Released on August 27, 1953, Roman Holiday is probably best known as the film that introduced American audiences to Audrey Hepburn. Director/producer William Wyler (Ben-Hur) had originally wanted Elizabeth Taylor for the role of Princess Ann (‘Anya Smith’) but Hepburn was cast after a screen test. After she had performed a dignified, subdued scene from the film, the director called “cut”, but the cameraman left the camera rolling, showing the young actress suddenly becoming animated as she chatted with the director. The candid footage won her the role; some of it was later included in the original theatrical trailer for the film, along with additional screen test footage showing Hepburn trying on some of Anya’s costumes and even cutting her own hair (referring to a scene in the film where Anya gets a haircut).
Gregory Peck, who at the time was a much bigger star, insisted that Hepburn get equal billing on the film. Peck seemed to understand, that the young actress was going to emerge from the film a star. Emerge a star she did. From the moment American moviegoers saw Audrey on screen, they were enraptured by this thin, elfin like person who would become the epitome of style and grace for a whole generation of women. For her role as Princess Ann, Audrey Hepburn was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress.
In Roman Holiday, Princess Ann (Hepburn) runs away from her royal duties and pretends to be an ordinary girl in Rome. Without her regal dresses and crown, she manages to escape most people’s attention. However, Joe Bradley (Peck), an American reporter, recognizes her, befriends her, and hopes to write a story about his adventures with a member of European royalty. They are joined by Joe’s friend, a photographer (Eddie Albert). Together, the three travel around town, taking in the sights while Ann learns that she can’t expect people to wait on her if she wants to be “ordinary.”
As a longtime Audrey Hepburn fan, I’ve always found Roman Holiday to be light, fun entertainment. While the film is fun, it avoids drifting into just plain silly territory because of Joe’s initial intention to use Ann as a way to advance his career. Hepburn plays her role with an effortlessness and ease that isn’t seen in her later films. Perhaps because this was her first big film and she hadn’t yet established an identity; she didn’t feel the pressure to be the fashion icon and graceful ingénue she would later become. As Ann, Audrey exhibits a natural playfulness and youthful charm that makes Roman Holiday fun to watch.
Was Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Princess Ann truly worthy of a Best Actress Oscar? Truth be told, probably not. There are no truly great dramatic scenes or moments that show her full talents as an actress. The fact is Audrey likely took home an Oscar because of engaging screen manner. However, if wit and charm garner a lot of Oscar votes, Hepburn exudes both those traits in Roman Holiday.
If the film has one drawback, it runs a bit too long. At two hours, it’s probably about ten or fifteen minutes too long. The film gets a bit redundant in telling the audience that Joe and Ann are falling in love. Believe me, their actions and the look in their eyes tell us that, almost from the beginning.
Presented in the 1.37 :1 aspect ratio, Paramount has provided a pleasing presentation. Sharpness is a real positive here. Only a few wider shots exhibited slight softness. Nonetheless, the image was mostly well defined. No issues with shimmering or jagged edges were in evidence. Grain looks natural.
The Dolby True HD Monaural soundtrack sounded good given its age. Speech is concise and natural with no edginess. Music lacks much range but comes across clearly. Effects showed decent definition.
English, Spanish, French, Cantonese, Danish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Simplified Chinese, Swedish, and Thai subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years (HD, 29:55) Audrey’s biography, and her road to Hollywood, through her contract with Paramount that kicked off with her making Roman Holiday.
- Remembering Audrey (HD,12:12) Comments from her son Sean Ferrer and late-in-life companion Robert Wolders talking about their lives with the icon and their thoughts on her background.
- Rome With A Princess (HD, 8:57) A tour of the Roman locations featured in the film.
- Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist (HD, 11:55) The career and personal passions of the author of “Johnny Got His Gun” are discussed by folks like Allan Rich and Marsha Hunt, a blacklisted writer and actress, respectively; Jean Porter Dmytryk and Betty Garrett, wives of blacklisted artists; writer and filmmaker Nicholas Myer; and film professor Jonathan Kuntz.
- Behind The Gates: Costumes (HD, 5:31) A look at the studio’s costume vault.
- Paramount In The ’50s (HD, 9:33) Clips from the biggest films of that era.
- Trailers (HD) Three in total
- Stills Gallery featuring four sections: Production, The Movie, Publicity, and The Premiere.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Movie title: Roman Holiday
Duration: 118 min
Director(s): William Wyler
Actor(s): Gregory Peck , Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama