Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn

Review: Roman Holiday - 1953

The pixie-like presence of Audrey Hepburn was established early in her career, probably a burden for an actor who aged as any normal human does but who was still looked upon for qualities of the ethereal throughout her time in films.

The way that William Wyler has directed Roman Holiday gives us that delicate and somewhat childlike Audrey Hepburn, but also cleverly matures her by way of an adventure in Italy that clips away (literally, with a rather dramatic hair cut) the girlishness of Hepburn's character. How does this happen? She is a confined royal who escapes her handlers one night, wandering on her own around Rome without the ever-present entourage. The only wrinkle in this bold move is that Hepburn's character (Princess Ann, heir to the throne of an unnamed country) was sedated prior to her "jail-break" and is soon walking about stupefied and then tries to sleep prone on a ledge by a sidewalk on a dark city street.

Now enters Gregory Peck, an American reporter (Joe Bradley) stranded in Italy working for a small newspaper because he doesn't have the cash to get back to the USA. His situation doesn't improve because he gambles away what little bit of money he does have in poker games with his crony friends, one of which (Eddie Albert playing Irving Radovich) is a frequent help on assignments needing phtotographs.

Bradley comes upon the vulnerable, sleeping Princess Ann, and not knowing who she is, tries to both help keep her safe and to also get her home, an exercise in reluctant chivalry, but the princess is too drugged to provide a coherent answer that makes sense to Bradley and the taximan when she is asked where she lives (which is of course at a palace) and Bradley ends up putting her in his tiny apartment for the night.

Come the next day and a look at the morning news, Bradley realizes he has a famous sleeping princess on his hands, so he concocts a proposal to his newspaper editor to create an exclusive blow-by-blow chronicle of a "Princess on the loose" story, with pictures provided by his pal Radovich, all without the knowledge of the Princess herself.

The deal settled, Bradley then begins to squire her around Rome, a unique, joyful odyssey of sightseeing for a young woman used to being forever watched herself. Meanwhile, secret agents from Princess Ann's home country arrive with a mission to find the missing girl, complicating the trio's gallivanting about Rome. However, that is not as complicated as what happens when Bradley begins to think of Princess Ann as a human being instead of a lucky payday for an exclusive news story.

Wyler borrows a little bit from Capra's cynical reporter-in-love film It Happened One Night to get Roman Holiday off the ground. But, Wyler's tale (written by Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton) goes well beyond what Robert Riskin's script did for that earlier film, transcending into a story about mutual respect and a peculiar form of self-sacrifice that trumps even romantic love (though we get a garnish of that, too, plus a pinch of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper).

Roman Holiday is a remarkable film which is a combination of a vacation comedy, a romantic comedy, and a coming-of-age story for not only for the princess, but for the aimless American reporter, a remarkable balancing act and one of Wyler's best films (and also for Hepburn and Peck, too) which is saying something.

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Original Page August 10, 2023 | Updated April 11, 2024