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14 February 2013

Roman Holiday (1953)

Directed by: William Wyler
Music: Georges Auric
Starring: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, 
Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings, 
Tullio Carminati, Paola Borboni, Paolo Carlini, 
Laura Solari, Claudio Ormelli
I'm not a great fan of Valentine's Day as it is celebrated today. I find the concept of showing someone he/she is special on one particular day rather silly, and the commercialisation of what should be a personal matter between two people who are in love, sickens me. But I'm a sucker for romantic comedies, even bittersweet ones. And there is one film in particular, of which, even after repeated viewings, I can never get enough. It is the perfect combination of being romantic without being diabetically sweet, humorous, without resorting to slapstick, and tender, without deteriorating into bathos. It heralded the entry of one of Hollywood's brightest stars, a lady in every sense of the word, one whose enchanting visage and gamin charm would win hearts everywhere.

Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) is the crown princess of a small (and unspecified) country who is on a goodwill tour of the European nations. 
After having successfully wooed London, Amsterdam, and Paris, she has now arrived in Rome, the Eternal City. No one seeing her smile graciously and winsomely at the ball given in her honour could suspect that the young princess, in fact, is tired and fed up of greeting all the nobility who have arrived to meet her.
Neither do the assembled nobility who watch her twirling gracefully on the dance floor realise that she is beginning to chafe at all the rigid rules of polite society surrounding her every action. As she is told the next day's schedule by her lady-in-waiting (Margaret Rawlings), she mutters 'Thankyou', and 'No, thank you' almost by rote, until she mixes them up - much to her companion's chagrin.
She is too well-brought-up to be rude, but she comes very near what one would call a tantrum, and a doctor is called in to see what is wrong. The doctor is not unsympathetic. In fact, he tells her that the best thing for her would be to do exactly as she wishes for a while (only he doesn't quite mean it the way she takes it); but he also gives her a sedative so she will calm down and go to sleep. 

Instead, the intrepid princess climbs out of her balcony and sneaks out of the embassy by hiding in the back of a truck standing outside, determined to experience a Rome she has never seen. Unfortunately for her, the sedative begins to take effect and though she manages to climb out of the truck, she falls asleep on the restraining walls of a building. She is spotted by Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an expatriate American reporter working for the American News Service in Rome. 
He has no clue who she is, but he calls a taxi to take her home. Unfortunately, she is not very co-operative. Between handling a very woozy Ann and dealing with a taxi driver who just wants to go home to his bambinos, Joe is forced to take her to his house. 

Ann is still in her princess mode though, and Joe is quite taken aback when she asks him to help her undress. Her innocence amuses him ("I've never been with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it's most unusual", she tells him. "I don't seem to mind. Do you?") The beleaguered Joe decides to go out for some coffee.

Back at the embassy, Ann's companions have discovered her absence. She is heir to the throne, and they have to hide her disappearance to avoid any potential trouble. They put out an official bulletin informing the press of the Princess' sudden illness. 

The next morning, Joe oversleeps, and having missed the press conference that the visiting princess was to give, goes straight to work, leaving Ann fast asleep. He fibs about an alleged interview, making up all the answers, until his editor, Hennessy (Hartley Power), informs him irascibly that the event had been cancelled due to the princess' illness. 
As Hennessy slaps a newspaper into Joe's hands, the latter is taken aback - he's just left the princess sleeping in his apartment. Seizing the opportunity (after making sure the princess is still where he left her), he cons Hennessy into offering him $5000 for an exclusive interview - 'The private and innermost longings of a Princess'.

He hurries back to find Ann completely disoriented. She has no clue where she is, or how she got there, or even who he is. But he is totally disarmed when, instead of screaming blue murder when she realises she spent the night with him, she smiles delightedly. She introduces herself as Anya. 

Anya/Ann is flustered when she realises it is noon, and decides to hurry away. While she is taking a quick bath, Joe calls his friend, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), a photographer, to help him cover a sensational scoop. Coming back, he offers to show Anya around Rome, but she demurs.

Out on her own, Ann decides to enjoy her freedom instead of going back to the embassy, even getting a haircut, her charm winning over the barber and a florist. Joe, following her, meets her 'accidentally-on-purpose' on the Spanish Steps. 
She confesses that she would love to spend a day doing all the things she wanted to do, and he convinces her to live dangerously. And so begins Ann's introduction to a normal life. Irving joins them as Joe is treating her to a champagne at a sidewalk cafe, and nearly gives the game away. (Joe has been pretending he doesn't know who she is, and hasn't told her he is a reporter either.) But Joe manages to let him in on the secret. 
And so begins a mad, wonderful adventure. The runaway princess gets to do all the things that she has never done...
...and all the while, Irving is snapping photographs. But soon, after some dancing on a river boat, and being chased by the secret service, and a fall (and a jump) into the river, it is midnight, and the fairy tale must end. But are Joe and Ann to be untouched by the day's happenings?
 Fans of this classic romance know how this ends, so I won't go any further. Roman Holiday was worth the price of its ticket just to watch a fairytale-that-wasn't unfold its tenderness onscreen. 
This was Audrey's film, and how she sparkled. Elfin, enchanting, wistful, adorable - one runs out of adjectives to describe Audrey Hepburn in this film. She is alternately regal and childlike, and her pitiful expression as she stands bereft watching the man she loves walk away from her is a complete antithesis to the wondrous rapture in her eyes earlier when she realises she loves him. 
Gregory Peck offers a restrained foil to her impishness, his attraction to her warring with his professional instincts. Finally, he walks away from a story that could have made him rich, and the viewer realises he could have done no less. 
Their performance, coupled with the intensity of their chemistry onscreen nearly, but not quite, eclipses the stellar performance of the supporting cast, especially Eddie Albert as Irving Radovich, Joe's photographer friend. 

Shot on location in Rome, the plot-line has been used many times before and since; the princess (or prince) disguising herself as a commoner, falling in love while so disguised with someone who is totally unacceptable to her station in life. Yet, in a way, Ann is also playing Princess, especially in the beginning, when everything about her rule-bound life irks her. It takes a trial-by-fire - of falling in love, of experiencing what it means to be totally free, of losing that love, all within 12 hours, to teach her the duty and responsibility that comes with her position. So much so, when the General castigates her for running away, and reminds her of her duty, she remarks gently, but firmly: Your Excellency, I trust you will not find it necessary to use that word again. Were I not completely aware of my duty to my family and to my country, I would not have come back tonight... or indeed ever again!

A Vespa has never seemed so romantic, nor Rome so beautiful as it did when the chemistry between Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn lit up the city. 
If I ever make a list of romantic films to swoon by, Roman Holiday would top the list. It is impossible to watch this film and not fall in love with Ann and Joe, and the whole idea of falling in love. It is impossible not to wish for such love, even if it did not have the requisite happy ending. 

If there is one scene that epitomises the saying 'It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all', it is the last scene where Joe obliquely promises Princess Ann that her faith in him will not be betrayed, and the look on her face when she knows it is goodbye. It is the only way the film could have ended, but I never watch it but that I'm whispering, "Don't let her walk away. Go on, forget all about her ghastly duty and live, for heavens' sake!" But then, as Joe tells Ann, "Life isn't always what one likes, is it?"

Trivia: The film is very reminiscent of It Happened One Night. Frank Capra had commissioned the screenplay in 1949 from Ian McLellan Hunter who covered for Dalton Trumbo, the original scriptwriter, as a variation of his 1934 film. Trumbo had been blacklisted by Senator McCarthy's witchhunt, and until the DVD was released in 2003, was never credited for his script. Capra intended to cast Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor, but when the script came back to Paramount Pictures after Capra's exit from the studio, William Wyler took over.  

Audrey Hepburn, then an upcoming British actress, having starred successfully on Broadway in Gigi (she won the Theatre World Award for this role), was almost rejected during the audition. Only, the cameraman kept the camera running even after the director called 'Cut' during the audition, and her vivacity off-camera charmed the director. The offer of the role was to cost him Cary Grant, however, since Grant felt that he would look too old opposite the young Hepburn. (He would act with Hepburn later, in Charade, though still bothered about the age difference between them, he ensured that it was her character who would chase him.)

Enter Gregory Peck, who added star value to the project. He was itching to do a comedy, but complained that every script that was offered to him had the imprint of Cary Grant. It was at Peck's urging that Audrey Hepburn was also given top billing alongside him - instead of the tiny 'introducing Audrey Hepburn' line that was initially intended. Peck predicted his costar would win the Oscar for her role even before the film released, and he was to be proved right; Audrey Hepburn won not only the Academy Award for Best Actress that year, but also the BAFTA award and the Golden Globe for Best Actress for her portrayal of Princess Ann. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won three. 

ps: And because this is the film which made me fall in love with all things Audrey...


  1. Ooh, my all time favorite movie with my favorite stars in my favorite city - terrific gift for Valentine's Day, even if hubby has no idea what day it is today!  Thanks, Anu for a review of one of the most dreamy, romantic films ever!
    When we went to Rome in '03, our hotel had the scene with AH and GP sitting on the Spanish Steps, so I drooled some more and then decided that our visit must include all the spots shown in the movie, so off we went - the Mouth of Truth (what a terrific scene where GP pretends that his hand has been bitten off and then shows it to her and she beats him on his chest, telling him never to play such a dirty trick on her again!), the Spanish steps, and so on, and of course, the gelato!  I am going to see if I can find it on Youtube and watch it all over again tonight.

  2. even if hubby has no idea what day it is today!
    : > )

    one of the most dreamy, romantic films ever!
    It is, isn't it? I love it!

    The 'Mouth of Truth' scene was natural, you know... as in, Audrey's fright and the release of her tension was natural. Peck copied an act that he had seen an American comedian named Red Skeleton do - his pretence that he had actually lost his hand made Audrey shriek. The director knew, of course, and the camera kept rolling. That part where she hits him and collapses against him laughing? That was all real.

  3. Yes one of my favorite films. I resisted seeing this one initially, couldn't bear the  thought that the two will not come together,but loved the film soon after seeing it. Gregory Peck was always my favourite actor, handsome, charming everything but yes Audrey Hepburn is absolutely delightful.

  4.  I dither between Gregory Peck and Cary Grant, with Grant winning by a whisker. :)

  5.  I agree with you here!

  6. Here is Audrey Hepburn with her Roan Holiday Oscar - http://life.time.com/culture/lifes-best-oscar-photos/#12

  7. "and her pitiful expression as she stands bereft watching the man she loves walk away from her"


    See? That's why I've steered clear of it till now. I am a die-hard fan of Gregory Peck and like Audrey Hepburn well enough to not want that to happen to them. Actually, there's also the point that for me a good romance is one which ends happily.

  8.  Red Skelton, I think, not Skeleton. ;-)

    That scene from Roman Holiday, incidentally, is one I've seen.

  9.  I know. :( But it is too good a film to miss, Madhu, really. And it's only that one scene, and the two really owned that scene.

  10.  Hey, nice pic. Thank you for that link, Ashokji.

  11.  :( Not my day, is it? I could have sworn I typed 'Skelton'! *Scurrying off to make a change before anyone else raps me on the knuckles!*

  12. Haricharanpudipeddi15 February 2013 at 04:45

    Didn't Peck drive around a Vespa in this movie? I remember watching it a really long time ago. I suppose Hepburn rose to fame from this film while Peck, so sweet of him to cast her opposite him :)

  13.  Yes, Peck did, and so did Hepburn, and she seemed to have a lot of fun doing so, too (check screencaps).

  14.  But just because I agree with you, it doesn't mean that you should list Cary Grant as one of the stars of this movie and omit Gregory Peck - give the man his due - he looked good enough to eat and melted my teenage heart completely in those days!

  15. Arre, where did I mention Cary Grant as the star of the movie? And hey, I love Gregory Peck too. He still melts my heart. :)

  16. Anu I will be honest I am unable to make a choice between Grant and Peck, it is impossible, just cannot choose between these two handsome men. None of the heroes today look any where as handsome as these oldtimers, but I guess that is me the old-timer talking. 

  17. Usually women like this movie but I must confess this is one of my favorite movies. My wife and I have seen it so many times that the charm has worn off a bit (just like Casablanca). I still remember watching this movie for the first time when I was in my teens and I could not forget it for days. I like both Peck and Hepburn and could watch them any time. We are planning a trip to Rome in May and hope to visit all those places that the two of them (or rather three, for Albert was there too, for the most part) went to. 

    All the other actors in the movie were superb too. You might have mentioned them. The  actor who played Joe's boss, the cab driver who drives them to Joe's apartment on the first night (remember him saying Bambino, Bambino and imitating a baby crying?), the caretaker of the Joe's apartment building...the list could go on and on.

  18.  I meant "tag", but wrote "list"!  Cary Grant is listed in the tags, but not Gregory Peck.

  19. There truly was something about the leading men of those times, wasn't there?

  20.  Lalitha, saw that just now! :( My single brain cell must also have atrophied. First, Madhu points out a glaring error, and now, you do... I give up. (I changed it now - poor Gregory Peck!)

  21.  The list could go on and on...

    Which is why I didn't put them in - I could have mentioned the general, the barber, and the florist as well - all one-scene characters who added to the flavour of the film...

    I'm glad you enjoyed the film as much as your wife did. I however disagree with the notion that only women liked the movie. :)

  22. A good movie to watch while homebound due to the snow, seems like Mass is getting another 6 - 10 inches. I suppose you will be thinking of Gregory Peck & warm Rome while shovelling :)
    Fortunately, NJ seems to have been spared this time.
    This is the ultimate chick flick along with Casablanca, Gregory Peck & Audrey Hepburn make an all time great pair.

  23.  Samir, you horrible person. Here I am shovelling snow off my driveway in gale-force winds!

  24.  You poor you!  Apparently, even Charlotte got some snow this time, and if we get 2 inches, I imagine you will be getting about six times that!  I am sending you some chai and samosas in my thoughts!

  25.  We got three, Lalitha. Thankyou for the 'thoughtful' chai and samosas. Why are you still in India, you lucky woman? Still hassled about all the stuff you have to do?

  26. Lovely review of a lovely movie movie, Anu.  Can't help imagining Cary Grant in place of Gregory Peck.  I guess I would have preferred him.

  27. I have never watched Roman Holiday only because I don't feel I could bear so sad an ending. But after reading your review, maybe I will watch it one day.

  28. May you get Gregory Peck, Dev Anand & Shammi Kapoor (all from the 50's) to show up & shovel your driveway; and then you may serve them Lalitha's chai & samosas :) 

  29.  Thanks, SoY. I didn't imagine Cary Grant in the lead when I was watching the film, but yes, as Peck himself complained, the film had the Grant imprint all over it! I like Gregory Peck too, so it was't so bad. :)

  30.  Ha! But I'm not giving the chai and samosas to anybody. They can all however have some excellent scotch. :0

  31.  Oh, oh, you should! It's such a romantic film, makes you believe in love all over again. The real sort, I mean, not the cheesy one.

  32. Gregory Peck! I am IN LOVE with hiiiiiimmmm! I watched "Spellbound", and heck, that was it. HE IS GORGEOUS. I'm sorry, I just think he is. (Not that I've forgotten about Dev and all, you know. ;)) But I just love him. And no, I didn't notice many similarities between him and Dev. But who cares? I just love them both.

    That ending. Argh that ending. I would be bawling. I mean, okay, Solva Saal had a happy ending and it was just so sweet. But GREGORY PECK AND AUDREY HEPBURN! -wailing-

    P.S. No snow here in Florida, hahahahahahahaha! Oh, and if you meet Gregory Peck and Dev and Shammi, do send them over here. I'm gonna give them all the biggest hug ever and never let go. Ever. ;)

  33.  You don't have to be sorry, there are many of us who think Gregory Peck is gorgeous! Solva Saal was not Roman Holiday by the way; it was more It Happened One Night.

    And snow or no snow, I wouldn't want to live in Florida. :) And if I could magically invoke Gregory Peck, Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand here, you've got a fat chance of even seeing them!

  34.  Lucky?  Who, Me?  Dealing with all these paper happy bureaucrats here?  I can't begin to tell you about the frustrations and the tears - hubby is generally at the receiving end of my complaints, and he has learned to ask me tactfully - very tactfully- how my day has been!  I could write a whole book on how every person wants me to produce a proof of residence even if the whole world knows where I live - do they think I am a squatter?  Let me not even begin on the bank not acknowledging that the second person in a joint E or S account is entitled to receive the check books and the statements, and then handing the same stuff over with nary a whimper when my uncle goes up to them, oh, I could go on and on and fill a book!  But not here.

  35. Yeah, but it did have a happy ending! I'd seen Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird" before, (and I was laughing and laughing every time he said ANYTHING, because, well because Atticus is now Gregory Peck. :D) but it was a later film. "Spellbound", however, the second he walked in, I was just blown away. Oh. -dreamy sigh-

    Why not? Okay, I can see why not. 1. NO TRANSPORTATION. I'm used to getting around by myself, like in Singapore, but it's too dangerous to walk on the streets here. 2. Nothing to do. Really. Nothing. At. All. 3. Sort of applies to me, but everyone in school asks me if I speak SINGAPOREAN. What in the- Gosh, these people are ignorant.

    BUT NOOO! It's Dev! And it's Shammi! And it's Gregory Peck! I must see them! Must must must must must! I am just gonna cling to them all. Absolutely.

  36.  You still haven't finished with the paperwork? This is ridiculous; you've been there for more than four months now! Poor, poor you! Write to me - you know ears and shoulders are always at your service.

  37.  I live in the liberal north-east. Florida would make me want to go commit suicide. :)

    Singaporean?! People are even more ignorant than I thought. Sigh. Do they know where Singapore is?

    Nope. No chance of getting to see any of them if I get my hands on them first. *grin* I call dibs!

  38. Ah, political stuff. I don't give much of a damn about that, though my uncle puts that idiot Fox News on 24/7. That's why I always sneak off to my dad's room to watch films instead.

    Nope. They don't. They think it's in China. Or Japan. Or Mongolia. Yeah, that happened once.

    Alright then, I'm gonna catch a plane to MA and hunt them down! :D By singing Dev's or Shammi's songs! Hehehehe!

  39.  Meh, I can't even vote, and I don't like listening to my uncle's political rallies, so I choose to stay out of it.

    Gave up a long time ago, when I got asked if they sold cockroaches on the streets. -facepalm-

    Hmph! I'll sneak in then! If the Mexicans can do it so can I!

  40.  The next time they ask you about Singapore, spread out a map and show them where it is, and give them a lesson on the food, culture, language.... :)

    Sneaking in to kidnap them? Umm, seal the borders! Now! :)

  41.  Ah, well. A bit of work, but then it'll help dispel misconceptions. And there are plenty of those about!

    You saw right through my plan! I'll sail into MA, then!

  42. Yup. It's good to dispel ignorance. :)

    (I have informed the Coast Guard too.)

  43. Oh, I know what I'll do! I'll steal a time machine, warp right on your doorstep, take them all with me and run off!

  44. Okay, so I watched the film. It was on TV, and I thought, okay, the ending can't be that bad. HOW WRONG I WAS. HOW. ABSOLUTELY. WRONG. I was crying and wailing at the TV, and shouting, "GREG, GO BACK. GREG, GO BAAAACK!" One time I yelled, "ATTICUS GO BACK" at the TV, but I realized it was too early for that. :P That last scene where he's walking away from the reception hall made me cry so much. So much.

    And I swear, if I see any Greg/Audrey pictures, I am going to cry, and cry, and cry a river. It happened yesterday. And I was sniffling in school all the way for the past few days. GREG, AUDREY RODE YOUR VESPA WITH YOU. YOU, YOU MADE THAT REMARK ABOUT MOVING TO A PLACE WITH A KITCHEN! YOU CAN'T LET HER GO! -cries-

    -sobs- And what's more, I found they only did this one film together. WHAAAAT? -cries some more-

  45.  Och, you poor child. Life is cruel. It happens that way not just on screen. As my son, who is only a few years older than you says, 'Live with it'. :)

    The ending is sad, I agree. But hota hai. Just think of what would have happened if a princess married an impecunious reporter, even one who looked as dishy as Gregory Peck. :)

  46. I feel like I can't get over it! I mean everyone's making a big deal of Greg/Audrey (and they look so absolutely cute together), and THEY ONLY DID ONE FILM? And that too with a sad ending! No wonder Rajesh sang, "Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai"! If I weren't under 18 I'd go drink my sorrows away.

    Nah, just kidding. I still remember that blasted whiskey someone gave me. Thank goodness it was during the holidays and I could sleep till 3. But it seems like the whole world is hellbent upon showing me Greg/Audrey pictures! I can't even look at the film poster without crying.

    I'm like a leaky tap. I can't remember the last time I cried so much at a film because Hindi films usually have happy endings. Probably "Guide" was the last I cried so much.

    I really wanted them to run off or something. I know, there wasn't another good ending besides that. But, why did Greg and Audrey only do ONE film together? Not fair! Yeah, you're right, life is cruel.

    -cries some more-

  47.  *handing Bombaynoir a handkerchief / box of tissues* Here you go. 'tis okay - I am probably your mother's age, and I still find myself being affected by what I see on screen, or read in a book. :) And since I'm not 13 anymore, I outgrew being so dramatic about it. (Well, I don't think I was as dramatic as you are, when I was your age, but still... *grin*)

  48.  Hmph! You were dramatic, eh? :D What did you do?

    And also, I ended up walking around referencing this film in school today. There was this scene after Greg has found out that she's a princess, and he sticks the newspaper in his coat pocket. Well, I did just that and walked around with it all day. It got in my way while doing almost everything, but oh well, I didn't cry for most of the day.

    ...Most. At the end of the day I saw a Greg/Audrey picture and broke down and cried again. My friend said someone's gonna mistake it for depression, and send me to a counsellor. And I just started raving, saying, "OH NO. I HATE COUNSELLORS. I'll lose my head at the counsellor's office, the counsellor's gonna say I'm loony, they're gonna send me to a mental hospital, and, and, and! And I'm going to re-enact Spellbound and and and..."

    Huh, maybe I am loony, after all.

  49. Not as dramatic as you , my girl, and definitely not in the same league. :) Besides, I was much, much younger. You're in a class by yourself.  :)) I did tend to get very involved with what was going on, on screen; I sometimes still do, depending on my mood. *grin*

    What you're doing/going through, I don't blame your friend for suggesting counselling. :)


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