Thursday, February 7, 2008

Target #185: Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler)

TSPDT placing: #829
Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: Dalton Trumbo, John Dighton, Ian McLellan Hunter (front for Dalton Trumbo)
Starring: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings, Tullio Carminati, Paolo Carlini

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

It was about time that I was introduced to one of the silver screen's most graceful beauties. Though I had caught a brief glimpse of her in the Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), I had not yet seen a film featuring the lovely Audrey Hepburn. Indeed, prior to the release of William Wyler's 1953 romantic comedy, Roman Holiday, neither had most American audiences. The role proved one of cinema's most astounding breakthroughs, and, not only did the film receive three Oscars from ten nominations, but among the wins was Audrey Hepburn for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Despite a considerable age difference between the two leading performances {13 years separated Hepburn and Gregory Peck, already considered an acting veteran} the romantic chemistry between the two stars works faultlessly, and the manner in which Joe Bradley's relationship with Princess Ann gradually transforms from frustration to exploitation to love is so incredibly natural that it must represent one of the finest romances of the 1950s - a lovely "backwards" Cinderella story.

Princess Ann (Hepburn) is a royal princess from an unspecified European country. Her past weeks have been dedicated to a gruelling, highly-publicised tour of European capital cities, her every minute tightly scheduled. For the duration of her travels, Ann has been forced to maintain the pretense of an elegant, proper monarch, her time expended on tedious official duties. In an excruciating opening dance sequence, which is later contrasted with the jovial celebrations aboard the barge on the Tiber River, Ann is forced to waltz with a progressively older selection of male dignitaries, each more unattractive than the last. Though we're not explicitly told the princess' age {Hepburn was 24 years old at the time, though her character tries to pass herself off as a school student}, such a lifestyle is understandably ill-suited to such a beautiful young lady. One night, after being given a sedative to quell her restlessness, Ann secretly escapes from her country's embassy and decides to enjoy a stroll through colourful Rome. A gruff newspaper journalist, Joe Bradley (Peck), finds her sleeping on a street bench, and begrudgingly takes her back to his apartment.

Roman Holiday really hits its stride in the second act, once Joe has discovered the Princess' true identity and decides to exploit her innocence for the purposes of an exclusive story. Photojournalist Irving Radovich (Oscar-nominated Eddie Albert, whose performance struck me as surprisingly modern) is dragged along to secretly take photographs, but his apparent inability to take a hint leads to the systematic destruction of his clean clothes. The final touching scene, in which the pair communicate their love and respect for one another through official allusion {"By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live"}, proves particularly powerful. The closing shot, a backward-moving tracking shot following Joe as he retreats from the girl he loves, has a noticeable sense of tragedy about it. Throughout the shot, we are almost waiting for Princess Ann to emerge in the background to proclaim her adoration, but, alas, she never does. After all, life can not always be a fairy-tale, but sometimes one day is enough.

Currently my #3 film of 1953:
1) From Here To Eternity (Fred Zinnemann)
2) I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock)
3) Roman Holiday (William Wyler)
4) The War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin)
5) The Glenn Miller Story (Anthony Mann)

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