Synopsis

Wyler's lushly romantic fable chronicles an oppressed Princess as she runs away to have a night on the town in Rome and falls in love with a cynical reporter, changing his life forever. Hepburn's amazing debut won her an Academy Award.
Rating:

Critics

  • "Of all the wonderful closings in movies, one in particular comes to mind now. A journalist has just given up, for love, the biggest story of his life. He has also surrendered the love of his life, all for the sake of a young woman. A most unlikely situation, a dramatic confectioner's creation. Reality has no place in this fantasy. Until the ending. And until now. The journalist has just left the young woman to her job, which is being a princess. They will not see each other again. The camera stays with him as he walks through the sepulchral rooms of some vast Roman palazzo, and his face shows everything: the loss, the melancholy, the love, the sweetness of feelings found fleetingly, then lost irretrievably. This scene, the end of William Wyler's Roman Holiday, is memorable for reasons that can never be taught in film school. Wyler had a fierce sense of emotional focus, and he had here a consummate movie star, Gregory Peck. But this great scene would have been nonsense if Peck did not have something wonderful and irreplaceable to miss. He had Audrey Hepburn." - Time

  • "What Wyler has done is to fashion one of the gayest, most original and endearing comedies to be credited to Hollywood in recent years" - Newsweek

  • "This is the picture that made Audrey Hepburn a movie star. Probably no one could have brought out her skinny, long-necked gamine magic as winningly as the director William Wyler did: his calm, elegant style prepares the scenes and builds the character until she has the audience enthralled, and when she smiles we're all goners." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

  • "Amid the rhinestone glitter of Roman Holiday's make-believe, Paramount's new star sparkles and glows with the fire of a finely cut diamond." - Time

  • "This is Wyler's first venture into comedy in many years and the switch from the heavy dramas he has been associated with since 1935 is all to the good. The aged face of the Eternal City provides a contrast to the picture's introduction of a new face, Audrey Hepburn, British ingenue who already has made an impression with legit-goers in Gigi. The young lady has talent, plus a personality that wears well on film. She has a delightful affectation in voice and delivery that is controlled just enough to have charm and serve as a trademark, as well as the looks and poise to make her role of a princess of a not-too-mythical country come over strongly."- "Brog.", Variety

  • "Roman Holiday is a lacy mixture of frothy fun and bittersweet emotion, with plot ... the least of the matter. Televising, therefore, spoils the story by interruptions; and while it doesn't improve the making of mood or weaving of spell, it does let us see the lovely fragility and haunting charm that marked Audrey Hepburn in her Oscar-winning American screen debut, and the fine complement Gregory Peck provides in both comedy and compassion." - Judith Crist, TV Guide

  • "There is absolutely nothing uncommon about its plot, yet a capable director and a remarkable young actress have made one of the better pictures of the year, certainly one of the brightest comedies. Hepburn makes the sad skylarking of a princess lovely and carries off the finale with a nicety that leaves one a little haunted." - Otis L. Guernsey Jr., New York Herald Tribune 

Anecdotes

  • Peck recall "a girl who was good at everything except shedding tears - wacky and funny, a very lovable girl who was always making faces and doing backflips and clowning around. But when it came to a poignant scene, she couldn't find that within herself; she just couldn't find the right kind of emotion." He was referring to one of the most touching final scenes. It was the crucial scene of parting between Peck and Hepburn in which the actress couldn't simulate emotion. "I don't know how to say goodbye," Princess Ann says. "I can't think of any words." "Don't try," Joe Bradley replies, as the music swells. It seemed straightforward, but "I had no idea how to come by those tears," Audrey recalled. "The night was getting longer and longer, and Willy was waiting. Out of the blue, he came over and gave me hell." The demanding Wyler ran out of patience and brought his star to tears with words of angry exasperation. In Gregory Peck's words: "It was embarrassing and frightened her and shook her up, but she did it perfectly the very next time. On screen it looked like it was because she was parting from me, but actually it was because Wyler had just scared the wits out of her." Afterwards, Wyler would day, "I'm sorry, but I had to get you to do it somehow."

  • There is another famous moment when Gregory Peck sticks a hand into an ancient carving (The Mouth of Truth) and pulls back what appears to be an empty sleeve, jolting his young companion into surprise, anger, and hilarity, all at the same time. To get a spontaneous reaction, Peck resorted to an olf vaudeville trick - drawing his hand up into his cuff so that it looked severed. Hepburn wasn't acting in this scene, Peck revealed - he pulled the joke on Hepburn with the camera rolling, and it worked so well that the shot was used in the final film. Unforewarned, Audrey reacted perfectly, with a shriek. "It was the only scene Wyler ever did in one take," she said.

  • It's difficult to imagine anyone else as Princess Anne because Audrey Hepburn played this role as convincingly as anyone imaginably could. This role had earlier been considered for Elizabeth Taylor, then Jean Simmons, before Audrey's casting.

  • Roman Holiday was a bit reminiscent of Capra's It Happened One Night, with a big difference in tone: It was no screwball comedy of the thirdies, but a sentimental escape of the fifties. "When he told me that an unknown girl, a little dancer from London, was going to play the princess, I said, "Well, Willy, no one has better judgment than you, but have you seen her on film?" Peck recalls. He said, "Let me show you something." Wyler showed Audrey's screen test to Peck, who had read the Roman Holiday script and realized now, more than ever, that "it was not going to be about me, it was about the princess." On that basis, he rejected it. But Wyler knew just what button to push. "You surprise me, Greg," he said. "If you didn't like the story, okay, but because somebody's part is a little better than yours, that's no reason to turn down a film. I didn't think you were the kind of actor who measures the size of the roles." And the Peck capitulated. Also, in Roman Holiday, Gregory Peck gave Audrey Hepburn her first star billing in Roman Holiday. As he tells the story to Entertainment Weekly, "I called my agent after two weeks, and I said, 'George, you've got to change the billing.' The billing was to be 'Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday.' He said, 'Why? What's the matter with you?' I said, 'Nothing's the matter with me, but I'm smart enough to know this girl's going to win the Oscar® in her first picture, and I'm going to look like a damned fool if her name is not up there on top with mine.'" It was an unusually generous gesture, and the Paramount executives were initially much opposed, but soon enough they realized that Audrey was going to be an important movie star. Hepburn did indeed go on to win the Academy Award for the role.

  • Roman Holiday offers a Cinderella story in reverse. Constantly advised, overprotected, and serious beyond her years, Princess Anne tours Europe's capitals, obediently making the expected public appearances. But in Rome, she evades her protectors and sneaks out at night to discover how the ordinary Romans live. Exhausted from a rigorous schedule, she falls asleep in a public place, where she meets journalist Joe Bradley (Peck) and photographer Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert). Recognizing the young lady, Bradley at first charms her for the exclusive story he visualizes writing. But after (innocently) sharing his quarters with her that night, he finds he's falling in love, and selfish thoughts dissipate as they experience Rome together. The princess not only lets down her long tresses, but also gets a more fashionable cut, as she blossoms to embrace a man-and a way of life-she knows she cannot keep. At the movie's close, having reluctantly resumed her appointed duties, she faces Joe and Irving at a dignified press conference where they can only verbalize their feelings about their mutual Roman holiday in guarded formalities. Roman Holiday won glowing notices and became an immediate hit when it opened in the late summer of 1953 at New York's vast Radio City Music Hall. Gregory Peck's initial perception that it was an actress's vehicle was officially confirmed. Nominated for no less than ten Academy Awards, it brought Paramount Pictures three Oscars-for Best Actress Audrey Hepburn, Edith Head's costume designs, and the original story by "Ian McLellan Hunter." The New York Film Critics Circle named Hepburn 1953's Best Actress. Unexpectedly serving as prepublicity for Roman Holiday during its 1952 production was the real-life conflict between love and royal obligation that split Britain's Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend. In 1993, a posthumous Oscar was properly credited and given to blacklisted Hollywood Ten author Dalton Trumbo, who actually wrote the marvelous screenplay.

  • William Wyler, well know for his perfectionist way and countless takes of each scene was only modified by the horders of Roman gawkers who were always on hand, as Gregory Peck recalled: "One of the first scenes we shot was at the Piazza di Spagna.. . . There were at least 10,000 people assembled at the foot of the Spanish Steps and in the street. The police couldn't stop them from whistling and heckling. For Audrey and me, it was like acting in a huge amphitheater before a packed house of rowdies. I asked her if she didn't find it very intimidating. "No, not at all. . ." She took it as calmly and serenely as a real princess would have....Italians are all born film actors [and] were quite hands-on about the whole thing.... Wyler would say, "Good, that's it, print it." They might say, "No, no, no, let's have another one." Or Wyler would say, "Let's do it again," and they'd say, "No, no, molto bene!"-they wanted to print that one. And Wyler usually followed their advice."

  • In 1987, NBC had the misguided notion of remaking Roman Holiday as a television movie, starring Tom Conti, Catherine Oxenberg, and Ed Begley Jr., in the respective Peck, Hepburn, and Albert roles. In the opinion of one national critic, this was "not even a reasonable facsimile" of the original.

  • According to Barry Paris: "Her Roman Holiday test took place at Pinewwod Studio in London, September 18, 1951, under Dickinson's direction. "We did some scenes out of the script," he said, but "Paramount also wanted to see what Audrey was actually like not acting a part, so I did an interview with her. We loaded a thousand feet of film into a camera and every foot of it went on this conversation. She talked about her experiences in the war, the Allied raid on Arnhem, and hiding out in a cellar. A deeply moving thing.""
    All of which was a prelude to the real test: In order to assess the spontaneous Audrey, Wyler had instructed Dickinson to keep the film rolling when she thought she was finished. After a scene in which the princess flings herself onto her bed, Audrey was told she could relax and leave. But she stayed put.

    "I didn't hear anybody say 'Cut!"' she said. "Only one man here has the right to say `Cut' [and] I won't move until I hear him."

    "Cut!" said Dickinson. But the camera kept rolling as Audrey sat up in her royal bed, stretched sexily, clasped her hands around her knees, smiled and asked how she'd done.

    Lionel Murton, who played the Gregory Peck part for the purposes of the audition, was also smiling. "This little doe-eyed charmer is a very smart cookie," he thought to himself. "She knows perfectly well that the camera is still running-and is giving it the works."

    The test results were flown to Rome, where Wyler found them irresistible: "First, she played the scene from the script, then you heard someone yell 'Cut!' but the take continued. She jumped up in bed and asked, 'How was it? Was I any good?' She saw that everybody was so quiet and the lights were still on. Suddenly, she realized the camera was still running and we got that reaction, too.... She had everything I was looking for charm, innocence and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting, and we said, 'That's 
    the girl!"'"

Cast

Audrey Hepburn: Princess Ann
Gregory Peck: Joe Bradley
Eddie Albert: Irving Radovich
Tulio Carminati: Gen. Provno
Margaret Rawlings: Countess Vereberg
Paolo Carlini: Mario Delani
Hartley Power: Mr Hennessey
Harcout Williams: Ambassador
Claudio Ermelli: Giovanni
Heinz Hindrich: Dr. Bonnachoven
Alfredo Rizzo: Taxi Driver

Credits

Producer-Director: William Wyler
Associate Producer: Robert Wyler
Screenwriter: Dalton Trumbo (but officially credited to Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton); Based on a story by Dalton Trumbo
Cinematographers: Franz F. Planer and Henri Alekan
Editor: Robert Swink
Art Directors: Hal Pereira and Walter Tyler
Music: Georges Auric
Running Time: 119 minutes

Awards

Academy

Winners
Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn
Best Costume Design: Edith Head
Best Original Story: Ian McLellan Hunter

Nominees
Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Albert
Best Editing: Robert E. Swink
Best Original Screenplay: John Digton, Ian McLellan Hunter
Best Director: William Wyler
Best Picture
Best Cinematography: Franz Planer, Henri Alekan
Best Art Direction: Walter Tyler, Hal Pereira

British Academy Awards

Winner
Best British Actress: Audrey Hepburn


New York Film Critics Circle Award

Winner
Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn

Nominees
Best Direction: William Wyler
Best Film


Golden Globe Award

Winner
Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama: Audrey Hepburn

Links

Greatest Films - Roman Holiday (by Tim Dirkis)

Roman Holiday Page (by Tony Hinde)

Roman Holiday - from Crazy 4 Cinema

Roman Holiday (by Keith Dumble)

Roman Holiday (by Jeffrey M. Anderson)

 

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Favorite Audrey Film
Roman Holiday
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War and Peace
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Love in the Afternoon
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Breakfast at Tiffany's
Charade
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Paris When It Sizzles
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