Roman Holiday (1953)
Release Date: September 2nd, 1953 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: William Wyler Actors: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings, Tullio Carminati
rincess Ann (Audrey Hepburn), a member of one of the oldest ruling families in the world (it’s never specified to which kingdom she belongs), takes a trip to London for diplomatic and trade relations with Europe. Her visit is covered extensively in the news as she participates in numerous ceremonial and touristy affairs, culminating in a lavish ball at her country’s embassy in Italy. Despite her efforts to welcome a lengthy list of well-wishers, the Princess grows anxious over her tedious duties. Clearly not cut out for activities better suited to an independent, elderly official, Ann has something of a nervous breakdown that evening, flying into a fit as she laments over her drab nightgown selection and the monotonous routines scheduled for the following morning – including numerous, staged acceptances of symbolic gifts and press conference attendance.
Being born into wealth and status, it’s difficult for Ann to value her various blessings; instead, she feels trapped and alone, horrifically confined to royal commissions and newsworthy engagements. All she really wants to do is experience normalcy and associate with people her own age (her interpretation of yearning for excitement is to window-shop, eat at a sidewalk cafe, smoke a cigarette, and to get rained upon). It’s a grief often related by fictional characters in unwanted positions of affluence (not unlike the princesses in various adaptations of “One Thousand and One Nights”). Unfortunately, the film doesn’t start with a scenario that generates much sympathy; Ann comes across as spoiled rather than miserable.
When Ann manages to escape from her palatial confines to wander the streets of Rome, she stumbles into the arms of American reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who is coincidentally supposed to interview her the next day. But the drugs given to her by her doctor turns Ann into a drunken mess, barely able to communicate. This forces Joe to take her back to his place, for fear that the police station would be her only other option. And, since “Roman Holiday” was made in 1953, it’s an innocent enough premise for the couple to retire to his apartment. Of course, this also leads to some light comedy, as Ann is completely incapable of taking care of herself. “Will you help me get undressed, please?”
Since Ann is next in line for the throne, her handlers publish a statement that she was taken ill, giving them time to locate her and to avoid a panic. This also gives Joe an opportunity to take her out on the town for some misadventures, incidental romance, and material for an exclusive article – which they both desperately need. But for “Roman Holiday,” the problem with all of this is the pacing. The jokes carry on for so long that they lose their humor; the flirtatious interactions are wordy yet dull, and possess their own brand of slowness; and the sightseeing seems to take precedent over storytelling and character development. And Joe – when his profession is revealed – is comparably unsympathetic; his motivations are solely money and a valuable scoop (even when he has a change of heart, there’s no great revelation or really any feelings to be hurt). The motivations here are unconvincing and dishonorable.
At least there’s an authenticity to the settings (the film was, in fact, photographed and recorded in its entirety in Rome) and a bit of poignancy to the Cinderella-like, bittersweet conclusion. A fraction of the innuendo is also amusing (the story is by Dalton Trumbo), while Hepburn feels at home in her naive explorer (in this introductory role in her early 20s, she would go on to win a Best Actress Oscar and Golden Globe). But none of the events are terribly thrilling or romantic, and the unhurried casualness with which they’re all approached borders on boring. Its originality is also regularly in question, especially as tensions ever so carefully mount for the inevitable reveal, when Joe’s ruse as an unselfish cavorter and Ann’s cover as a runaway schoolgirl unsurprisingly disintegrate.
– Mike Massie