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Monday, January 14, 2008

Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday was a movie that brought a major star to American attention. Audrey Hepburn was an almost unknown to the American public at that time; she had appeared on American television in 1952 - a CBS Television Workshop production of Rainy Day in Paradise Junction. However, she was still an unknown, and then here comes this Oscar winning role introducing this great beauty in a role that gave her plenty of screen time. To a large extent, the role is written to allow an actress plenty of freedom, and Audrey Hepburn utilized this role to the maximum possible.
A lot of people know the concept of Cinderella, where a commoner can become like royalty for the night, but then has to get back to being a commoner after a few hours. There is also the reverse story, where royalty wants to get away from it all, and be able to enjoy life like a commoner. Popular imagination has it that being a royal means a life away from stress, but this movie presents a very rigid and structured life as royalty, enough to get people to revolt against this stiff life and want to break free.

Roman Holiday (1953)
The movie was produced and directed by a famous director, William Wyler. Wyler is known for directing a number of movies such as Dodsworth (1936), Jezebel (1938), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Letter (1940), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Heiress (1949), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Ben-Hur (1959) and Funny Girl (1968). Seeing this list, you can get an idea of the variety of movies directed by Wyler.
The combination of royalty, and a light-hearted romance that does not end in the usual marriage, but results in a bond that is not destined to progress beyond each other's heart managed to get a total of 10 Academy Award nominations, out of which it won 3 of these awards.
1. Best Actress Oscar (Audrey Hepburn)
2. Best Original Story (Ian McLellan Hunter, later in 1982 given to the earlier black-listed Dalton Trumbo)
3. Best B/W Costume Design (Edith Head)
Nominated but did not win:
4. Best Picture
5. Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Albert)
6. Best Director
7. Best Screenplay (Ian McClellan Hunter and John Dighton)
8. Best B/W Cinematography
9. Best B/W Art Direction/Set Decoration
10. Best Film Editing

The movie is essentially about 2 characters, with Audrey Hepburn playing the royal princess of an European country, and Gregory Peck plays a reporter out for a good story, and willing to do what it takes to get the story of the real person behind the process. They meet coincidentally, and slowly fall for each other.
Princess Ann is on a European tour, generating goodwill for her country, meeting people of different countries in Europe, attending different functions, and overall getting very bored with all this. She is hemmed in by officials and her chaperone, not able to do what she wants, being guided on the right things to do. She is chafing at these restrictions, and wants to escape to see what things are really like outside the life that she is forced to live.
She manages to escape her embassy in Rome, and sets out to see the city. However, since she seemed hysterical in the embassy, she is getting drowsy and soon goes off to sleep on a park bench. She is found by reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who like most reporters will do anything for a story. When he sees a girl sleeping on a bench, he takes her to this apartment, where she promptly sleeps on his bed, leaving him the couch. The next day he discovers from his office that he she is a princess who he was supposed to be covering, and he can visualize a great story where the real interests and feelings of a princess can be uncovered. Towards that end, he arranges to have a cameraman follow them discreetly.
He takes her for a trip around Rome, in a way that she would never have seen. She gets a different haircut, see the fountain, drive on a Vespa and have a lot of fun, including some serious discussions on life. They slowly start falling for each other, even though he still has a cameraman recording her movements. After they are tracked by the agents of her Government and manage to escape, she realizes that her time on the loose is up and she will have to back to her responsibilities.
Joe, his love overcoming his inclination to get the story, resists his editors commands to make a story, and the next day, in her press conference, presents her all the photos on the sly. And then she leaves his life forever, leaving him to wonder at what could have been, but would never happen.

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