Retrospective Review: Roman Holiday

Year: 1953
Runtime: 118 Minutes 
Director: William Wyler
Writers: Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter, and John Dighton
Stars: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power 

By Bianca Garner

Although “Roman Holiday” was not Audrey Hepburn’s first acting role, it was the film that helped to put her on the map. Released in 1953, “Roman Holiday” still delights and charms audiences today. It’s hard not to watch Hepburn and her co-star Gregory Peck careen through Rome on a Vespa scooter and not fall in love with this picture. Fun fact: After the picture had been released sales of Vespa scooters went through the roof!

Directed by the legendary William Wyler (whose other hits consisted of the likes of “Ben-Hur” (1959), “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), and “Mrs. Miniver” (1942)), the film was originally going to star a very young Elizabeth Taylor (who was sixteen at the time) and Cary Grant (44 years of age…Yikes, what an age gap!) with director Frank Capra (best known for “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)). 

However, Capra backed out partly because the film’s script had been co-written by Dalton Trumbo, who was on the Hollywood blacklist. Trivia time: the reason why Trumbo had been blacklisted was because he’d refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953) © 1953 Paramount

“Released in 1953, “Roman Holiday” still delights and charms audiences today. It’s hard not to watch Hepburn and her co-star Gregory Peck careen through Rome on a Vespa scooter and not fall in love with this picture.”

The story of “Roman Holiday” seems rather simple but that’s part of its charm. Hepburn plays Ann, a crown princess from an unnamed European nation, who happens to be on a state visit to Rome. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s beginning to have an effect on Ann. She becomes frustrated with her tightly scheduled life, almost breaking down into an act of hysteria, those around her give her a sedation. Before the effects of the sedation can take hold, she secretly leaves her country’s embassy, in a brilliant scene of defiance and bravery. 

However, her adventure in Rome is short lived when she ends up falling asleep on a bench. Luckily, American reporter Joe Bradley (Peck) finds her and decides to take her back to his apartment to ensure she’s kept safe. This act of chivalry is something that struck me as so noble. Although there are comedic elements (Joe struggles to remove Ann from his bed and onto the sofa so he can sleep), the film never crosses any lines.

Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953) © 1953 Paramount

Joe is respectful towards Ann and considerate about her privacy (he doesn’t get her underdressed and leaves the room so she can change into his pyjamas, he even hides his alcohol so she doesn’t get intoxicated). Joe isn’t exactly a nice guy, he’s a bit cocky at work and swaggers in late, but he acts like a perfect gentleman in this scene and Peck is simply wonderful. And, as the film progresses Ann brings out the best in him.

The next morning, Joe hurries off late to work where he’s informed by his editor, Mr. Hennessy (Hartley Power), that press event Joe was meant to attend earlier that morning had been cancelled, and shows him a news item about the princess’ “sudden illness”, he realizes who is asleep in his apartment. Seeing an opportunity, Joe privately calls his photographer friend, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), to ask him to secretly take pictures. So, begins a day of fun in Rome with Ann slowly gaining her independence and assertiveness. 

Ann is a fantastic character, she feels so fully developed and formed. She’s also very relatable, who hasn’t felt like running away from their responsibilities and just letting their hair down for the day. In the case of Ann, she goes one step further and cuts off her long locks. It’s such an iconic look and one that would remain with Hepburn throughout her career. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, and seeing how delightful she is on-screen, we can be assured that this was the making of a true Hollywod star.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953) © 1953 Paramount

“The film isn’t really about Peck’s character but rather Ann’s journey, her growth and development.”

Apparently, Wyler was very excited to find Hepburn, but he did not choose her until after a screen test.He insisted on finding an “anti-Italian” actress who was different from the curvy Italian maggiorate like Gina Lollobrigida. In Wyler’s own words, Hepburn “was perfect”. However it’s hard not to read his next statement and roll his eyes, in an interview he stated that “his new star had no arse, no tits, no tight-fitting clothes, no high heels. In short a Martian. She will be a sensation”. Rather than describe Hepburn’s talent and her charisma, Wyler reduces her down to body parts which feels very demeaning. 

Peck’s contract gave him solo star billing, with newcomer Hepburn listed much less prominently in the credits. Halfway through the filming, Peck suggested to Wyler that he elevate her to equal billing—an almost unheard-of gesture in Hollywood. Upon its release, “Roman Holiday” was the second most popular film at the US box office during September 1953 behind “From Here to Eternity”, grossing almost $1 million. 

Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953) © 1953 Paramount

Due to the film’s popularity, both Peck and Hepburn were approached about filming a sequel, but this project never got off the ground which I think is a blessing because the film’s ending is simply perfect. The film isn’t really about Peck’s character but rather Ann’s journey, her growth and development, we can see this in the ending scene where Ana is more assertive and does exactly what she wants.

Yes, it’s sad that these two characters can’t be together. However, in a sense they must part, because life isn’t always a Hollywood Happy Ending. Sometimes you only ever get one chance to live your Roman Holiday for a single day. So, try and live each day believing that today is your Roman Holiday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: