Film: “Roman Holiday” (1953)
Italy, like most European countries, was devastated by World War II. Buildings and neighborhoods were bombed into oblivion. Post-war Italian governments rose and fell as quickly as the lira. Italians starved, as the Neo-Realist films of Rossellini and DeSica movingly demonstrated.
By the 1950s, however, the country had started to get back on its feet. Once again, Americans began looking at the Eternal City as a repository of all things artistic and romantic. This was reflected in certain Hollywood films of the era which have themselves become icons of artistry and romance—films such as William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday” (1953).
A brief plot summary for those who never saw RH: Audrey Hepburn plays Princess Ann, a beautiful young royal from an unnamed European country. On a state visit to Rome, she gets so bored with royal protocol that one night she slips out of her quarters in street clothes and winds up asleep near the Trevi Fountain. That’s where she’s found by Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), a cynical but kind-hearted reporter. Joe doesn’t recognize the Princess, but seeing she has no money (“I never carry cash,” Ann tells Joe sleepily), he generously invites her to spend the night at his tiny flat on Via Margutta.
No funny business transpires (this is 1950s Hollywood, people) but Joe soon finds out the real identity of the Princess who has been reported missing. He makes a deal with his editor that for 5,000 USD he will get an exclusive interview with her, including photos taken by his photographer buddy Irving (Eddie Albert.)
Once the Princess wakes up, she realizes she has to leave but Joe isn’t about to let a good story get away. Not revealing who he is—and the Princess not revealing who she is—they decide to spend the day in Rome together. The two sip champagne at a sidewalk cafe, tear through the streets on a Vespa, and end the day at a dance club along the Tiber. The scenes that ensue will be etched in your memory forever.
It is hard to believe this was one of Audrey Hepburn’s first big roles. Because of her beauty and talent, she was given star billing in the film without much serious acting experience beforehand. How the camera loves her, as does the young, dewy-eyed Gregory Peck. Eddie Albert, later famous as the dumpy Oliver in “Green Acres,” is unrecognizably sexy as Irving, the lady’s man who’s in on the ruse for his share of the $5,000.
The real star of the film, however, is the city of Rome itself. The footage of the Spanish Steps and other Roman landmarks is breathtaking and genuine. As it should be: RH was filmed entirely in Rome.
Are there any others out there who’ve yet to see RH? If there are, make time to watch it. Can’t get to it right away? No worries. This movie, like Rome itself, will be around for an entirety.