For visiting tourists, there’s no place like Rome;
For young Princess Ann, it’s too much like home
And all of the cities in which she’s a slave,
Condemned to repeat boring answers and wave.
Escaping outside for a chance to be free,
She’s found by a grudging reporter, and he
Will grant all her wishes for leisure and fun,
As long as an interview comes, one on one.
But Rome is a place where romances pervade,
And many big plans yield to memories made.
Rating: Not Rated (might as well be G)
One of those acclaimed older movies I’ve never seen before now, Roman Holiday is a renowned classic, and unlike The Philadelphia Story, it deserves that hallowed status. Audrey Hepburn’s original Oscar-winning role, at only about 24 years old, impressed Gregory Peck enough to earn her top billing, even though she was just being introduced. While she deserved it, Peck’s actions also indicate his generosity, and watching two earnest, utterly likable actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age remains a treat, thanks also to a shrewdly written screenplay.
It’s a plot that has been reused many times over in TV shows since: a discontented royal sneaks away for a day of fun and escape. Hepburn looks as regal as the reformed Eliza Doolittle, thanks to her natural beauty and the Oscar-winning costume design, and she performs certain scenes of immaturity splendidly, scenes that could have been ridiculous with a less talented Princess Ann. How she meets reporter Joe Bradley (Peck) is far from ideal, but it sets up quite a few laughs. Once the two of them start touring Rome, though, accompanied by photographer Irving (chuckle-worthy Eddie Albert), the on-location film becomes cinematic sightseeing at its best, despite being in black and white. Piazzas and landmarks like the Spanish Steps and the Mouth of Truth serve as a romantic backdrop for the trio’s jaunt; the famed Mouth of Truth scene made me feel rather ignorant, since I had no idea where its central gag originated (I only knew it from National Treasure: Book of Secrets).
(Some spoilers ahead.) While Bradley’s motivations in escorting Ann around town seem selfish at first, his plans evolve imperceptibly over the course of the day. I kept waiting for him to broach the subject of his demanding an interview, but by the time that opportunity passes, we’re left to wonder what it was that changed his mind. For Bradley and the princess, duty and affection take opposite paths, but loyalty remains their common bond and a common separation. As a romantic comedy, Roman Holiday elicits plenty of smiles but chooses the less predictably rosey path, a bittersweet sendoff that chooses nostalgia over love.
Best line: (Princess Ann) “What do you sell?” (Joe, the newspaper writer) “Er, fertilizer.”
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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