Roman Holiday (1953) (mini-review++)

(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)

(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)

acting 8

directing 8

effects 8

editing 8

writing 8

SW SCORE: 40

4 out of 5 🐙

++

This really isn’t important to this review, but I just wanted to say that I always thought Roman Holiday was From Here to Eternity. And because I don’t care for overly dramatic romantic movies, I avoided it. But then I read the actual write up for this movie and realized it was a light romantic comedy. Oops.

Enough of my irrelevant foolishness. Let’s get to this review. Roman Holiday, refreshingly, takes place entirely in Rome. It seems like hardly any movies are filmed on location in one foreign city. The filming must have been especially tricky in a city that’s bustling with tourists and residents. Coordinating all the shots must have been much harder than if they just settled for a sound stage in Hollywood. 

It was just really great to see such film legends like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck standing in real places that I’ve actually been. 

The story itself is a pretty conventional romcom plot. Princess Ann (Hepburn in a star making first role!), while making an official state visit to Rome, is thrown into contact with an everyman (Peck, about 2 decades her senior, more on this later). I could say this is a spoiler, but if you’ve ever seen a romcom, you know that it is the sacred and inviolable law of the genre that opposites who don’t like each other initially MUST end up together. And Roman Holiday is no lawbreaker. 

The princess wants to live the life of a normal person for just one day, so she sneaks out and runs into Joe Bradley (Peck), a grumpy, cynical, not-so-respectable journalist.  He soon discovers she is a princess and sees a fine monetary windfall in delivering a surreptitious interview to his editor. He enlists his photographer friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) and they take Princess Ann around Rome, experiencing like a normal tourist would.

She even gets her famous short haircut, which was a rebellious act in that time because the prevailing fashion orthodoxy demanded that women wear their hair long. She ignored that and actually got her hair cut for the movie scene (it wasn’t a wig). All it did was start a brand new fashion trend and cement her new icon status. 

She has a great time and starts falling for Joe. This seems to be an evergreen dynamic in movies, especially in the 50s and 60s: a man 2 decades older than a woman get together. This is plainly a patriarchal fantasy. I’m not saying love and attraction needs to restrain itself to people close in age. But the frequency with which much older men get much younger woman in Hollywood films in that era (and frankly every era since then) is laughable. But it’s pretty predictable when you consider the age of the men making the decisions in the industry. 

Despite that trope, the movie is full of charming comic set pieces and boundless charisma from Hepburn. Her incandescent presence is complimented by Peck’s initial cynicism that gradually melts away in the face of Hepburn’s unrelenting joy.

They share an inevitable, and quite unique, first kiss together, but they are soon parted. The last scene has Peck and Albert stand in a phalanx of journalists at a press conference for the Princess. Modern romcom fans might recognize the similarity between this scene and the press conference at the end of Notting Hill. Notting Hill is one of my favorite romcoms and until this spring, I had never seen Roman Holiday so I never knew from where it was inspired. It’s an absolute homage to Roman Holiday.

FINALE SPOILER ALERT: DISCUSSION OF ENDING FOLLOWS TO END OF THIS REVIEW:

Except the key difference that makes this film an absolute romcom classic and a movie so far ahead of its time, is that the Princess and the journalist do not get together. Barely a hint of a tear can be seen in her eyes as she says goodbye to the press, which of course is aimed at Peck. Only Peck and Albert are left in the gallery and they start to walk away, looking back at the entrance from which the Princess entered for the press conference. If it was 2020, she would come running out and they would live happily ever after.

But not here. 

She never shows up. And it’s heartbreaking. And beautiful. But they will always have those 24 hours together. They will always have their perfect Roman holiday. 

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(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.

(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)

(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so

(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)

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