Directed By: William Wyler
Starring: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert
The second release or Paramount’s Centennial Collection is Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar winning debut performance, Roman Holiday. This beautifully restored presentation of the reverse Cinderella story proves just as enchanting today as it was to movie-goers in 1953.
The movie opens with the title cards displayed overlaying postcard beautiful shots of the sights of Rome. After the credits finish some faux news reel footage rolls introducing us to Princess Ann, the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. She smiles insincerely and gives the silly little royal wave as she is chaperoned through London, Amsterdam, Paris and finally Rome on a whirlwind goodwill tour to promote European unity and trade relations. We get our first glimpse of the real Ann as she stands at the head of a receiving line at ball in her honor at the embassy of her unnamed country. As she is being introduced to a string of extras ugly enough to have been actual European nobility she is fidgeting her feet under her floor length gown.
After the ball when the Princess is dressed for bed her Baroness minder presents her nightly crackers and glass of milk and begins to brief her on the next days schedule. “Thank you, no thank you, charmed, thank you” Ann recites as she runs through her preprogrammed responses. Suddenly she breaks down and becomes hysterical enough for the Baroness to call her personal physician. By the time the Baroness has returned with the physician Ann has calmed down somewhat and professes that she will do her duty and apologizes for becoming distraught and crying. The doctor replies that crying is a natural and normal enough thing to do, but in order for Ann to be calm and relaxed for the press conference the next day, the Baroness asks if there is something the doctor can do. The physician administers a sedative and tells the Princess that it may take a little while to take effect. After the small entourage leave her for the night Ann springs from her bed, dresses in her least regal outfit and stealthily sneaks out of her room and out of the lavish embassy. She sneaks out of the compound in the back of a service cart. As it trundles through the streets of Rome she gets an impromptu tour of Roman nightlife. She hops out at a stop to get a closer look, but unfortunately about this time the sedative starts to take hold.
Meanwhile intrepid but broke reporter for the American News Service Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, is wrapping up a game of poker at his photographer buddy Irving’s flat. Irving is played by a bearded an bohemian Eddie Albert. Joe steps away from the table with his last five thousand lire note because he’s got to attend Princess Ann’s press conference the next day. As Joe is walking home he comes across the incognito Ann sleeping precariously on a ledge beside the sidewalk. Joe steps up to catch her as she starts to roll of the ledge. Thinking that she is drunk Joe hangs around to try to wake her up enough with conversation to keep her from being picked up by the police. After a while Joe leaves Ann sitting up on the ledge with the recommendation to go get some coffee and continues on his way home. He flags down a taxi possibly to avoid any more distractions. As he gets into the taxi he notices that Ann has laid back down to sleep on the ledge. Joe retrieves Ann and tries to extract her address so he can have the cab drive her home. The only address Ann offers up is “Colosseum” so in the end Joe ends up having to take her back to his apartment after one last attempt to bribe the taxi driver into letting her sleep it off in his cab. After getting Ann settled onto his couch Joe finally gets to bed himself. The next morning Joe is roused from sleep by a ringing church bell. In rings nine, ten, eleven, twelve times. Joe grabs his alarm clock and realizes that being distracted the previous night he must have forgotten to rewind it. Joe rushes off to the offices of the American News Services hoping to bluff his editor into believing that he was just returning from his interview with the Princess. In his haste Joe didn’t see that the fact that the embassy had canceled the press conference due to the Princess’s “illness” is front page news. Joe’s editor calls his bluff by showing him the morning news and Joe instantly realizes that the story of his career is asleep on his couch.
If you’ve ever seen a movie before you can guess how this one is going to go. Under normal circumstances it would be hard to believe that Peck’s somewhat world weary, down on his luck Joe Bradley could fall in love during a single day, but with Audrey Hepburn playing the other party it suddenly becomes plausible. Just reading the script I imagine the Joe Bradley character comes off more roguish, but Peck just doesn’t sell rogue. There is never any doubt that Joe will do the right thing. The only suspense is whether events will veer out of Joe’s control. Eddie Albert on the other hand is completely believable playing against type. When he tells Joe “It’s always open season on Princess’s” he means it. All three are a joy to watch as the romp though Rome.
The screenplay by Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton is based on a story by the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo was not originally credited on the movie, but in this restored version Paramount has placed his name in the credits. A bit of revisionism I don’t think anyone would complain about, after all, politics aside credit is due where credit is due. The love story is sweet and sincere without being saccharine. It’s leavened with quite a bit of humor ranging from fish out of water gags for Princess Ann to slapstick scuffling between Joe and Irving. It’s tight, witty and well paced.
The film was shot beautifully by Wyler. The night scenes are almost noirish in the creative use of light and shadow. The exterior shots are framed to take the most advantage of the beautiful locations the film was shot in. The movie is as much a travelogue of Rome as anything else. The Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Mouth of Truth, the Castel Sant’Angelo and many other streets and piazzas of Rome nearly steal scenes many times in the movie. Indeed without actors of the presence of Peck, Hepburn and Albert the beauty of Rome would have overwhelmed the film.
The film is presented in full screen format which nearly matches the original aspect ratio. Paramount has taken a already quite good print and scanned it. Then each frame is processed to remove dirt and grain and the contrast is massaged to balance the lighting to as close to what Wyler’s original intentions would have been as possible. The result is breathtaking. There is a featurette included on the second DVD that outlines the restoration process. The amount of detail visible is amazing. Maybe too detailed. Little blemishes that would normally be softened by the natural grain of film are now visible. If Wyler was counting on the grain to soften his subjects somewhat then it would be a mistake to clean things up this much, but there are a couple of intimate scenes that were softened with some kind of filter or other method. If he wanted Wyler could certainly have used those methods in other scenes as well if he wanted to.
The audio is presented in the original mono in English, French an Spanish with subtitles in the same. The audio has been cleaned up as well but the improvement is not as dramatic as the improvement in the video. The mix is simple and uncluttered with the score never overpowering the dialog. There is a bit of hiss and pop during a few quiet bits, but never enough to cause any annoyances. In fact I doubt I would have noticed it if I haven’t been listening for it.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The two disc DVD edition comes in a standard dual disc Amaray case with a colorized shot from the film of Audrey and Peck on a Vespa in front of the Colosseum. The Amaray case slips into a nice cardboard case that is styled to match the other titles in Paramount’s Centennial Collection. The second disc contains seven featurettes ranging in subject matter from the blacklisting of Dalton Trumbo to the movies of Paramount during the nineteen fifties. They are all entertaining and worth watching if a little uncritical. The only omission is some kind of commentary.
This really should be on everyone’s DVD shelf. Anybody that does not fall instantly in love with Audrey Hepburn should be lined up against a wall and shot, but Peck and Albert are fun to watch as well. If none of those three do it for you it’s worth it for the images of Rome during the early fifties if for no other reason.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 10/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10