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Roman Holiday  

One of the great romantic comedies is William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The film is perfect in nearly every way, managing to be both bittersweet and charming at the same time.

Hepburn plays a princess on an official tour of Europe, and who makes a stop in Italy; Rome to be precise. As is customary, she presides over a gathering of dignitaries, and is introduced to each one in a very long list of individuals. After this, she must rest up for another very long day, with yet more meetings, appearances, and photo ops. But the princess is growing increasingly angry at this regulated, suffocating lifestyle (amusing dialogue about how she should wear what she wants in bed), and wishes to have some time for herself. So after the official gathering, she simply flips out, requiring her mistress to call the doctor for a tranquillizer. But before the drug kicks in, she is able to cleverly sneak out of the building, sneaking a ride in a produce truck. Now she is in Rome, with nowhere to go.

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But somebody eventually does find her. It's Gregory Peck, playing a reporter stuck in a place without exciting news. He finds her on a park bench, in a state which he thinks is drunkenness, but which is actually the grogginess from the tranquillizer. He attempts to take her home, but she keeps mumbling that she is staying in the Coliseum, which can't be right. So, reluctantly, he takes her to his apartment to let her sleep on the couch. Little does he know that this will turn from a drunk sleeping on his couch to the biggest scoop of his life. He finds out her identity from his boss, who shows him her picture splashed across the front page of the local newspapers, with the headline that the princess is ill. It's that drunk woman sleeping on the couch! Peck keeps this fact to himself, but bets his boss that he can get an exclusive interview with the princess. The boss accepts, knowing there's an extra buck to be made for Peck's failure to follow through.

Peck must do everything to keep her in sight. This builds up to the main sequence, when, after having followed her through town, he meets up with her, pretending to have just been surprised at running into her again. In a mutual deception, Hepburn tells Peck that she has run away from school, while Peck tells her he is a salesman. The catch is that Peck already knows the truth, but Hepburn doesn't. Peck offers her a tour of the city and its sights, and she accepts. As the day moves on, however, Peck begins to see her less and less as a great scoop, and more as a real, and wonderful person. He grows conflicted between his heart and his desire to move up the job ladder.

This is a cute and charming movie, much like the immortal Hepburn. She renders both fear and happiness at her boldness at running away to enjoy a brief foray into the ordinary person's life. The title is appropriate, as this is a unique adventure for both main characters, and we can't take for granted that the romance will be forever. The romance is great, however, and includes a number of classic scenes, from the scene with "The Mouth of Truth", famous for Peck's ad-libbing the scene's climatic event, the first moment in the apartment when a groggy Hepburn thinks she is in her own bedroom (Hepburn: "I've never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it's MOST unusual!"), their love scene, after an escape from an unexpected dance-hall brawl, and the final, bittersweet scene. Roman Holiday is a classic example of old Hollywood romance.

David Macdonald

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