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Saturday Night Cinema: Roman Holiday

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Oscar month continues with tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema. Our feature is the modern day fairy tale, Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Directed by William Wyler, Roman Holiday won three Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Costume Design and Best Writing. In this timeless classic, Hepburn is at her transcendent best as a sheltered princess who falls for an American newsman in Rome.

“Immaculately directed by William Wyler, and written and played with style and grace, this is a film to treasure, both for its endearing action and marvellous performances.” Tony Sloman

This near-perfect romcom gave an unknown actress called Audrey Hepburn her ‘hello world’ moment in 1953 – making her an overnight star at 24. Hepburn sparkles as Princess Ann, an elfin European aristo bored to tears of ambassador’s receptions and majors with walrus moustaches. One night, during a state visit to Rome, she slips out of the palace to slum it with commoners – and falls into the clutches of an American reporter, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). ‘Is this the elevator?’she asks sweetly, stepping into his tiny flat. Joe can’t believe his luck: here’s the scoop of the century. Of course, the runaway princess and the hack fall in love. But this is a fairytale with a bittersweet ending.

 

‘ Roman Holiday’ at Music Hall Is Modern Fairy Tale Starring Peck and Audrey Hepburn
A. W., New York Times, August 28, 1953:

There has been a long hiatus between that day when history wore a rose, when princesses and knights-errant in mufti could get into a lovely scrape or two and when the movies could do something about it. That day apparently has passed. For “Roman Holiday,” which arrived at the Music Hall yesterday, is a royal lark in the modern idiom about a regal but lonely young thing who has her moment of happiness with an adventurous newspaper man. It is a contrived fable but a bittersweet legend with laughs that leaves the spirits soaring.

Call “Roman Holiday” a credit to William Wyler’s versatility. The producer-director, who has been expending his not inconsiderable talents on worthy but serious themes, is herein trying on the mantle of the late Ernst Lubitsch and making it fit fairly well. He certainly is dealing with the formal manners of ultra-high society and, if the unpolished common man is very much in evidence, too, it does not matter because his cast and the visually spectacular backgrounds of Rome, in which this romantic excursion was filmed, also are necessary attributes to this engaging story.

Tender, Amusing Yarn

A viewer with a long memory might recall some plot similarities between “Roman Holiday” and “It Happened One Night.” This is not important. Mr. Wyler and his associates have fashioned a natural, tender and amusing yarn about the heiress to the throne of a mythical kingdom who is sick unto death of an unending schedule of speeches, greetings and interviews attendant on her goodwill tour and who suddenly decides to escape from these bonds of propriety. Her accidental meeting with Joe Bradley, the American journalist, and the night she spends in his apartment are cheerful, untarnished and perfectly believable happenstances in which romance understandably begins to bloom.

The director and his scenarists, Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton, have sensibly used the sights and sounds of Rome to dovetail with the facts in their story. Since the newspaper man is anxious to get the exclusive rights to the princess’ adventures in the Eternal City, and since he is also anxious to keep her in the dark as to his identity, a Cook’s Tour of the Eternal City is both appropriate and visually edifying.

This is not a perfunctory trip. Mr. Wyler and his camera crew have distilled chuckles as well as a sightseeing junket in such stops as the Princess getting a new coiffure; a perfectly wild motorscooter ride through Roman streets, alleys and market places winding up with a session in a police station, and an uproarious dance on one of the barges on the Tiber that terminates with the princess and her swain battling and escaping from the sleuths sent to track her down. The cameras also have captured the raucous sounds and the varied sights of a bustling, workaday Rome; of sidewalk cafes; of the Pantheon; the Forum; and of such various landmarks as the Castel Sant’ Angelo and the rococo, mirrored grandeur of the Colonna, Brancaccio and Barberini Palazzi.

Although she is not precisely a newcomer to films Audrey Hepburn, the British actress who is being starred for the first time as Princess Anne, is a slender, elfin and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike in her profound appreciation of newly-found, simple pleasures and love. Although she bravely smiles her acknowledgment of the end of that affair, she remains a pitifully lonely figure facing a stuffy future. Gregory Peck makes a stalwart and manly escort and lover, whose eyes belie his restrained exterior. And it is altogether fitting that he eschews the chance at that exclusive story considering the circumstances.

Eddie Albert is excellent as the bewildered, bewhiskered and breezy photographer who surreptitiously snaps the unwitting princess on her tour. Hartley Power, as the bureau chief of Mr. Peck’s news agency; Paolo Carlini, as an amorous barber; Claudio Ermelli, as a janitor; Alberto Rizzo, as a timorous cabbie; Harcourt Williams, Tullio Carminati and Margaret Rawlings, as Miss Hepburn’s official aides and an echelon of actual Rome correspondents, help give the proceedings authenticity and flavor. It is a short holiday in which they are involved but an entirely pleasureable one.

Featured on the Music Hall stage are Anne Harvey, Patricia Rayney, George Sawtelle, Clifford Guest, The Rockettes and the Corps de Ballet.

ROMAN HOLIDAY, screen play by Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton; from a story by Mr. Hunter; produced and directed by William Wyler for Paramount. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Joe Bradley . . . . . Gregory Peck
Princess Anne . . . . . Audrey Hepburn
Irving Radovich . . . . . Eddie Albert
Mr. Hennessy (editor) . . . . . Hartley Power
Ambassador . . . . . Harcourt Williams
Countess Vereberg . . . . . Margaret Rawlings
General Provno . . . . . Tullio Carminati
Mario Delani (the barber) . . . . . Paolo Carlini
Giovanni . . . . . Claudio Ermelli
Charwoman . . . . . Paola Borboni
Taxicab Driver . . . . . Alfredo Rizzo
Hennessy’s Secretary . . . . . Laura Solari
Shoe Seller . . . . . Gorella Gori
Dr. Bonnachoven . . . . . Heinz Hindrich
Master of Ceremonies . . . . . John Horne
Embassy Aides . . . . . Count Andrea Eszterhazy
Col. Ugo Ballerini
Ugo De Pascale
Bruno Baschiera

The Truth Must be Told

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