Blu-ray Review: Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday is one of those Hollywood classics that’s been on a list of film’s I’ve yet to see but warranted a viewing simply because of its status. Now that’s not to say such accolades automatically mean a glowing review simply because it earned such praises beforehand, as some things stand the test of time more than others. For example, Roman Holiday holds the place of #4 on the AFI’s (American Film Institute) greatest love stories of all time and that’s something I honestly can’t fathom on any level. I mean, sure, the list is beyond antiquated, but I don’t even know if I’d qualify Roman Holiday as a love story.

Sure, there’s romance. Not a lot of it, and I’d say it’s more on the level of a feverish, whirlwind holiday romantic spark over anything of actual substance. I feel like it’s more of a wonderfully told, wholly engaging coming-of-age story with romantic connotations than a straight up love story – let alone the fourth greatest love story ever to grace the silver screen.

This is the first time Roman Holiday has been released on Blu-ray and I’ll say that before I delve into the movie I’ll say that the restoration work done by the team at Paramount is fantastic. The image below is a quick visual of the before and after of a shot as the team went through the dupe negative of the original print, cleaning up loads of scratches, dirt and other damage, giving the viewer an absolutely fantastic looking cut of the film – arguably better than it’s ever been before.

This film was one of the first ever on-location motion picture in Hollywood history, and it truly does help the film shine in a way that wouldn’t have been as endearing had it been shot on a soundstage with some random location shots spliced in. Director William Wyler fought for the ability to film it all in Rome, and in doing so he helped elevate the film to another level. Rome is a major character in the film and Wyler knew that having the characters interact on the bustling streets of Rome was the only way to truly do the story justice.

The movie stars Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann, a young woman who is trapped in a never-ending machine of royal obligations and customs that have driven her to the brink. One night while getting ready for bed she snaps at Countess Vereberg, her lady-in-waiting, exhausted by the schedule that lays before her in the days to come. Worried for Princess Ann’s mental state, Verberg calls for the doctor who gives Ann a sedative that will help her sleep. After they leave, Ann sneaks out the window of the Coliseum, desperate to escape into the world of the average Joe for just a couple of hours.

Of course, things don’t go as planned, as the sedative kicks in not long after and Princess Ann passes out on a bench. It’s here that newspaper reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) finds her and attempts to wake her up so she can get home safely. At this point Bradley doesn’t know who she is and simply thinks it’s a young woman who can’t hold her liquor. He flags down a taxi and ends up taking her back to his place as he doesn’t want to leave her alone.

The next day Bradley finds himself late to work due to this whole ordeal, and he’s also missed his appointment to interview the visiting princess. He lies to his boss and says that the interview went off without a hitch, only to be ripped a new one when his boss tells him that the princess cancelled all of her interviews as she’s been pronounced ill. Yes, the royal family wants to keep a lid on Ann escaping in the night, so they’ve released word that she’s sick and indefinitely indisposed.

It’s here that Bradley first sees a picture of the princess and realizes the woman still asleep back at his apartment is indeed Princess Ann herself. He makes a deal with his boss that he can get the inside scoop into the Princess’s deepest desires and personal hopes and dreams in an exclusive interview that would stand out from any other. His boss agrees, however, if Joe comes up short then he’ll owe his boss big.

By this point, some 67 years later, we’re used to this tried and true tale when it comes to romcoms and the likes; however Roman Holiday laid the groundwork for all of them that have come after. That said, I still feel that the romance here takes a backseat to the true focus of the story, which is Princess Ann and her coming into her own as the film progresses, learning to not be afraid to push for what she wants even if she’s bound by duty in the big picture.

Sure these realizations come with the help of her experiences with Bradley throughout the day, though while the chemistry between Hepburn and Peck is fantastic and incredibly natural, it also doesn’t feel romantic. Now I’m sure there are plenty who do view it as incredibly romantic, but I personally just didn’t get that vibe from the characters until the film’s final act, and even then the abrupt romantic turn of Bradley felt disingenuous.

There aren’t really any major moments where it’s clear that Bradley is growing feelings for Ann as the film goes on. Sure he might think she’s sweet, but he’s still just guiding her along in order to get what he needs for his story. Even as their night is coming to an end Bradley lets Ann dance with someone else while he sneaks away to capture photos of them dancing for his exposé. This is incredibly late in the film and he’s still all about the story with no second thoughts about how it may affect the princess. It isn’t until Ann screams for his help while being escorted away rather physically by Her Majesty’s secret service does he jump into action to stop her from being taken.

This was the one moment when the two shared a moment and it’s followed up quickly by the pair sharing a kiss before Ann has to return to the palace. This would have been a strong push towards the finish line of a “will they or won’t they?” scenario had there been any true romantic build at all; however, that’s just not how the story played out. Had Bradley struggled with his decision to exploit the princess at any point while spending the day with her then it would’ve had a bit more impact, but as mentioned above that’s just not how it felt. Bradley always came across as friendly, yet insincere with his intentions up until the final moments, which is why this just never felt like a love story to me, but a coming of age tale for Princess Ann.

And it’s Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar-winning performance as Princess Ann that’s the true reason to watch and fall in love with this film. She has such charm and a natural charisma to her, and great comedic timing that just keeps the movie buzzing along as she discovers more about herself as she explores the world around her that she’s been missing out on while trapped by the confines of the crown she wears. It’s her story and Peck and everyone around her realize this and their performances help elevate Hepburn so that the film shines in a way that makes them all look good.

Another noteworthy update to this release is that screenwriter Dalton Trumbo finally has a credit both as screenwriter on the film, as well as a Story Writing credit, added directly onto the print so it looks as though it’s been there all along, where it truly should’ve been. For those who don’t know, Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to cooperate with the House of Un-American Activities, and this caused him to be left out of accepting the Academy Award for Best Writing, which was accepted by Ian McLellan Hunter, who was asked by Trumbo to front for him.

So after all these years these wrongs were righted and Trumbo finally has the credit he deserves in a masterfully remastered version of the film he co-wrote that most certainly belongs in your collection.

As mentioned earlier in the review, the restoration of the film is immaculate and for anyone who owns the film or loves it and may think they’re okay with the version they have, well, I’ll just say that you’re not and you should upgrade because Paramount did a stupendous job here.

The film sounds great as well, even though there’s no proper up-mix to 5.1. The original mono track was remastered by Paramount here and it sounds almost as great as it looks. Truly a wonderful remaster and exactly what we as the audience hope for when it comes to our favourite films being upgraded and released on the latest technology.

Special Features:

Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on Roman Holiday – This is a 7-minute feature and the only new feature added to the Blu-ray (which unfortunately leaves off a quite obvious feature about the restoration process) as the rest are all from the previous DVD release. This piece sees the film historian talk about Hepburn, Peck and Wyler and how they all made the film as magical and memorable as it is so that it’s lasted throughout the decades.

Behind the Gates: Costumes –
This is a 6-minute feature that talks about the Paramount costume department, showcasing it as a whole and not focusing – or mentioning – Roman Holiday’s Oscar win for costumes.

Rome with a Princess – This is a fun 9-minute feature that’s a travelogue which showcases all the sites that Hepburn and Peck visit on Princess Ann’s day off.

Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years – This is a hefty 30-minute feature that goes over the six films that Hepburn made with Paramount, including Sabrina, War and Peace, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Paris When It Sizzles and, of course, Roman Holiday. It goes over Hepburn’s life from childhood forward, and if you’re a fan of Hepburn and haven’t seen it you should, and if you just want to learn more about her then this is a great place to start!

Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist – This is a 12-minute feature that chronicles everything that went down between him and the UnAmerican Activities Committee and everything that followed, all the way to his credit being restored in this releases title sequence.

Paramount in the ‘50s – This is a 10-minute feature that showcases Paramount’s movies from the 1950s, such as White Christmas, Sunset Boulevard, To Catch a Thief and a few more.

Remembering Audrey – This is a 12-minute feature that sees Hepburn’s son and Robert Wolders recall her childhood, insecurities, various stories about her Hollywood days and charity work. This covers more of Hepburn’s life in a different light and is a nice follow-up to the previous feature on the disc.

Paramount Pictures Presents Roman Holiday. Directed by: William Wyler. Written by: Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter, John Dighton. Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert. Running time: 118 Minutes. Rating: G. Released on Blu-ray: Sept. 15, 2020.

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