Roman Holiday (1953)
Roman Holiday (1953) was filmed on location in Rome, Italy and, per TCM's host, was shot in black-and-white vs. Technicolor for budgetary reasons. Accordingly, since Gregory Peck had already been hired to play an uncharacteristically light (for him) Cary Grant-like role as the male lead, his romantic counterpart would have to be played by a relative unknown (e.g. someone producer-director William Wyler could get cheaply). Enter Miss Hepburn, who had appeared in barely (or should that be "barely appeared in") a handful of movies since her debut in 1951. But despite her short resume, the actress so impressed her co-star during the course of filming this one that Peck convinced Wyler to put her name above the title with his. Subsequently, the Academy endorsed the actor's assessment when they awarded Hepburn the Best Actress Oscar for her performance. She would go on to earn four more Best Actress nominations, among them the title role opposite Humphrey Bogart and William Holden in Billy Wilder's Sabrina (1954) the following year and as the iconic Holly Golightly (opposite George Peppard) in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), though Hepburn failed to earn a nomination for perhaps her most famous part as Eliza Doolittle in the Warner Bros. musical (adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion) My Fair Lady (1964). She was later voted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (e.g. for her work with UNICEF etc.).
Hepburn's unique, regal beauty made her perfect for the role of Princess Ann in Roman Holiday (1953). The story opens with the young princess at the end of an exhausting, repetitious "public relations" tour of Europe. Having been sheltered all her life, she's quite naturally bored. She'd love to find excitement given her present routine, which is so mundane that a simple faux pas (such as her losing track of a high-heeled shoe before dancing with a head-of-state) causes a stir. Tired of it all, Princess Ann becomes tearfully hysterical at bedtime while going over the next day's agenda with her secretary. Borrowing a plot device from director Norman Krasna's Academy Award winning Original Screenplay for Princess O'Rourke (1943), blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and screenwriters Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton utilized a hypodermic administered sedative (in lieu of too many sleeping pills) to handicap their princess in this one. But that's not where the similarities end: as Krasna did with his title character (played by Olivia de Havilland), once she's out of her protective custody environment, the seemingly inebriated princess falls into the hands of the unawares male protagonist who, fortunately, is chivalrous instead of lecherous, and the romance part of the comedy begins. From there the plots of these two movies diverge - Robert Cummings is a pilot and the conflict is a familiar commoner-that-wants-to-marry-into-royalty routine whereas Peck plays newspaper reporter Joe Bradley who, after learning the identity of the sleeping beauty that just spent the night in his apartment is Princess Ann, fully intends to exploit the situation by selling her exclusive story to his publisher for $5,000 (he doesn't let on that he knows who she is; the princess says her name is Anya and cuts her hair to keep from being recognized in public) - but the end of Roman Holiday (1953) is remarkably similar to a famous romance drama classic.
Princess Ann's whirlwind twenty-four hour vacation in Rome includes Hepburn's spontaneous reaction to Peck's appearing to lose his hand in the Mouth of Truth and several other slapstick sequences: Joe interrupting his photographer friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert's first Oscar nominated Supporting Actor role) to keep him from spilling the beans (e.g. that they know her identity) on several occasions, a harrowing ride on a motorbike through several street vendors such that the three of them end up appearing before a local police chief, and a comedic brawl at an open air nightclub where the princess's countrymen find her (and try to compel her to return with them). She and Joe escape via a canal (my daughter laughed out loud when the princess grabbed her nose and jumped into the water), swimming to the other side, which is (at the very least) a more original way to get the two leads wet for their first kiss than the more stereotypical rainstorm, right? But alas, even though they've fallen in love, it's an impossible situation, so it must end. In a twist on Casablanca (1942), it's her (the princess), not him, with a sense of duty that stops the romance in its tracks ... but they'll always have Rome. Upon her return to the embassy, it's clear that she's matured quite a bit (after just one day on the outside) as she alters the bedtime ritual. But he too is noble and later - when they meet again while back in their respective roles, and Princess Ann learns that Joe is a reporter - he conveys that her secrets are safe with him (e.g. he isn't going to write about their exploits together, despite his need for the money), and then Irving gives the princess the pictures he'd surreptitiously taken as mementos of her holiday.
Like Grant before him, Peck's understated performance in this romantic comedy went unrecognized in a year in which actors in two different war movies, and two others featuring Romans, were instead. Edith Head won her fourth of eight Academy Awards (from 34 nominations) for her B&W Costume Design (love those striped pajamas!), and Trumbo's widow was eventually presented the Oscar for his Motion Picture Story, which was originally given to Hunter, who'd fronted for the blacklisted writer. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, as was director Wyler, the aforementioned screenplay writers, editor Robert Swink, its B&W Art Direction-Set Decoration & Cinematography. Plus, it was added to the National Film Registry in 1999. At least AFI voters did recognize it as the fourth best love story of all time.
© 2007 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog