Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953)


(director: William Wyler; screenwriters: John Dighton/Dalton Trumbo/from the story by Dalton Trumbo; cinematographers: Henri Alekan/Frank F. Planer; editor: Robert Swink; music: Georges Auric; cast: Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley), Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann), Eddie Albert (Irving Radovich), Hartley Power (Mr. Hennessy), Harcourt Williams (Ambassador), Margaret Rawlings (Countess Vereberg). Paulo Carlini (Barber); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Wyler; Paramount; 1953)

“A delicious romantic-comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William Wyler’s (“Jezebel”/”Wuthering Heights”) ”Roman Holiday” is a delicious romantic-comedy that probably could have been a masterpiece if directed by Billy Wilder or Ernst Lubitsch. Wyler’s directing abilities are not conducive to comedies; the film sags at times and seems too meticulously scripted to feel spontaneous and free-spirited, something this kind of farce demanded. Upon Wyler’s insistence, it was filmed on location in Rome (which started a Hollywood trend). The Paramount honchos agreed, but only if the same budget was kept as if it was shot in a Hollywood studio. To keep that budget, it was shot in black-and-white and an unknown actress was cast for the lead opposite Gregory Peck. That was British actress Audrey Hepburn, who was born in Belgium, making her first major movie role. Casting her paid off, as the 24-year-old actress won an Oscar. Another Oscar was credited to screenwriters Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton, but actually co-written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo posing as the former. Trumbo’s widow was given a posthumous Oscar for ”Roman Holiday” in 1992. Eddie Albert won for Best Supporting Actor.

It’s a Cinderella tale in reverse. It was supposedly based on the real-life Italian adventures of British Princess Margaret. Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) gets tired of protocol after a week of hitting a number of European cities on an official good-will tour. On her Rome visit, she’s injected with a sleeping medicine but before it takes effect sneaks out of the countess’s palace where she’s staying as a guest. The Princess hopes to relieve her boredom by being on her own for a few hours. She’s found groggy in the street by economically struggling American reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who puts her up for the night in his cramped apartment without any foul play–giving her the couch while he takes the bed. The next day he discovers from the bureau chief of his news agency (Hartley Power) that the Princess is missing and by looking at a newspaper photo realizes that the girl in his apartment is the runaway Princess. Smelling big money, he shakes hands with his the bureau chief that if he gets an exclusive story and pictures of the Princes there’s at least $5,000 in it for him. With that in mind he gets Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), a newspaper photographer friend, to tag along with him while he spends the day with the Princess. Using his lighter camera Irving takes photos of the Princess on the sly as she sports her new short haircut, sits in a cafe, visits numerous tourists sights such as the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Castel Sant’ Angelo, Brancaccio, Barberini Palazzi and the “Mouth of Truth,” and gets photos of her involved in a brawl in a barge dance on the Tiber when undercover agents try to take her back to her royal party. Joe is her nice guy ‘Prince Charming’ commoner, who kisses her and then has a change of heart of running the scoop on her escapade. In the end, the average-guy Joe shows he can rise to the level of a noble and be just as regal as the Princess.

Hepburn’s waifish charm made this pleasing old-fashioned tale work out so well. Peck seems too heavy-handed for comedy, but excels in the romantic part of his role. Someone edgier like William Holden or more gifted comically like Cary Grant, would have done much more with the role than Peck. I really didn’t see what was so special about Albert’s performance, but his comedy relief role had a few amusing moments as he’s bewildered by what’s going down.