Audrey Hepburn is utterly beguiling in her star-making role opposite Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, a delightful romantic comedy about a poised young princess of an unspecified European country who spends a magical day with an American reporter (Gregory Peck) in the Eternal City, playing hooky from her official duties.
On a goodwill tour of Europe, Princess Ann (Hepburn) chafes under the constant pressure of official duties, and, one night in Rome, slips out of the embassy to wander the streets unchaperoned. Soon incapacitated from a sedative administered earlier by an embassy doctor, she’s discovered by a stony reporter named Joe Bradley (Peck), who doesn’t recognize her but is chivalrous enough to put her up for the night — though not too chivalrous to give her the couch.
For much of the film, the screwball-comedy premise of a young princess pretending to be a student and a reporter pretending to be a salesman (a premise with more than a little in common with the screwball classic It Happened One Night) provides a pretext for a lighthearted romp through the Rome that’s part romantic comedy, part travelogue.
Shot entirely on location at a time when most Hollywood films were shot on studio sets, Roman Holiday boasts a wonderfully vivid sense of place, with scenes set at the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and of course the Bocca della Verita (“Mouth of Truth”) escutcheon, where Peck allegedly ad-libbed one of the film’s more memorable gags, to his costar’s genuine hysterics.
Then, as the film builds toward its bittersweet climax, the characters rise to real nobility and selflessness. Peck, of course, is solid as always, and while it’s admittedly hard at times not to wonder what Cary Grant might have done with the role, Peck owns the unforgettable final scene.
Newly restored and remastered in high definition for Paramount’s new Centennial Collection series, Roman Holiday is now available in a fine two-disc edition with a variety of special features. Among these are documentaries on the restoration of the film and the Oscar-winning costumes, a couple of featurettes on Hepburn, a piece on the blacklisting of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and a retrospective on 1950s Paramount.
The prologue, with its storybook-like, slightly arch voiceover narration finely read by Audrey Hepburn, suggests a charming fairy tale with a satiric subtext. And, indeed, Sabrina, Billy Wilder’s delightful romantic comedy starring Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, is a sort of Cinderella story, with a chauffeur’s daughter who is transformed into the belle of the ball and dances with the prince — except that the "prince" is, if not a beast, at least a shallow cad, while the real love interest is almost more a frog than a prince.
Often described as "the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made," Charade stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in a sparkling thriller with overtones of screwball romantic comedy — or is it the other way around?
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