makes the film work is the very obvious on screen chemistry between Peck and Hepburn.

 It is funny because whilst some classic films have a palpable datedness about them Roman Holiday didn't. It was filmed in black and white to keep production costs down. This meant the whole film could be filmed on site in Rome, instead of an initially envisaged set in the States. But this isn't it. The acting is superb, and even the premise is still solid. We still have royal families in our era, so we can identify with Hepburn's character. The only part of the film that didn't quite work was the long shots of the scooter sequence. It is very obvious that it is not Peck and Hepburn doing the riding. Sure it was for insurance purposes, and general safety for the cast, but it is a bit obvious. But that is all I can criticise in an otherwise perfect film.

 Now I must comment on Audrey Hepburn! Gregory Peck is fantastic, but to make this work the character of Ann had to work more so. After all she is the whole point of the premise. What we get with Hepburn's performance is three very clear, distinct performances, within the one character. Firstly she is a bored, frustrated, caged young woman. She quite clearly yearns to break free of the constraints of royalty and its controlled way of life. When she wakes up in Joe's flat a second personality comes out. She is carefree, charming, playful and full of delight, as she does the things 'commoners' take for granted. Then thirdly, on her return she has matured, and is more commanding with her servants.

 Three very distinctive styles of character from the one character of Ann. Audrey Hepburn plays it superbly, and when you see the three in one performance, you can only say that her Oscar was well and truly deserved. It is a masterful performance from a young actress. One that infused her talent with her own charm, youthful exuberance, and looks.

 Roman Holiday is a just wonderful film. I loved it and watched it twice in the few days I had the DVD!!! They don't, and almost don't seem to be able to, make them like this anymore. The humour isn't as sharp as it was in 1953, but the budding on screen chemistry between Joe and Ann can't be denied. The viewers really want the two to be able to transcend their worlds and be together. It is in the end a bitter sweet story, and yet it is a genuine charmer in the way modern rom-coms can't replicate. Peck and Hepburn have an on screen chemistry that is so often lacking. It is what makes the film so wonderful. Add to it the backdrop of Rome, and you have the perfect romantic comedy.

 A real charmer that shows you don't need tits, bums, foul language, sex, sex, sex, nudity and violence to make a great film. Honestly charming is the only word to describe this film. It is a word I can't use on modern films. Fortunately the charm factor hasn't added a dated fell to the film as a whole. Something than can happen to other films of this type and era, by way of quaintness.

Watch, and fall in love with this wonderful, lovely charmer!! ( Like I stated, they don't make them like this anymore!! ).

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:


  1. Lovely film, evocative review and great choice of screengrabs. Just the thing to bring a bit of colour to a dull morning at work!

  2. That is it Neil...a lovely film! I just can't figure where modern film makers have gone so wrong when you look at this. Any way what are you doing checking out blogs instead of slavishly working??!

  3. Great review. Sadly (and, oddly enough) I've never seen Roman Holiday before. It's one of those classics that seem to have passed me by. You've definitely re-ignited my interest.

  4. Laura this is one I'm sure you will just love!! But look at me, I love clasics and it has taken me years to finally sse it!! Honestly why can't film makers today capture anymore what this did??

  5. You made a great point about this film being charming without all that stuff modern romantic films "need".

  6. Yes that is why I loved this film Lesya as it relies on a good script and acting alone without the added extras that blight modern rom-coms.