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Review: Paramount Presents Revisits 'Roman Holiday' with a Loving Restoration on Blu-ray

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 15, 2020
Review: Paramount Presents Revisits 'Roman Holiday' with a Loving Restoration on Blu-ray

If there is such a thing as a perfect film, then "Roman Holiday" would have to be on the short list. From the (then-unheard-of) genius stroke of filming completely on location, to the smart, witty script, to William Wyler's deft direction, to the auspicious lead debut of one of cinema's truly iconic stars, the incomparable Audrey Hepburn, to the charming turn by the charismatic Gregory Peck, to the uncompromising ending, this classic has so much to offer any viewer.

So how is it that this 1953 gem has never been made available on Blu-ray?

Paramount has rectified this egregious omission by delivering a stellar release, with quite a number of goodies to boot.

Eclectic director William Wyler ("Jezebel," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Ben-Hur") agreed to helm the film after Frank Capra ordered many script revisions and soured on the project. Wyler said he'd do it with the caveat that the film be made in Rome. The studio grudgingly capitulated.

Dalton Trumbo wrote the original script, but was then blacklisted because he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (he was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten). When it came time for credit, Trumbo asked his good screenwriter friend, Ian McLellan Hunter, to "front" for him (take the credit). John Dighton was also given credit, although it is said many writers worked on it, including the great Ben Hecht. Decades later, Trumbo's credit (for story and screenplay) was restored but, strangely, Hunter's credit remains.

When it was time to cast the film, the rumor is that Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor were both considered but turned it down. Gregory Peck was then cast, and had solo star billing, per his contract. Wyler was taken with a young English/Dutch/Belgian actress named Audrey Hepburn, after seeing a screen test that was allowed to go on longer than usual. Hepburn had only a few supporting screen credits. Midway through filming, Peck was so awestruck by her work that he asked Wyler to give her equal billing.

The movie centers on Princess Ann (Hepburn), who is from an unnamed country on a European goodwill tour. She soon grows tired of the daily grind of meet-and-greets and longs to escape from her drab, royal drudge and actually experience life on her own terms. So, after being given a sedative, she decides to run away for a night. Luckily, ace expat reporter Joe Bradley (Peck) finds her on a park bench, brings her home, realizes who she is, and plots to write an exclusive story about her (and get $5,000 in the process). As they spend quality time with one another, and with the eternal city, something magical happens, and both are transformed.

"Roman Holiday" was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning three; Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Costume Design (Edith Head), and Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Hunter accepted for Trumbo). Hepburn also won the Golden Globe and BAFTA that year and was launched into a storybook career where she would work with some of the best creatives in the business and etch a slew of indelible portrayals that rank among the best of all time ("Sabrina," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "My Fair Lady," and "Two for the Road," to name just four).

The film not only holds up today but is a mesmerizing sit. And while "Roman Holiday" may not have been the first romantic comedy, it is, arguably, the one that set the standard in Hollywood, and the one to which most of the best rom-coms that followed owe a great debt.

Hepburn is a marvel, mixing deep pathos with a restless yearning. She also proves to be a gifted comic. I cannot praise her performance effusively enough.

The restoration team has done their best to restore the film as extensively as possible (the original negative was badly damaged), achieving an exquisite-looking transfer that shows off the gorgeous black-and-white photography (by Henri Alekan & Franz Planer) and creating a stunning travelogue of Italy's capital.

The soundtrack retains the original and effective mono track, and there is much less hiss than you would find in an early '50s film.

The Special Features are special indeed:

"Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin On Roman Holiday" is a seven-minute bit about the history of the film by the esteemed critic.

"Behind The Gates: Costumes" is a five-and-a-half-minute short about the work of Edith Head and Paramount, not really having much to do with "Roman Holiday."

"Rome With A Princess" (nine minutes) points out the wonderful sites from the film.

"Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years" is a terrific 30-minute overview of the six films Hepburn made with Paramount.

"Dalton Trumbo: From A-List To Blacklist" uses its 12 minutes to discuss Trumbo's being blacklisted. This featurette surprised me by how it completely condemns the blacklist (studios usually remain neutral — even in cases as obvious as this one). The piece goes into detail about Trumbo's missing credit, and how it was, eventually, restored to the print.

"Paramount in the '50s" spends 9+ minutes highlighting the most successful (and best remembered) Paramount films of that decade, beginning with Billy Wilder's seminal "Sunset Boulevard."

"Remembering Audrey" is a poignant 12-minute featurette in which Hepburn's son Sean Hepburn Ferrer, and her beau of 14 years, Robert Wolders, share memories about the legend's life and career and her dedication to UNICEF.

Paramount is to be commended for giving "Roman Holiday" the "red carpet" treatment it deserves. Do yourself a favor and spend two hours in the remarkable city of Rome with two of the screen's greatest treasures. You will not be disappointed.


"Roman Holiday"
Blu-ray
$17.99

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy. LuredThePlay.com


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