Few—if any—movie stars have burst onto the screen as strongly as Audrey Hepburn did in the 1953 romantic comedy classic Roman Holiday. Watching the film today, you might not realize that this was the actress’s first starring role, because she immediately establishes the adorable Audrey Hepburn persona that made her so lovable in movies like Sabrina, My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This fact was not lost on Hollywood and Hepburn walked away with the Best Actress Oscar.
Hepburn plays a royal princess of an unnamed country who has grown bored with her day-to-day responsibilities. She escapes for a night on the town, but before she can get too far, a sedative her doctor gave her, causes her to fall asleep on a city wall. Just happening to be walking by is Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American newspaperman who winds up taking her back to his apartment. It is not until the light of day that Joe realizes who she is. Smelling a story, he passes himself off as a fertilizer salesman and takes her on a sightseeing trip around Rome. Along for the ride is Joe’s cameraman friend Irving (Eddie Albert) to document the whole day with a small camera hidden in his cigarette lighter. But Joe starts thinking twice about his big story, when he starts to fall in love with the beautiful princess.
The movie was filmed entirely on location in Rome—very rare at that time—and the classic city is a character in every scene. However, the background does not interfere with the story; a story that has been often imitated, but never surpassed. Many critics have said that it is really a movie of moments. Moments such as when Hepburn tries to put her shoe back on inconspicuously during a reception line; moments like the scooter ride through the streets of Rome; and moments like the brawl on the docks. My favorite moment is the “Mouth of Truth” scene, which was improvised on the spot. Peck did not tell Hepburn what he was going to do and the fearful scream she delivers is not an act. The movie may be a collection of moments, but director William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives; Ben-Hur) ties them together flawlessly in a well-paced comedy that never loses momentum.
Hepburn shines. She brings out the innocent joy in her princess on the run and the actresses’ love of life really shines through. Not to be outdone is Gregory Peck, who matches Hepburn stride for stride in one of his few comedic performances. Peck—better known for his dramatic films—says on the included documentary that he knew if he was offered a comedy script that Cary Grant must have already turned it down. He was right. Green Acres star Eddie Albert is also fun to watch as the comic sidekick; a role that earned the actor an Oscar nomination.
Along with the retrospective documentary, the new DVD also includes a documentary on the film’s restoration and a featurette dedicated to legendary costume designer Edith Head.
To this day, Roman Holiday remains one of the most enjoyable romantic comedies ever made. I give it an A.