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Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday(1953)

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teaser Roman Holiday (1953)


On a visit to Rome during a goodwill tour of European capital cities, Princess Ann momentarily plays hooky from her royal duties. Running away from her regimented schedule, the princess wants nothing more than to blend in and experience the Eternal City like an ordinary citizen. When she falls asleep on a park bench, she is rescued by Joe Bradley, an American reporter assigned to do a story on her - only, he doesn't know that the beautiful young girl asleep in his apartment is the princess herself! Once he realizes his good fortune, Bradley decides to get his story by taking the unsuspecting princess on a Roman adventure that she will never forget. What he doesn't plan on is falling in love with her.

Director: William Wyler
Producer: William Wyler
Screenplay: Ian McLellan Hunter, John Dighton, (From a story by Dalton Trumbo)
Cinematography: Franz Planer, Henri Alekan
Editing: Robert Swink
Art Direction: Hal Pereira, Walter Tyler
Music: Georges Auric
Cast: Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley), Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann), Eddie Albert (Irving Radovich), Hartley Power (Mr. Hennessy), Harcourt Williams (Ambassador), Margaret Rawlings (Countess Vereberg), Tullio Carminati (General Provno), Paolo Carlini (Mario Delani), Claudio Ermelli (Giovanni), Paola Borboni (Charwoman), Alfredo Rizzo (Taxicab Driver), Laura Solari (Hennessey's Secretary), Gorella Gori (Shoe Seller), Heinz Hindrich (Dr. Bonnachoven), John Horne (Master of Ceremonies).
BW-118 m.

Why ROMAN HOLIDAY is Essential

Roman Holiday is the film that introduced Audrey Hepburn to the world and made her an instant star. The Belgian-born actress was a total unknown before Roman Holiday, having acted in only a few bit parts in European films and some minor roles on stage. Audiences everywhere fell in love with her, and she won an Academy Award for her performance.

Roman Holiday marked the beginning of Audrey Hepburn as a bona fide style icon. Her brunette hair and slim figure gave her a unique gamine look that set her apart from other actresses of her time. Her haircut and clothes in Roman Holiday influenced fashion, and women everywhere began to copy her look.

Roman Holiday is often hailed as the perfect film romance. A modern twist on the Cinderella story, the movie is a simple tale of a young princess incognito, experiencing the world on her own.

Director William Wyler insisted on shooting Roman Holiday on location in Italy, something that was quite rare to do at the time. Though Paramount offered to build sets, Wyler was adamant that no set could ever capture the ancient beauty of the Eternal City. Roman Holiday gave American filmgoers a chance to get an insider's glimpse of Rome at a time when it wasn't that common to travel internationally. According to a July 1952 New York Times article, Roman Holiday was the first Hollywood film to be shot and processed entirely in Italy.

Roman Holiday marked the first comedy that William Wyler had made since The Gay Deception in 1935, and it marked a triumphant return to the genre for him.

Roman Holiday was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won three, including Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn), Best Costume Design (Edith Head), and Best Original Screenplay (Ian McLellan Hunter/Dalton Trumbo).

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Roman Holiday (1953)

Audrey Hepburn's simple yet elegant style was imitated by women the world over as a result of her appearance in Roman Holiday.

Roman Holiday was the first time most Americans were introduced to the Italian Vespa. It started a trend for American college students, academics and artists who began using the Italian motor scooter as their preferred mode of transportation.

Audiences were intrigued by the similarities in the story of Roman Holiday to the real life royal soap opera going on at the time with Britain's Princess Margaret (sister of Queen Elizabeth). Margaret was seeing a divorced commoner, but royal duty forced them to ultimately split up, a story that was romanticized by the press.

In 1960, Roman Holiday played at the Lenin Sports Palace in Moscow where it highlighted an American cultural exchange program with the Soviet Union.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, President John F. Kennedy reportedly requested a private viewing of the film at the White House as he awaited an answer to his blockade ultimatum.

In the 1970s, both Peck and Hepburn were approached with the idea of doing a sequel that would have seen Princess Ann and Joe reunite, but the idea never came to fruition.

Roman Holiday was remade for television in 1987 starring Catherine Oxenberg and Tom Conti.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Roman Holiday (1953)

When filming the scene where the princess (Audrey Hepburn) says her goodbyes to Joe, the inexperienced Hepburn was unable to produce the tears required for the scene. William Wyler, in order to get the response he was looking for, spoke harshly to her. His anger shocked Hepburn, who promptly cried just the way Wyler was looking for.

Jean Simmons was briefly considered for the role of Princess Ann.

William Wyler's daughters, Judy and Catherine, appear in the background during the scene where Gregory Peck tries to borrow a camera from some school children.Joe pays a price of 1000 lire to the taxi driver and tips him another 1000 which is equal to approximately 17 U.S. dollars.Gregory Peck met his second wife, Veronique Passani, while making Roman Holiday. Passani was a journalist assigned to interview the married Peck, and the two fell in love. They married in 1955 and remained together until Peck's death in 2003.

Both Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges are rumored to have worked uncredited on the screenplay.

Even though Gregory Peck was the star and was already guaranteed top billing, he saw what was happening with Audrey Hepburn and knew that when the film opened, it wouldn't be him that the press and audiences would be focusing on. He therefore insisted that Hepburn's name appear alongside his above the title. He later explained that it wasn't so much an act of generosity as it was just being logical. He believed that once Roman Holiday came out, it would look ridiculous for him to say that his was the starring role, when it was clearly all about Miss Hepburn.

Roman Holiday premiered at Radio City Music Hall in August of 1953 to rave reviews, and Audrey Hepburn became an instant sensation. Time put Hepburn on its cover--unusual for a newcomer--and women all over the world began to emulate her style.

In 1992 the Screenwriters Guild finally awarded authorship to the rightful author of the Roman Holiday screenplay, Dalton Trumbo. The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to amend its records and awarded a posthumous Oscar® to Trumbo's wife Cleo at a special screening of the film held at the Academy in 1993.

Famous Quotes from ROMAN HOLIDAY

"You should always wear my clothes." - Gregory Peck, as Joe
"It seems I do."

Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann.

"She's fair game, Joe. It's always open season on princesses." Eddie Albert, as Irving Radovich, to Gregory Peck's Joe.

"Do you have a silk nightgown with rosebuds?" - Princess Ann
"I haven't worn a nightgown in years!" Joe Bradley.

"Which of the cities visited did Your Highness enjoy the most?" - Reporter
"Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to...Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live. " Princess Ann.

"Were I not entirely aware of my duty to my family and to my country, I would not have come back tonight... or indeed ever again! " Audrey Hepburn, as Princess Ann.

"I have to leave you now. I'm going to that corner there and turn. You must stay in the car and drive away. Promise not to watch me go beyond the corner. Just drive away and leave me as I leave you." Princess Ann to Joe Bradley.

"I'm a good liar too, aren't I, Mr. Bradley?"
"The best I ever met." Princess Ann and Joe Bradley.

"At midnight, I'll turn into a pumpkin and drive away in my glass slipper."
"And that will be the end of the fairy tale." Princess Ann and Joe Bradley.

"I have every faith in it as I have faith in relations between people." - Princess Ann
"May I say, speaking for my own press service, we believe that your Highness' faith will not be unjustified." - Joe
"I am so glad to hear you say it." Princess Ann.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Roman Holiday (1953)

Though he wouldn't receive official credit for it until more than 35 years after the release of Roman Holiday (and 15 years following his death), writer Dalton Trumbo was the story and idea man behind this film. Trumbo had been a very successful screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1930s and 40s. However, when he was investigated by the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), a group dedicated to uncovering suspected Communist sympathizers within the entertainment community, Trumbo's career was ruined. His refusal to testify before the organization and name names made him a part of the Hollywood Ten--a group of industry professionals who all refused to testify before HUAC. As a result, Trumbo was blacklisted from working within the entertainment industry and was forced to serve time in jail.

"Dalton was flat broke," recalled his wife Cleo. "He had just emerged from ten months in jail for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. His only solution was to write." One of the original stories the blacklisted Trumbo pounded out during this dark period was Roman Holiday. He knew it was a winner, but because of his blacklisted status, he could not sell the script with his own name attached.

To deal with this problem, Trumbo did what many of the blacklisted writers of the time did: he asked a friend to front for him. Trumbo asked fellow writer Ian McLellan Hunter to put his name on the script and sell it for him. Hunter was a bit conflicted about the deception, but in the end he decided to do it. "If something's phony," said Hunter, "it drives me crazy. But I was stuck...Your friend is blacklisted and he needs money."

Hunter had no trouble selling the charming story, which was purchased by Frank Capra's company, Liberty Films, for $50,000. Hunter was put on salary by Paramount, and he began working on a rewrite of the screenplay while Frank Capra worked on putting the picture together with himself as director and Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor in the leading roles. Many sources claim that Capra eventually abandoned the project, which would have been his second feature for Paramount, due to the strict budget limitations placed on him. While that may have been part of it, Ian McLellan Hunter always maintained that Capra was just too afraid to make Roman Holiday because of its association with a leftist writer. "He was scared that people would say he had nothing but Communist stuff," said Hunter.

Whatever the reason, Capra decided to let this particular project go. Paramount paid Liberty Films $35,000 for the story rights and decided to let another director have a crack at it. "They passed it around to see who wanted it," recalled William Wyler. "I'm not sure they offered it to George Stevens. But they offered it to me-I was looking for a story-and I liked it." William Wyler, then, became the new director of Roman Holiday. Wyler, who was an established Academy Award®-winning director of films such as Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Detective Story (1951), was looking forward to making a comedy, which he hadn't done since The Gay Deception in 1935.

Wyler set the condition with Paramount that he would only make Roman Holiday if he could shoot it on location in Rome. Frank Freeman, the Paramount Studio Chief at the time, was against location shooting for budgetary and logistical reasons. Freeman suggested that Wyler instead send a second unit to Rome for long shots using doubles for the actors while shooting everything else in the Hollywood studio with sets and rear projection. To that Wyler reportedly said, "You can't build me the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps. I'll shoot the whole picture in Rome or else I won't make it." He knew there would be no faking the timeless beauty of the Eternal City.

Finally, Paramount relented, allowing Wyler to shoot the film in Rome as long as he financed it with some blocked funds that the studio had in Italy. Using the funds meant that the Italian government would have to approve the script before freeing any money, and the budget was set at approximately $1,000,000. It was important to the Italian government that Italy not be made fun of or depicted in a negative manner. Annibale Scicluna, head of the Italian Ministry of Entertainment, didn't approve the script at first. "You can't block money to make fun of Italy," she told Wyler. "You make fun of Italian police, of the Italian people." Wyler responded, "That's right, but we also make fun of an American newspaperman, of American tourists. We make fun of royalty. We make fun of everybody. It's a comedy!" With Wyler's promise to not do anything to demean the Italian people, the funds were freed so the film could go forward.Wyler always knew that he wanted an unknown in the starring role of Princess Ann and felt that using an unfamiliar actor would help audiences more easily believe the character's royal status. However, to use an unknown was risky, and that meant he would first need the male lead to be an established star to lend weight to the project.

Cary Grant had originally been approached to play the role of American journalist Joe Bradley back when Frank Capra planned to direct. However, Grant turned it down, noting that the male lead in Roman Holiday would be inconsequential compared to the role of Princess Ann. William Wyler later offered the part to established star Gregory Peck, who initially balked for the same reason Cary Grant did: his part was secondary to the role of the princess. In an interview 30 years later Peck recalled that he often played second fiddle to Cary Grant, too. "I always felt every time someone sent me a comedy script," said Peck with a twinkle, "that Cary Grant had seen it first and had turned it down." Eventually, however, Wyler convinced Peck to take the role.

Once Gregory Peck was securely onboard, Wyler began preparations to shoot in Rome. At the same time, Wyler began looking for his Princess Ann. He wanted a girl with grace and elegance who had a non-American accent-a girl you could truly believe was a princess. On his way to Rome, Wyler stopped in London to see several actresses for the part, including a young doe-eyed ingnue named Audrey Hepburn.

The head of Paramount's London production office, Richard Mealand, had already written the home office about a new actress he was considering for the role: "I have another candidate for Roman Holiday--Audrey Hepburn," he wrote. "I was struck by her playing of a bit part in Laughter in Paradise." At the time, Hepburn was a complete unknown, having only done a few bit parts in European-made films and a few insignificant stage roles. Wyler set up a meeting with her. Years later Hepburn recalled getting the call from her agent: "He told me a movie was going to be made called Roman Holiday," she said. "They wanted an unknown, and they were going to test a great many girls. To get the test I had to meet a man named William Wyler. I had no idea who he was. So one day I got an appointment to go to Claridge's. I went up to his room wearing my one and only proper dress. I was quite apprehensive."

The meeting went well, and Wyler was impressed, finding Hepburn "very alert, very smart, very talented, and very ambitious." As Wyler flew on to Rome to begin preparations for the shoot, he ordered a screen test of the lovely 22-year-old Hepburn to be shot at Pinewood Studios. In a now legendary move, Wyler told the British director Thorold Dickinson, who was to shoot the screen test, to keep the camera rolling once Hepburn thought that the test was over. He wanted to see what she was like when the cameras stopped rolling to get a sense of her natural, relaxed state, which he believed was crucial to how her personality would translate on film. "A test is a precarious thing," Wyler explained later. "A good actress might make a very bad test, depending on conditions. You might not get her true personality, because of nervousness or whatever." The ploy worked. Once she thought the test was over, Thorold told Hepburn to change her clothes and come back for a casual chat. During their conversation in which they discussed her life including her experiences during World War II, Hepburn only became aware that the camera was still rolling about halfway through their talk.

Once Paramount executives and William Wyler saw Hepburn's screen test, they were sold. "She was absolutely delightful," said Wyler. "Acting, looks, and personality! She was absolutely enchanting and we said, 'That's the girl!'" Though some sources say that Wyler was also seriously considering actress Suzanne Cloutier for the part, it was Hepburn they were excited about. The Hollywood Paramount office sent a cable to the London office that said, "Exercise the option on this lady. The test is certainly one of the best ever made in Hollywood, New York or London."

If there was one concern that Wyler had with Hepburn's screen test, it was a surprising one considering her iconic image today. He thought that Hepburn might be too heavy. The screen test does betray Hepburn at probably the heaviest she was ever captured on film, though she was far from overweight. When she discovered this impression of her from Wyler much later, she confessed that she had been eating a little too much at the time. "I ate everything in sight," she said, "having been undernourished during the war. You know, whole boxes of chocolates. I was ten pounds more than I ever weighed in my life. It's funny to think I might not have gotten the part because I was too fat, because from then on everybody thought I was too thin."

There was one thing preventing Audrey Hepburn from starting production on Roman Holiday immediately. Earlier that same year Hepburn had been spotted by the famous French writer Colette while on location in Monaco shooting a small role for a French made picture. Colette had been looking for a young ingnue to play the title role in the Broadway stage adaptation of her beloved story Gigi. She, like Wyler, had taken one look at her and known that she had found her girl. Hepburn had already committed to doing the role in New York when she got the offer for Roman Holiday.

Paramount, happy to have finally found the ideal screen princess, signed Hepburn to do Roman Holiday following her stint on Broadway in Gigi, regardless of how long the play ran - a big risk for the studio that displayed tremendous faith in their new find. The studio initially offered her a 7-year contract, but she thought it was too long of a commitment. Negotiating a deal that was more to her liking, Hepburn wound up with a 2-year movie deal with Paramount with a clause allowing her to act in stage plays and television if she chose. Gigi closed after a successful run of 217 performances, and Hepburn was now free to work on the film that would make her a star.

There was one small problem with Audrey Hepburn that the studios wanted to change. There was another very famous actress already in the film business with the same last name - Katharine Hepburn. The latter was not related in any way to Audrey, but Paramount wanted Audrey to change her last name to avoid confusion. Hepburn, however, refused, and that was that. There would be two Hepburns in Hollywood now.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Roman Holiday (1953)

Filming began on Roman Holiday in Italy during the summer of 1952. Despite the sweltering heat, it was a positive experience for the entire cast and crew. Being so far away from the studio system in Hollywood gave director William Wyler a certain freedom without anyone breathing down his neck with unwanted feedback. This freedom contributed to the playful, light spirit of the film.

Though Audrey Hepburn admitted to being intimidated by the level of talent with which she was surrounded, she was a complete professional and everyone welcomed her. "Everyone on the set of Roman Holiday was in love with Audrey," said co-star Gregory Peck. "We did that one picture together, and I think it was the happiest experience I ever had on a movie set."

The unique experience of shooting on location in Rome inspired many of the cast and crew to bring along their families that summer. William Wyler brought his wife and daughters, Gregory Peck brought his wife and three boys, and Eddie Albert brought his wife and infant son along. "Working for Willy in Rome was nothing but joy," recalled Eddie Albert, who played Peck's photographer friend in the film. "It was a pity to take the fee."

The location shoot, though plagued with gawking tourists and paparazzi, heat and noise, turned out to be a tremendous asset to the picture. Inspired by shooting outdoors, Wyler used the ancient buildings and streets of Rome for an authentic and colorful backdrop to his romantic story. He took advantage of the city and made use of the sidewalk cafes, the Forum, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and Boca Della Verita. He even had some of the Italian locals work as background extras. He was inspired by these locals to shoot a scene where Peck and Hepburn take an energetic ride around town on a Vespa, a French motor scooter that was the common mode of transportation in the city. It became one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.

Though Wyler generally liked to stick to the script, the location shooting allowed a great deal of room for spontaneity in order to take advantage of any wonderful new discoveries he happened to come across. "Filming in Rome in those days was marvelous," said Wyler. "There were practically no automobiles, only Vespas. For every scene I could have had six locations, and each one was better than the other." When he wasn't making use of the beautiful Roman outdoors, Wyler used the newly renovated Cinecitta studios to shoot interiors.

A good example of this spontaneity while shooting is the film's famous scene that takes place at the Boca Della Verita (Mouth of Truth), an ancient stone monument at the entrance of an old church. The legend of it said that if a liar put his hand inside the mouth, he would lose the hand. A truthful person, however, would have nothing to fear. Wyler said that he had gone sightseeing one day with his daughters to the monument and played a joke on them, sticking his hand into the mouth and pulling it out with his hand hidden under his sleeve. The joke terrified and delighted them. "So I thought there must be a place for this in the picture," said Wyler. "Especially since it's a story of two people who lie to each other."

Gregory Peck remembers the gag's origins differently, however. He stated that he was the one who suggested the trick to Wyler, which was an old comedy bit from Red Skelton. So, during the scene where Peck and Hepburn visit the Mouth of Truth, Peck decided to play the gag on Hepburn without warning her ahead of time. The ruse worked, and the camera forever immortalized Hepburn's genuine shock, just before she dissolves into fits of laughter.

This spontaneity meant that the final script was always somewhat of a work in progress. Ian McLellan Hunter, who had fronted for original writer Dalton Trumbo, had worked on rewrites of the screenplay when Frank Capra owned the property. Once William Wyler took over the project, however, Trumbo had no further direct involvement on the script. Wyler instead hired a British writer named John Dighton to come on location to work on the screenplay. "We had Dighton in Rome with us all the time," recalled the editor of Roman Holiday, Bob Swink. "He was writing new scenes, new lines, whatever it took. The picture was kind of put together as it went along."

After Roman Holiday was well under way, Wyler supposedly regretted his decision to shoot the film in black and white and considered switching to color stock at the last minute. "I tried to switch," Wyler was later quoted, "but in those days, making pictures in color was unusual. I would have needed new filmstock, had to fly exposed film every day to London, and reorganize the production. It was just too late." Other sources contend, however, that Wyler always wanted to shoot the film in color, but budget restrictions imposed by Paramount prevented him the indulgence.

As filming went on, it became more and more clear to everyone involved that Roman Holiday was going to make Audrey Hepburn a huge star. There was even talk that she might win an Academy Award. Paramount's publicity machine kicked in before Roman Holiday was even completed to start promoting their beautiful new screen discovery.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Roman Holiday (1953)


Roman Holiday was selected in 1999 for inclusion in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

Roman Holiday received ten Academy Award nominations. It won 3. Audrey Hepburn won for Best Actress, Edith Head won for Best Costume Design, and Ian McLellan Hunter won for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story. In 1993 the film's rightful author, Dalton Trumbo, was awarded an Oscar posthumously for the screenplay.

BAFTA awarded Audrey Hepburn with honors as Best British Actress for her role in Roman Holiday. BAFTA also nominated Roman Holiday for Best Film, and nominated both Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert for Best Foreign Actor.

William Wyler was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.

Audrey Hepburn won a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Drama.

The New York Film Critics Circle named Audrey Hepburn Best Actress for her performance.

The screenplay won the Writers Guild of America (WGA) award for Best Written American Comedy.

The American Film Institute named Roman Holiday #4 on its list of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time.


"Call Roman Holiday a credit to William Wyler's versatility...Audrey a slender, elfin and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike in her profound appreciation of newly-found simple pleasures and love...Gregory Peck makes a stalwart and manly escort and lover." The New York Times.

"Paramount has a winner in this William Wyler romantic comedy-drama...Wyler used the ancient buildings and streets of Rome as a colorful and beautiful backdrop...He times the chuckles with a never-flagging pace, puts heart into the laughs, endows the footage with some off bits of business and points up some tender, poignant scenes in using the smart script and the cast to the utmost advantage." -- Variety.

"Charming...Probably no one could have brought out her [Hepburn's] 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 in thrall, and when she smiles we're all goners...The plot is banal, and the movie is no more than a Cinderella-style romantic comedy, but it's enough." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

"...entertaining romantic comedy..." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films.

"Wispy, charming, old-fashioned romantic comedy shot in Rome and a little obsessed by the locations; one feels that a studio base would have resulted in firmer control of the elements. The stars, however, made it memorable." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

"While Capra, or in a different way Lubitsch, could have made something wholly enjoyable from it, it would seem that Wyler's technique is now too ponderously inflexible for such lightweight material." - MFB (Monthly Film Bulletin).

"Utterly charming." - Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide.

"Filmed entirely in Rome, the location does rather dominate the movie. But within time the mix of silly comedy and innocent love turns the viewer into a willing tourist. It's a trip that's over all too soon, but is a delightful escape for all concerned." - BBC,

"William Wyler's 1953 reverse-Cinderella story Roman Holiday also spends as much time exploring a European wonderland as it spends advancing its plot, though in Wyler's case, the story is in the exploring...Wyler, working from a script by blacklistee Dalton Trumbo, lets much of the film pass without dialogue, allowing Hepburn's immediate reactions (as enchantingly passionate now as they were 50 years ago, in what was her Hollywood debut) and her increasing physical closeness to Peck say what the characters can't. The leisurely pace of Roman Holiday also allows for plenty of touristy gawking at the sights of Rome, and for viewers to project themselves into the sidewalk cafs, gelato stands, and crumbling ruins." - Noel Murray, The Onion A.V. Club.

"The film's bittersweet story is a charming romantic-comedy, a kind of Cinderella tale in reverse (with an April-October romance)...The story was reportedly based on the real-life Italian adventures of British Princess Margaret." - Tim Dirks, The Greatest Films,

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Roman Holiday (1953)

Audrey Hepburn made one of the most successful Hollywood debuts of all time in Roman Holiday (1953), an enchanting romantic comedy often described as Cinderella in reverse. The role of a princess who runs from her royal retainers to experience the joys of real-life during one glorious day in Rome was an unparalleled showcase for the young actress, making her an international star and bringing her an Oscar®.

The project had been conceived by Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted writer who had been part of the original "Hollywood Ten," filmmakers who went to prison and lost their careers for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Over the years, Trumbo wrote several scripts under pseudonyms or through fronts, friends who paid him for scripts they then submitted as their own. In this case, he had Ian McLellan Hunter submit the script for him. Director Frank Capra picked up the project for his recently formed independent production company, Liberty Films. McLellan gave Trumbo the entire $50,000 fee for the story (many fronts were far less generous), then went on contract to write the first draft.

Capra planned to direct Roman Holiday, a story with a strong resemblance to his earlier hit It Happened One Night (1934), with Elizabeth Taylor as the princess and Cary Grant as the reporter who takes her under his wing to get a story. Then Liberty ran into financial difficulties with its first release, Capra's State of the Union (1948). The director sold the company and its undeveloped properties to Paramount Pictures, hoping to make Roman Holiday for them. But Hollywood was tightening its belt to deal with the declining box office of the post-war years, and the studio would not give him a budget of more than $1.5 million, so he dropped out. Later biographers have suggested that the ultra-conservative Capra had discovered the story's true author and did not want to get mixed up with a blacklisted writer.

Paramount then offered the project to William Wyler, who accepted on condition that they shoot the film entirely on location. This would provide advantages for both director and studio. It allowed Paramount to make the film with European assets that had been frozen after the war, while Wyler got to take advantage of a recent law exempting U.S. citizens from paying income taxes if they worked out of the country for 18 months or more. As a result, Roman Holiday was the first U.S. picture since World War II shot entirely in Rome

Wyler's first choice for the male lead was Gregory Peck, a matinee idol who was looking for a comedy to follow a string of action films. But Peck initially turned the role down, feeling that the female lead was clearly the film's star. Wyler shamed him into accepting the role, a change of heart Peck would never regret.

Jean Simmons was the first actress Wyler pursued for the role of Princess Ann, but she was currently under contract to Howard Hughes at RKO Pictures. Her schedule and Hughes's financial demands made the casting impossible. The director then decided the role needed to be played by a newcomer. Passing through England on his way to scout Roman locations, he interviewed five young actresses and was so impressed with Hepburn he suggested the studio place her under contract even if she didn't do Roman Holiday. Unable to film her screen test himself, he left instructions that the cameras be kept running after she had finished her scenes. As a result, he got to see how her personality registered spontaneously. The results were magical, as she kidded around with the crew after the take and then realized the cameras were still turning. Wyler asked that Paramount sign her for the film.

There was only one problem. Hepburn had just signed with a Broadway producer to star in Gigi, a stage adaptation of some stories by the French writer Colette, who had personally selected Hepburn for the role. She was committed for the Broadway run and a possible tour that could keep her tied up for two years. Fortunately, Peck was experiencing production delays on The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) that meant holding up production anyway. Paramount executives convinced Gigi's producer to postpone the show's tour so they could film as soon as Hepburn had finished the play's Broadway run. When it became a hit, they even paid him not to extend the run into the summer. The payment was well worth it, as the delayed tour drummed up publicity for the film.

Although she had appeared in seven European films, including the classic comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Hepburn knew she was still a newcomer and put herself completely in Wyler's hands. She found his tendency to shoot as many as 40 takes of a single scene the perfect way to perfect her film acting technique. For his part, he conspired with Peck to add surprising bits of business to the scenes so that he could capture her spontaneous responses. The most famous of these is the scene at the "Mouth of Truth," a statue that, according to legend, would devour the hand of any liar foolish enough to put his or her hand in its mouth. Although the script called for Peck to put his hand in the mouth and pretend he couldn't get it out, Peck and Wyler added a bit in which he hides his hand within his jacket sleeve, making it appear that the statue really has eaten it. Hepburn responded with genuine horror followed by uninhibited laughter when Peck revealed the joke. For once, Wyler got a scene in just one take.

There were problems, however, when Hepburn had to cry during the scene in which she finally leaves Peck. They worked for hours, but the tears wouldn't come, not even when the makeup man sprayed camphor in her eyes. Finally, Wyler chewed her out in front of the entire crew. Humiliated, Hepburn got the tears on the next take, after which Wyler apologized.

Peck was so impressed with Hepburn's work he called his agent during production and demanded that she be given equal billing to his. At first, Paramount executives resisted, but when they saw the rushes, they realized that her performance was going to sell the picture as surely as would Peck's name. The two stars became close friends during the filming and would remain so for years. In fact, when Peck's marriage broke up during his European stay, rumors flew that Hepburn had stolen him from his wife. In truth, the marriage had been in trouble for some time, and shortly after finishing the film, Peck fell in love with French journalist Veronique Passani, who would be his wife for almost 50 years. He also introduced Hepburn to actor-director Mel Ferrer, who would become her first husband.

Roman Holiday did indeed make Hepburn a star, also bringing her the New York Film Critics Award, a Golden Globe, a British Academy Award and an Oscar®. Surprisingly, it wasn't a huge hit in the U.S., though that would be more than made up for by its success overseas. On its initial run, it was one of the most popular U.S. films shown in Europe. It was a hit all over again in Moscow in 1960. And it was a surprise hit in Japan, where young women just beginning to feel the need for independence chose Hepburn as their role model. Years later, Wyler was amazed to tour Japan and see women there wearing her hairstyle from the film.

Along with Hepburn, the film won an Oscar® for its original story, though the award only went to credited writer Hunter. Eventually, Trumbo's authorship came out, and the Motion Picture Academy presented an Oscar® to his widow at a 1993 screening of the film. His name was added to the credits for the film's 2002 DVD release.

Producer: William Wyler
Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Ian McLellan Hunter, John Dighton
Based on a story by Hunter [Dalton Trumbo]
Cinematography: Franz Planer, Henri Alekan
Art Direction: Hal Pereira, Walter Tyler
Music: Georges Auric, Victor Young (uncredited)
Cast: Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley), Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann), Eddie Albert (Irving Radovich), Hartley Power (Mr. Hennessy), Laura Solari (Hennessy's Secretary), Harcourt Williams (Ambassador), Margaret Rawlings (Countess Vereberg).
BW-119m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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