Roman Holiday – 1953
Director – William Wyler
Starring – Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck
In the 1950’s while the majority of Europe was struggling to re-build after World War 2, the United States was going like gangbusters. Everything from the automotive and manufacturing industries, to the housing market, to the film industry was experiencing a general growth spurt. This optimistic, forward-looking outlook on the future is in stark contrast to the over-all worldview of films coming out of war-torn Europe.
Roman Holiday, set in post-war Rome, is a light and breezy fairy tale of a story. A product of the United States, it paints a very different picture of life in Rome than to the films that came out of the Italian Neo-Realism movement of the same time period. Those films often dealt with the hardships of everyday life. Balancing the need for money, food, and shelter, with the morality and reality of stealing, community-interaction, and poverty. A film like Roman Holiday seems light-years away from this awareness of the dark-side of humanity. The highest stakes presented in this film have to do with embarrassment, and to a slight degree, greed.
The story centers around the rebellious princess of a fictional country, played with verve, and a naive charm by Audrey Hepburn, visiting Rome on a mission of friendship. Gregory Peck plays a down-on-his-luck, two-bit, American reporter looking to get from under the thumb of his cantankerous editor. Looking for adventure, Princess Ann sneaks away from her security detail one night to take in a few of the sights of Rome. Unfortunately for her though, she had been given a sedative before she left, and winds up drowsing off on a park bench. Enter Peck’s Joe Bradley. After a few minutes of trying to get a cab to take her home, he relents and takes her back to his place. Eventually he figures out who she is, and sets in motion a plan to get an exclusive, candid interview from the princess.
In order to preserve the ruse that she is undercover, he pretends to simply enjoy her company and offers to show her the sights of the city. Predictably, his feelings for her begin to change as the day goes by, and by the end he is conflicted by the dual draws of monetary stability, and newfound love.
Despite presenting a completely different tone, and perspective on the post-war situation in Italy, Roman Holiday remains a rather charming, fun, romantic movie. Mostly thanks to Hepburn’s wide-eyed optimism and energy the film stays engaging and charming, managing to avoid any weighty issues such as the war. In truth we never believe for a minute that these two people won’t hit it off completely, and truthfully that’s okay. More than anything this is a love letter to the city of Rome, and we spend the entirety of the film enjoying it along with our two main characters. Completely worth the watch, but in my opinion, Charade starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, and the city of Paris is a far superior film and more deserving of being on this list.