“ROMAN HOLIDAY” ( 1953 )
Isn’t it great when real life works out. Picture it: You are Hollywood’s Golden Girl. You’re on location in a picture postcard setting on the Riviera. Your leading man is one of the most handsome and dashing leading men in the history of Hollywood. You’ve got a director who is world-reknown for making successful suspense thrillers. And what happens? The Prince of that country you’re filming in falls head over heels for you. He’s crushing on you, gives you the bum’s rush with promises of royalty and riches and children. And you? You bite. You take your Oscar, leave Hollywood, leave your country, leave your career…all to become a Princess. And you live pretty happily ever after.
<< Sigh! >> If only the movies could be like that…
“Roman Holiday“ is really a very very simple story. Gregory Peck plays a reporter in Rome, who kind of lives off the cuff. He loses at poker, owes rent money, borrows from his editor, borrows against his future salary. By sheer blind luck, happens upon a girl drunk ( or so he thinks ) on the sidewalks of Rome. He reluctantly but gentlemanly takes her back to his place, where he discovers in the morning she is the Princess whose made front page news for missing during her state trip to Italy.
Audrey Hepburn plays the Princess. She’s a waif of a girl. Beautiful and delicate as a fawn or ballerina. Childlike. The schedule and rigidity of the crown and its duties are weighing the poor kid down. She can’t make her own decisions. She’s even medicated to sleep. Of course she has to make a break for it, and does. She’s out on her own for the first time. She tastes freedom though it’s a little wobbly. I know they’re both hiding information from each other, but Audrey is seeking independence at no one else’s expense. It’s unsettling to me to see Peck know who she is, and use this for his own gains. He brings in his friend to take pictures of their excursion ( played by Eddie Albert. ) It’s like she’s being watched without knowing she’s being watched. She’s just a vulnerable little thing and I feel bad that in her journey, she’s being used.
I needn’t have worried (never saw the movie in its entirety before). What turns the tide is during an outdoor dance party, he dances with her. And when her country’s secret service attempts to “kidnap” her back to the castle she fights; and Peck comes to the rescue. Pangs of conscience? More like he’s fallen for her. She’s fallen for him too. They escape. They kiss.
The jig is up for both of them. No more hiding…at least on her part. They take the long ride back to the Embassy where again they embrace and kiss. THAT is where their goodbye must take place. They both know this is over. But it’s the movies…and we live in hope. She leaves the car, and the camera stares at that empty corner hoping she’ll come back around it to run into his arms. But she doesn’t. She’s asked him not to come around that corner to get her. He doesn’t.
Peck thinks long and hard about what he must do…
He can relive the experience with his photographer:
“She’s fair game Joe. It’s always open season on princesses.”
But we see he’s chosen to live inside his memories. Her foray into real life has given her a new-found strength. She’s no longer child-like. She’s owning her power as princess and it shows when she’s questioned by her staff with:
“You must appreciate that I have my duty to perform. Just as her Royal Highness has her duty.”
“Correction. I trust you will not find it necessary to use that word again. Were I not completely aware of my duty to my family, my country…I would not have come back tonight. Or, indeed, ever again.”
This is the silent sequence of discovery, and undertstanding, and love; she discovers who Peck really is when she meets with the press after her reappearance at the embassy. For a girl whose just made a few inconsequential movies before this one…and is given a starring role in a Wyler film, Hepburn handles the scene with grace, dignity, subtlety. It’s all in her face…those eyes.
But then again girls…look who she’s looking at; an actor who was a great support to her during the filming. Audrey Hepburn is a beautiful woman and Wyler shows her in all her glory. But my heart chokes up at Gregory Peck. He’s the one who is going to be wrecked. He’s the one who’s going to be left. He looks at her. His look is absolutely unwavering. He does not take his eyes off her. Now she knows who he is. And with his open-face unwavering gaze, he bares himself.
A reporter asks her this question:
“And what, in the opinion of Your Highness, is the outlook for friendship among nations.”
The Princess’ and Reporter’s coded conversation says it all:
“I have every faith in it, as I have faith in relationships between people.”
“May I say, speaking for my own press service, we believe that Your Highness’ faith will not be unjustified.”
“I am so glad to hear you say it.”
The worse is yet to come for this love that will not be. Director Wyler puts us in line with Peck to watch and wait for her to greet him. Wyler takes his time with this; builds up a little suspense. It’s wrenching and aching to watch because we’re on that line too.
He won’t betray her trust and has given her proof of that. He has to be strong for both of them if she is to go on. And her having experienced this gives her the strength to go on. They can’t go on together. But their experience will help them both go on…together.
Click below to see my list of my favorite romantic films or go to my YouTube page and scroll down to this week’s video, about Classic Romances. Enjoy!
Next: Romantic Films ………..