Roman Holiday

Released:  1953

Cast:  Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert

Oscar Wins:  Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn), Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Dalton Trumbo), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (Edith Head)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Albert), Best Director (William Wyler), Best Writing, Screenplay (Ian McLellan Hunter, John Dighton), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Franz Planer, Henri Alekan), Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler), Best Film Editing (Robert Swink)

SUMMARY:  Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn), the heir to the throne of an unnamed country, is making a tour of the Western European countries, particularly their major cities.  Though Ann’s appearance and manners are impeccable, she is fed up with her over-structured, restricted lifestyle.  One night in Rome, she snaps, becoming so upset that she is given a sedative.  Before the sedative takes full effect, Ann sneaks out of the embassy, dressed in plain street clothes.  She wanders happily through the city, but becomes more and more drowsy as the sedative takes effect.  Eventually, she lays down on a bench.  This is where she is found by journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American working in Rome.  Joe doesn’t realize who she is, but worries that the girl has no way of getting home by herself.  He tries to persuade a cab driver to drop her off, but when the cabbie refuses, he is forced to take the nearly-sleeping Ann back to his small apartment.  Before falling asleep, she tells him that her name is “Anya Smith”.  The next morning, Joe wakes up late, and misses the press conference he was supposed to cover – one that was given by Princess Ann.  Unbeknownst to Joe, the press conference was canceled because Ann has “taken ill”.  When Joe sees this news in a paper, he also sees Ann’s picture, and realizes that Anya Smith is really Princess Ann.  To make up for missing the press conference (and lying about it to his boss), Joe promises an exclusive worth $5000; he and his editor also make a bet for an additional $5000 that Joe will be unable to get the mysterious exclusive.  Joe goes back to his apartment, where Ann is still sleeping, and calls Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), a photographer friend who has a camera disguised as a lighter.  When Ann wakes up, Joe conceals his profession, and offers to give Ann a tour of the city.  She refuses, and takes off on her own with only a very little amount of money in her pocket.  Joe follows her around, watching as she buys trinkets and souvenirs, then cuts off her long hair.  Finally, he pretends to run into her at a main tourist attraction, and again offers to show her around Rome.  This time, Ann agrees.

After also running into his friend Irving, the three spend the day touring the city.  At each attraction, Irving surreptitiously takes photos of Ann, to be used in the exclusive.  Ann is still unaware that Joe and Irving know her real identity, instead telling them that she has run away from school because she found it stifling.  That night, Ann decides that she wants to go dancing on a boat.  However, special agents hired by the royal family have managed to track her down, and try to remove her forcibly.  Joe and Irving intervene, and a brawl erupts – one that Ann fully participates in.  After escaping from the agents with Joe, Ann voluntarily returns to the embassy.  Officials there reprimand her about shirking her duty, but Ann replies that it was her sense of duty that made her return to the embassy.  Later, when Joe’s boss learns that Princess Ann has returned, and was not really ill after all, he puts the pieces together.  Though he tries desperately to get Joe to admit the truth and report the story, Joe refuses to do either.  When he learns about Joe’s actions, Irving decides not to sell the photos he has taken of Ann.  The next day, the embassy holds a press conference for Princess Ann.  Joe and Irving attend and stand in the front row – much to the shock of Ann, who only now realizes that they are members of the paparazzi.  When she realizes that they have no intention of giving away her secret, Ann opens up to the other assembled journalists, telling them that Rome was her favorite stop on her European tour.  She then asks to personally greet the journalists in the front row.  When she gets to Irving, he hands her an envelope that he says contain souvenir photos:  when she briefly looks inside, Ann sees a photo of herself from the boat brawl.  After the press conference ends, Ann returns to the embassy; after standing for a few moments by himself in the empty room, Joe turns and walks away.

MY TAKE:  This movie is famous for being the one that introduce Audrey Hepburn to the world, as well as the one for which she won her sole Oscar.  It’s a pleasant movie, but frankly, I didn’t find it that impressive.  Perhaps this is because the formula has been exploited so much since then:  there have been a lot of movies since about royalty who go “undercover” as normal people, and the adventures that ensue.  This one does stand out for its incredible scenery – it was filmed entirely in Rome, so all of the locations are accurate.  Hepburn’s youth and enthusiasm really jump out, as well, but I thought the overall plot a little dull.  Basically, they just go around and see all the famous tourist attractions in Rome, so sometimes it seems more like a film designed to promote tourism (albeit with very famous guides).  For me, one of the highlights was when Joe and Ann visit the “Mouth of Truth”, a big statue of a face that you stick your hand in.  Supposedly, the mouth will bite off the hands of liars.  During this scene, Joe pretends to have his hand bitten off, much to the shock (and eventual amusement) of Ann.  This is fun for the obvious reasons:  she completely falls for the trick, which is a pretty old one (I saw it coming a mile away), but it’s even more funny when you learn that Hepburn’s reaction was completely real.  Gregory Peck completely made up the bitten-hand part, and Audrey was not expecting it.  It ends up being one of the more humanizing moments for Princess Ann.

RATING:  Good actors, mediocre script.

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