Movie Review: Roman Holiday

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu  8/24/14
“Life isn’t always about doing what one likes”  •  A couple of nights back I was watching one of those TV channels which specialize in old movies. It is not uncommon for such channels to re-run mediocre pictures from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, which may be inexpensive to broadcast, but less than memorable. However, sometimes they also show some real classics. And I had tuned in just as the opening credits for “Roman Holiday” were rolling across the screen. Since it had been many years since I had last seen it, I decided to sit back and enjoy a film, which I remembered as being gay and lighthearted.

For those few who aren’t familiar with it, Roman Holiday is a 1953 film starring Gregory Peck as reporter Joe Bradley, Audrey Hepburn as a Princess named Ann and Eddie Albert as Bradley’s photographer friend, Irving Radovich.

The young Ann is making an official tour through various European cities, with Rome being the latest. In the evening after a day of official functions, she is in her bedroom with the countess, an older woman who is there to guide Ann. Fed up with her tightly controlled life, Ann becomes slightly hysterical and a doctor is called in to give her a sedative to help her sleep. After her handlers leave, Ann jumps out of bed, puts on casual clothes and escapes from of the grand gated residence, which is like a prison to her.

Shortly thereafter, we see her lying on a bench. Joe happens to walk by, while looking for a taxi, and wants to sit on the bench. He asks Ann to move a little, but she is incoherent as the sedative has worked its powers. Given her behavior, Joe RomanHolidaythinks Ann is drunk. But he is concerned about leaving her alone in such a state.  Therefore, when a taxi stops for him, Joe takes Ann home to his small apartment.  After much ado, he gets her onto his couch and tucks her in.

Because of his late night, Joe oversleeps and misses his interview with Princess Ann, who he has never seen. Joe rushes to his office hoping to keep his boss from finding out that he has missed the interview. He gives his boss some cock and bull story about how great the interview went, but the boss, having seen the morning papers, shows Joe the front page which says the princess is ill and has cancelled all appointments for the day. Somewhat sheepishly, Joe walks out of his boss’s office with the newpaper in hand. He unfolds it and sees the picture of Princess Ann and there on the front page is the girl who slept on his coach last night.

He calls his landlord to make sure the girl is still there. When this is confirmed, he tells the landlord not to let anyone in or out of the apartment until he returns. Joe then goes back to his boss, and without giving out any details, and makes a deal whereby he will be paid $5,000 if he can obtain an exclusive interview with the princess. As Joe is something of a big talker and has apparently promised other such interviews in the past, his boss bets him $500 that Joe will never get the story.

From this point on, the film shows how Joe finagles his way into Ann’s confidence so as to get his piece. His buddy Irving is brought into the plot to take photos. This Irving does with a “spy” camera small enough to fit into a cigarette lighter.

Joe takes Ann on a tour of the streets of Rome with their busy traffic, bustling life and romantic cafes.  Some of the most beautiful sights of Rome are captured in ways which will excite the interest of anyone who might wish to visit the “Eternal City”.

During the brief hours they spend together, Ann and Joe develop a real affection for each other. But, of course, the time comes when Ann must return to the residence and her assigned place in the world. Yet, it is clear that, in the twenty four hours spent away from her handlers, Ann has grown as a person and in self confidence.

The next morning, a “recovered” Ann gives a press conference and while answering various questions she notices Joe and Irving standing among the reporters. Only then does she realize that both Joe and Irving are journalists. From the look on her face she is certainly surprised, but not shocked. I believe her instincts tell her that she can trust Joe. She implies this in the answer she gives to another reporter when asked about her trusting the “press”. Joe, taking the pitch, replies that he is sure her trust is well placed.

At the close of the press conference, against all protocol, Ann steps down to meet some members of the press corps. She shakes hands with various reporters speaking to some here and there. When she gets to Irving, he pulls an envelope out of his pocket and gives it to her saying it is a small gift of photos of Rome. Thus disappears his chance to sell them.  She then shakes Joe’s hand and for a brief moment a special message passes between them.

Ann returns to the podium where she is given one final question, “which city did you most enjoy during your tour?” As an official representative of her country, she begins to give the stock reply that each city had its own charm, and then she hesitates for a second or two before saying “Rome, I will remember my time in Rome for the rest of my life”.

Ann closes the press conference and exits the stage. At the same time, all reporters, except Joe, turn and leave the hall. Joe stands watching Ann walk away and for a minute or two he is the only person left in the cathedral-like building. He then turns and walks toward the camera.  As he does this, his lone figure is framed by the ornate backdrop which gives the final scene an almost religious feeling.

Roman Holiday is a film which is truly excellent on all levels. The acting of Peck, Albert and Hepburn is wonderful. Hepburn won an Oscar. The setting is spectacular. How could one improve on having Rome as a backdrop? But I found TheEndRHthe most beautiful part of the film was the story which revolved around two attractive young people who are clearly drawn to each other, yet do not run off in a fit of passion; consequences be damned.

In the scene before she returns to the residence, Ann is standing in Joe’s apartment and asks him if he would like her to cook something for him. Joe tells her she cannot do this because the apartment has no stove.  Surprised, Ann asks Joe if he likes that. To which Joe replies, “life isn’t always about doing what one likes”. And there is the message of the movie, which is certainly not lighthearted. Could there a more mature or noble response?

It is on basis of this fundamental truth that Ann returns to her life of duty. And Joe gives up his $5,000 story and loses the $500 bet. Clearly, life isn’t always about doing what one likes, especially if one wishes to do what is right and good. • (2961 views)

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23 Responses to Movie Review: Roman Holiday

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m going to try to make time to view this tonight. Thanks for the review.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    It is indeed a wonderful film. The lovely Miss Hepburn manages to enjoy her time slumming it with the commoners without appearing condescending or going “Full Boho.” Although there is a sexual chemistry between the two, Ann never loses her innocence or forgets who she is. Had the film been made today, the princess would have undoubtedly engaged in carnal relations, soft drugs, and made a porno for Eddie Albert. The meme that “life isn’t always doing what one likes” would have been replaced by: “When in Rome, do an orgy.”

    They sure don’t make films like this anymore, considering that they would have cast the 2014 version of this with cookie cutter twits like Beyoncé and James Franco. The only really regrettable thing about the 1953 film is that it was shot in Black and white, thus depriving us of the visual wonders of post war Rome—–before the Italians really mucked it up………

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      They sure don’t make films like this anymore

      More’s the pity. Which is why I wrote this review. To me, almost everything comes back to culture and ours is being flushed down the toilet daily.

      There was a discussion on a string here about art being liberal or conservative and it can be both, in my opinion.

      And if we want to save our country, we need to do more than think about the economic problems and put some extra energy into reviving excellence. If we can’t find contemporary films which send the right message, at least we can point out classics which can be used for guidance. Most young people today have little knowledge of quality in most areas of the arts. They need instruction.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        A very short and devastating book on Modern Art and those who dabble in Berzerker Chic is Tom Wolfe’s “The Painted Word.”

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I might read that. Please please please tell me he skewers Andy Warhol in it.

          • Glenn Fairman says:

            He deals with Warhol a bit. But mostly, it is the peek of a fresh and disinterested eye into the pretentious masquerade of Modern art. In several hours I learned all I cared to know about Abstract Impressionism, the Boho Dance, and the idiocy that intelligent people can descend to in the name of the aesthetic. Wolfe tears the veneer off this subject, as is his style with a handful of other books about the 60’s-70’s. Wolfe had snark down before it was cool.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I’ve downloaded the Kindle sample of Wolfe’s book. Perhaps I’ll move to that after I’m finished with Berlinski.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I’ve seen several Audrey Hepburn films, but as far as I know not this one. Perhaps I should get around to it one of those times TCM has it. I saw Breakfast at Tiffanys when I was a kid and remember very little about it. More recently I’ve seen Charade and the superb thriller Wait Until Dark (which I had read about in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre). I would probably rate the last as the best of her movies that I’ve seen.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I am a big Hepburn fan and have seen all three movies you mention. I also enjoyed “Wait Until Dark”, but she is so watchable that I must say I never saw her in any film which I did not like and enjoy.

      The woman had a class and innocence/gentleness about her that was very attractive.

      She made a fortune in Japan doing advertising as they have a fetish about thin graceful female necks.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Yes, I rather enjoy her myself. Of course, she was also in My Fair Lady, though the singing was done by Marni Nixon and the Oscar for Best Actress went to Julie Andrews (for Mary Poppins), who had played Eliza Doolittle on Broadway.

  4. Glenn Fairman says:

    Anyone who hadn’t fallen in love with her after viewing Breakfast at Tiffany’s had better report for their embalming, double time.

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    Hepburn’s character of Sister Luke in “The Nun’s Story” was viscerally shocking when I watched it last night. That film could be the basis of an entire thread of commentary. She was as fantastic as the film was disturbing. Any takers?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I saw that movie sometime last year. I thought I had done a review of it, but I guess not. I was very impressed with it.

  6. Glenn Fairman says:

    Upon viewing “The Nun’s Story,” one is certain that such a film could never be made today. There are no half dressed whores parading, no explosions, no exaggerated drama that comes from the meanderings of a shallow soul testing the elastic limits of the gutter life. In fact, the rarified atmosphere of this film feels as if it took place in an alien world eons past. Throughout the course of the movie, we come to realize that the life of a nun is a life contrary to nature–a life of untold commitment and sacrifice that few would ever try to attempt, had they fully understood its implications. One wonders if the portrayal of humans that contain such depth is of any service to a society that is immersed in liberal dogma. Indeed, such complexity may be the most dangerous enemy to the utopian impulse of bringing heaven down to earth.

    Throughout the entire body of the piece, Hepburn’s character is beset by the smoldering internal conflict of a life of obedience to her order and that of a determined soul driven by the dream of medical service in the Congo. Her angst is interesting because her brilliance as a human being, with its attending ego and pride, is continuously coming into conflict with her vow of humility. The tension that arises is palpable in a way that is truly human in the heroic sense. The audience commiserates with her at each successive disappointment, and we incrementally grow to realize that her life’s choice, although noble in the highest sense, was perhaps not for her.

    Sister Luke’s abnegation of self vying with her brilliance brings her untold interior anguish, and the inner war for perfection allows her no respite. As a nun, she must live in a constant state of debasement and self-criticism: manifested by writing in her little book or confessing towards her peers a growing litany of microscopic imperfections — spilling milk, taking a glass of water without permission, or speaking to a hospital patient needing a human touch during the “Grand Silence.” In attempting to peel the layers of self that exist like a massive onion, she finds that the perception of her faults is actually enflamed and that the entrenched ego is insidious in its manifestations. After beating herself up for a failure of obedience, she soon realizes that the satisfaction of finally obtaining obedience yields an even more virulent pride that must be addressed. And so it goes — all against the backdrop of a calm exterior that rarely cracks. Having confessed to her superior that she had hoped to arrive eventually at a place of rest, she is told that there is no such rest. Every Christian who has wrestled with himself, and no Christian who does not is worthy of the name, must give a nod of the head while watching The Nun’s Story, which is played neither as a burlesque of the contemplative life, nor is it romanticized. It is a beautiful and difficult film to watch, and Hepburn breathed life into a complex character in a way that few could.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Very interesting thoughts, Glenn.

      In fact, the rarified atmosphere of this film feels as if it took place in an alien world eons past.

      With the caveat that Old Hollywood cranked out its share of crap, perhaps nothing allows one to see just how ribald our culture has become than to view the inherent decency of art as it used to be.

      The downside to “The Nun’s Story” is that the real Marie Louise Habets quit to become a lesbian, for all practical purposes. The movie could be seen as playing a “useful idiot” role for the attacks against the Church and the new Freudian view of sexuality (and all passions) that nothing should be repressed and that sacrifice is little more than a con. This is, indeed, what most people today believe.

      Still, I did like the movie. If that is “The Nun’s Story” then that is the story, and it is wonderfully told. I can’t begrudge anyone for opting out of that difficult life. But, still, the movie has a tinge of the theme inherent to “Lone Survivor” where a sort of glorified failure is the theme of the film.

      I do think Hepburn is marvelous in this. Too often, although easy on the eyes because of her 1000 watts of exuded elegance, she seems little more than a China doll placed admiringly on a shelf in many of her movies. In this one, she comports herself very well as an actor.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        I am not privy to the machinations of Habets’ mind, but I would be less than charitable were I to ascribe her sexual impetus as the primary reason for her leaving the Order. For her, it was a matter of no mean conscience. She did not publicly proclaim the Virtues of Sappho as a way of being commensurate or superior to natural unions. Therefore, I will not judge her.

        What remains is this: the Power of Art in molding human souls. Plato thought its importance was paramount since the arts were thrice removed from reality and their magnetism for good or bad was evident in the City. Art, in the classical sense is erotic—-it draws us to its beauty while its contemplation frees us from the ugly and mundane. It has the capacity to make us better men or worse–to elevate our consciousness or drag us down into prurience.

        The lesson that “The Nun’s Story” as art compels us to address is knowing ourselves and how we balance on the razor’s edge of self-affirmation and duty. We can drag the film through our ideological gauntlet and make it pay for disappointing us or flouting the conditions that make up our conception of the world. Say what you will about Catholicism: its self-flagellation, it’s supposed “denial of life” (truly, a nihilism from the world’s perspective), its seeming elevation of works over grace—-all these are arguable points. Yet, something should be said about the beauty of a life that holds itself rigid to its adamantine principles, and is as merciless its own flaws as it is charitable to the stumblings of others. That denial of self, that sacrifice of temporal happiness for the sole benefit of the world’s miserable is sublime. Any art that can convey this quality of love and beauty must be accorded honor, lest we succumb to the cynicism that is lurking just outside the doors of our hearts.

        Modern art — and all arts that are the products of the Post-modern age –where subjectivity is the only perspective, no longer has the power of ascension. It seeks to erode; it is a provocateur. It cannot pronounce anything sacred because such an ideation no longer exists in its vocabulary. Therefore, art is held to be transformationally decrepit — and by that I mean it is in the business of anarchy and its politics are geared to the dismantling of the old for the purpose of new modes and orders. It, however has a deep problem: when you dynamite the foundations of truth and beauty, no content remains for this brave new world, other than will and passion. And these are ill-suited to erect a healthy society upon.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Therefore, I will not judge her.

          Given what we know the entire storyline is regarding Ms. Habet’s habits, surely you are correct that today’s Hollywood could not create the subtle story that they did with the Hepburn movie. It would have been an overt “gay is good, church is oppressive” movie. As it was, it was the story of an interesting person, looking for a deep meaning for her life, and things just not working out.

          I would say it goes without saying that being a nun isn’t for everyone. One could say that Ms. Habet perhaps started out a little bit wounded and that wound later cleaved her from the cloister.

          I think one fair criticism of Ms. Habet is that if one truly does believe in God and that there is a purpose to sexuality, for instance, then engaging in lesbian behavior shows perhaps that she was lacking in the kind of commitment needed to be a nun (or, really, a practicing Christian). In that sense, I will indeed judge her. That’s what we do here! 😉

          One can, at the same time, sympathize with both her triumphs and her shortcomings. In this movie they do what is so rarely done today: they show a plausibly realistic individual human life instead of the cliche-of-characters that is typical.

          Say what you will about Catholicism: its self-flagellation, it’s supposed “denial of life” (truly, a nihilism from the world’s perspective), its seeming elevation of works over grace—-all these are arguable points.

          What I wouldn’t say about Catholicism (particularly nuns and monks) is that it is a denial of life. Rather, given the basic tenets of their beliefs, it is the only rational way to live. If you believe in a benevolent God above, and that our lives have some purpose other than fulfilling ego wishes and bodily cravings, then these guys and gals are living as real as anyone can.

          Modern art — and all arts that are the products of the Post-modern age –where subjectivity is the only perspective, no longer has the power of ascension. It seeks to erode; it is a provocateur.

          Indeed, the entire point of modern art is to act as sort of Secular Sacrament — a weekly wafer that passes one’s lips to reaffirm one’s beliefs. Many scientific pursuits have the same goal.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Someone can easily decide that they really don’t have a religious vocation after all, or at least that they don’t have what it takes (as with a former Catholic priest I know from local SF fandom). An article today on the Trapp family notes that Maria the elder never sacrificed her faith when she ceased being a nun, and in fact helped spread it to the Trapps even before she became the captain’s wife. Their decision to flee Austria resulted from their reaction to militant Nazi christophobia. Forced to choose between their wealth and their religion, they chose to keep the latter.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Maria (at least in the movie) was still doing her “probation” period, or whatever they call it. There’s an interesting aspect in this as well in the Robert Mitchum movie, “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison,” where Mitchum is stranded on a Pacific island during WWII. The only other person is a nun who hasn’t taken her final vows and could still go either way. Mitchum tries to woo Sister Angela but Sister Angela is devoted to her life. It”s really a fairly well-done movie along somewhat similar lines.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Okay, I finally got around to viewing “Roman Holiday.” I’m sure I’ve seen it in bits and pieces decades ago. But I don’t know if I had ever watched it all the way through. Probably not.

    Audiences instantly fell in love with Audrey Hepburn, including the Academy. She got an Oscar for this role. And Eddie Albert got a nomination as well (but not a win).

    It’s interesting to read over at IMDB and elsewhere some of the story behind the movie, how the script was passed from Frank Capra and eventually fell into the hands of William Wyler. As with most other movies, various actors were planned for the roles. Apparently the writers had Cary Grant in mind for the role of Joe Bradley. Word is that Grant turned down the role because he thought he was too old for Hepburn (although he later starred with her in “Charade”). Word is also that he thought his part would be overshadowed by whichever actress played Princess Ann.

    Who knows? But the movie finally did fall into the hands of Wyler. And shooting in Italy was apparently an issue in regards to which studio and which director finally did the picture. Wyler wanted it filmed on location and apparently Paramount liked this idea as well (having some type of frozen assets in Italy that they wanted to tap into).

    Apparently Wyler at first wanted Jean Simmons for the part of Ann. Simmons was unavailable. We must therefore be impressed by Audrey Hepburn’s — with virtually no film career behind her — ability to impress. Casting an unknown opposite Gregory Peck in a major film is no small thing. Frank Capra, when he had the film, apparently wanted Grant and Elizabeth Taylor. And certainly that might have worked splendidly as well.

    And apparently one reason Peck took the role, although he said the script had Cary Grant’s fingerprints all over it, is that he wanted to lighten his image a bit. I’m not sure that his subsequent list of films shows any significant lightening up. But it was obviously a good film for him.

    The shtick of this film turns on one moment. The two are falling in love (or at least growing in affection) with one another. They are in Peck’s apartment and he says “There’s something I have to tell you.” She says, in essence, “Please don’t tell me anything.” Clearly the princess knew there was more to Joe Bradley than meets the eye. But she was well aware she was living a short-term fantasy. Why spoil it?

    Thus we were thankfully spared the soiled and stale plot point of the female finding out the dishonest interests of the male, having a good huff, and then getting back together later in the film. The way the story actually played out was a refreshing departure from this movie cliche.

    Back to Audrey and awards. It’s easy to be smitten by her. This was the year Sinatra and Reed won for “From Here to Eternity.” I would argue that both Deborah Kerr in “From Here to Eternity” and Ava Gardner in “Mogambo” gave better performances. But the Oscars are rarely decided on mere quality of performance. There is usual some other main aspect. And I think “smitten” is as good as reason as any. I think Hepburn’s performance is good. But I didn’t find it to be so obviously superior.

    Peck is really the one who shines. The script is rather mild in this regard to what it might have been considering how badly he is using this young woman, and he masterfully plays both sides of this: pre-smitten and post-smitten. She can more easily play the wide-eyed child next to the gravitas of his performance.

    The movie itself has a relatively small budget, which is a real shame for otherwise Rome itself would have played a larger role as a backdrop. The scenes around the Spanish Steps are marvelous, as is the one at the Coliseum. With a bigger budget, no doubt less of the dialogue would have taken place in Peck’s dingy apartment.

    This is a nice story. And yet I can’t walk away without noting the same feeling of empty calories that I got from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” This is a very good film. And yet the dialogue needed more work and complexity. The scenes of Peck trying to shut up Arnold are insertions of a rude slapstick that don’t quite fit the mood of the movie. I thought the iconic Vespa scooter scene, and the aftermath, were not filmed or written all that well, although the dance by the docks was a charming romantic episode.

    But ultimately the acting and the non-cliched aspect of this “romantic comedy” (it hardly fits that often stale genre) give it its watchability. I think this movie is the better for having Peck in it, for that darker aspect of his exploitation of Ann simmers in the background. With Cary Grant, you would always have the expectation that he was never going to harm her. But with Peck’s persona, that was no done-deal. So the turn-about is all the more powerful.

    In the end, this is certainly not your typical feel-good romantic comedy, nor is it meant to be. Pathos is the watchword. The ending is not happy. This bubbling little princess will go on to live a life smothered by stale duty. And Peck (who likely was falling in love, although I don’t believe the reverse was true) will forever measure his life and future women against that one happy day. None will ever measure up.

    And that is both the pleasure and pathos of the Audrey Hepburn persona. It is bubbling with such beauty and wonder and yet it all seems but a temporary cover…indeed, as it was for much of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In some respects, she is a reminder that we can have our perfect dreams fulfilled only in the movies. She is the repository of many of our hopes and dreams, the desire of a light and vivacious life without the muck that usually accompanies it.

    They don’t specifically give Oscars for that. But I do think that comes into play when talking about Audrey Hepburn.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, she certainly has to deal with the muck of life in Wait Until Dark. You don’t come up muckier than Harry Roat (Alan Arkin) from Scarsdale.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, that role is a nice departure for Hepburn. I’ll have to queue that up when I get a chance. But she certainly didn’t gain prominence as an actress in thrillers.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’ll have to create a place for “Movies that are almost good enough to recommend, but not quite.” Until then, I’ll talk about another Gregory Peck film here.

    “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is an onerously overwrought story. I think most of this is the fault of casting Gregory Peck in the role of the romancer. He’s great in “Twelve O’Clock High” or any picture where the silent, sometimes brooding, manly-man is needed. He’s the strong, silent type who still exudes a lot of emotional information out of his voice and his demeanor…but just enough for dealing with a traitor in, say, “The Guns of Navarone.” But not enough to convince us that Ava Gardner was the love of his life.

    In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Peck is on his deathbed recounting the various women in his life. The settings in Africa and such are not without interest. But you come to realize why Ernest Hemingway was such a head case. This story tries to pack way too much emotion and meaning into too few events. You can’t help get a glimpse of the overwrought Hemingway in this story. Lighten up, dude.

    Still, Gardner and Peck, along with Susan Hayward, are stars fun to watch even in a mediocre film. This aspect makes the movie watchable, but just barely. I can’t help thinking there was a good story here if someone would only write it. I think someone did. It’s called “Mogambo.”

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