Roman Holiday


Street Date 9/15/20;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings.

As this new “Paramount Presents” Blu-ray aptly demonstrates, 1953’s Roman Holiday manages to remain as fresh and vibrant as ever while simultaneously serving as a perfect time capsule of the era in which it was made.

In addition to just being a charming romantic comedy with a fun premise, the film managed to embody a number of significant elements of Hollywood history — not the least of which is the first major screen role for Audrey Hepburn, who snagged a Best Actress Oscar at age 24. Noted film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in the bonus materials calls it the greatest cinematic introduction anyone has ever had.

Then there’s the audacious decision by director William Wyler to actually shoot the film on location in Rome, rather than the more conventional practice of re-creating parts of the city on a soundstage in Southern California.

The delightful screenplay was largely the creation of Dalton Trumbo, though almost no one knew it at the time since he was blacklisted and attached his friend Ian McLellan Hunter’s name to it. At the time, the Academy offered separate awards for story and screenplay, unlike the distinct original and adapted screenplay awards offered today, and Hunter ended up as the named nominee for both awards on behalf of the film, sharing screenplay credit with John Dighton. It won for Best Story, an award credited to Hunter for 40 years until the Academy recognized that it was actually Trumbo’s Oscar.

Trumbo finally received an on-screen story credit during the restoration of the film carried out for its 2002 DVD release. The Writers Guild of America finally recognized Trumbo’s co-screenplay credit in 2011, so this new Blu-ray restoration offers the studio’s first chance to reflect that on-screen (the credits now attribute the story solely to Trumbo, with the screenplay by Trumbo, Dighton and Hunter).

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The story involves a young princess (Hepburn) from an unnamed European country who grows tired of being coddled and pampered during a tour of Europe when she can’t actually experience any of the places she’s visiting. So, during the Roman leg of the trip, she sneaks out the royal enclave at bedtime, despite her handlers drugging her to help her sleep. She ends up passing out somewhere in the city, where she is discovered by an American passerby named Joe (Gregory Peck), who ends up letting her sleep it off at his apartment after being unable to find a taxi driver who will take responsibility for her.

Joe turns out to be a journalist assigned to cover a press event with the princess the next day, but ends up oversleeping due to tending to the strange girl in his bed. He leaves her to sleep as he rushes to the office to try to bluff his editor that he conducted the interview, only to be called out by the fact that the event was canceled because the princess was “sick.” Recognizing her picture in the paper as the girl in his apartment, he quickly devises a scheme to sell an exclusive story about the princess to the paper.

When she finally regains her senses, the princess doesn’t admit to her true identity, but ends up unwittingly joining Joe and a photographer buddy (Eddie Albert) for a day of sightseeing around the city, thinking she is evading the royal guards sent to retrieve her when they’re busy chronicling her adventures throughout the city.

The idea of someone with a life of privilege wanting to experience how the other half lives was certainly not a new concept in Trumbo’s day any more than it would be today, but Hepburn’s performance as the princess makes her instantly relatable. Modern audiences accustomed to shows such as “The Crown” will be quite familiar with the responsibilities and expectations placed on royalty. Roman Holiday arrived in theaters not long after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, who herself ascended to the throne at age 25, and the film’s timelessness is only aided by the ease in which one can imagine the young queen or her sister, chafing against the constraints of their duties, ending up in an adventure not unlike this one.

Given its simple premise, how it ends, and how Peck and Hepburn made such a winning duo, had it been made in the past 20 years or so Roman Holiday would be practically begging for a sequel. Yet, while there were supposedly attempts to make one, it never happened, though the story has been recycled quite a few times since then.

Paramount’s latest restoration of the film looks great, considering how poorly the film’s original elements were reportedly in — likely a factor of it being shot on location and using local European development houses. The new digital restoration techniques bring out a lot of detail in the black-and-white cinematography, with the only real fuzziness coming from stock footage newsreels the film itself originally used.

Follow us on Instagram

For the film’s Blu-ray debut, Maltin’s seven-minute analysis of the film turns out to be the only new extra produced, though the disc still has plenty to offer, carrying over most of the featurettes from the 2008 DVD release.

These include a 12-minute Hepburn tribute and a half-hour retrospective of her work at Paramount, plus a 12-minute featurette about Trumbo (made years before the biopic with Bryan Cranston), and the nine-minute “Rome With a Princess,” which profiles many of the film’s shooting locations.

The disc also carries over a couple featurettes that are more about Paramount than Roman Holiday — owing that they were intended to be used on many of Paramount’s anniversary releases when produced in 2008. These include a five-minute piece on costumes that appeared in the studio’s films, and a 10-minute rundown of Paramount’s 1950s films.

The Blu-ray also includes previously available theatrical trailers and still galleries.

While the inclusion of most of the previous disc’s extras is a significant step up for the Paramount Presents label, which typically jettisons almost all previous supplements, fans should note there are still some notable omissions from previous Roman Holiday disc treatments, particularly the 2002 DVD.

That disc had a featurette about the restoration of the film that was done at that time, which carried over to the 2008 DVD but is obsolete now given the latest restoration, so its omission is understandable. Strangely, though, there is nothing about the new restoration to replace it.

Other supplements from that 2002 disc that didn’t make it to 2008, and are likewise still omitted, are a half-hour retrospective on the film and a 14-minute profile of costumer Edith Head. However, it seems to be Paramount Presents practice to only carry over supplements that are available in HD, so that might explain why those earlier featurettes didn’t even linger onto the 2008 re-release.

Paramount Restores 1953 Classic ‘Roman Holiday’ for Blu-ray Debut Sept. 15

Paramount Home Entertainment will release the classic 1953 film Roman Holiday for the first time on Blu-ray Disc Sept. 15 as part of the studio’s Paramount Presents line. The film was subjected to an extensive 4K restoration by the studio, which showed off some of the results at an online press event July 15.

In the film, Audrey Hepburn stars as a European princess who escapes her secluded lifestyle and spends an adventure in Rome with an American journalist played by Gregory Peck.

“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Roman Holiday. It’s an irresistible movie,” said famed critic and film historian Leonard Maltin. “And unlike some ’50s movies that seem maybe a little heavy handed or maybe a little out of fashion by today’s standards, I think this one still breathes and exudes an air of freshness that is timeless. A lot of that has to do with of course Audrey Hepburn, who is eternally contemporary.”

Maltin said director William Wyler insisted on shooting the film on location in Rome, rather than building sets in Hollywood and matching the footage to pickup shots in the European city.

“Roman Holiday was one of the very first movies done on location,” said Andrea Kalas, SVP of archives at Paramount. “This was not a standard Hollywood thing.”

Both Kalas and Martin speculated that the production’s need to use European labs to process the film for dailies and editing, rather than more frequently used and reliable L.A. labs, might have contributed to problems preserving the film over the years.

The film was digitally restored using a dupe negative and a fine grain element to capture the best possible image. Every frame was reviewed, and the film received extensive clean-up to remove thousands of scratches, bits of dirt and other damage.  The original mono track was remastered and minor anomalies were corrected.

“Unfortunately, the original negative no longer even exists,” Kalas said. “This was a dupe made from the original neg which is what we primarily used, and that original negative was so damaged by that lab, just different standards … so that’s why the work we had to do was so important. Digital technology and restoration have become so nuanced and so specific that we can really make sure that we are doing the best with the material we have. So we’re really pleased with the way it came out.”

Progression of image restoration on a scene from ‘Roman Holiday’

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, and ended up winning Best Actress for Hepburn, in her first major film role, Best Costume Design for a black-and-white movie, and Best Story.

The film’s writing award has been the subject of some revision over the years, which is reflected in the new Blu-ray as well. The new restoration also features one slight alteration from the original theatrical version, in that blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo receives a full credit for his work on the film.

Trumbo’s story credit was restored in 1992 by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, which in 1993 presented the Oscar with Trumbo’s name on it to his widow. In 2011 the Writers Guild of America awarded Trumbo a proper co-screenplay credit as well, shared with John Dighton, who Paramount hired to touch up the screenplay, and Ian McLellan Hunter, a screenwriting friend of Trumbo who fronted the script for him with the studio to get around the blacklist (it was Hunter who was originally handed the Best Story Oscar).

The new Blu-ray will be the first physical home entertainment release of Roman Holiday to feature both Trumbo’s story and co-screenwriting credits, both on the packaging and in the film itself.

Extras on the Blu-ray include the featurettes “Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on Roman Holiday,” “Behind the Gates: Costumes,” “Rome With a Princess,” “Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years,” “Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist” and “Paramount in the ’50s: Remembering Audrey.” Other extras include theatrical trailers, plus photo galleries covering the film and its production, publicity campaign and premiere. The Blu-ray will also include a digital copy of the film.

Follow us on Instagram!

Films in the Paramount Presents line are presented in a slipcover with a foldout image of the film’s poster, and an interior spread of key movie moments. Other films available through Paramount Presents include Fatal Attraction, King Creole, To Catch a Thief, Flashdance, Days of Thunder, Pretty In Pink, Airplane! and Ghost.

The Heiress


$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins.

Leaving aside Marie Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc — a performance as unique as the film it serves — I can’t think of another actress showcase that gets to me more than Olivia de Havilland’s in 1949’s The Heiress, as long as we (getting down to basics) leave the schoolboy crushes of a 72-year-old male out of rival considerations.

Adapted from the 1947 Ruth and Augustus Goetz play whose springboard was Henry James’s source novel Washington Square, my favorite William Wyler film after The Best Years of Our Lives (with something like a dozen close runners-up) allows de Havilland to undergo a subtly eerie transformation before our very eyes in a spellbinding example of refined worm-turning.

Actually, she undergoes a transformation as well in To Each Her Own, which three years earlier had earned de Havilland her first of two deserved Oscars for an underseen grade-A soaper that may be the best movie Mitchell Leisen ever directed (it’s less arguably the best drama, though Hold Back the Dawn would get some votes). TEHO, however, takes place over a full generation, so the actress’s transformation from rural American beauty to crusty Londoner conveys the normal aging process. In The Heiress (Oscar No. 2 — and with The Snake Pit coming in the middle, talk about a run), the metamorphosis is more attitudinal. We can’t imagine the Catherine Sloper character seen early in the film displaying a cruel streak. Later, she does — because, as she says, she’s been “taught by experts” (a brutally delivered line of dialogue).

Ralph Richardson is de Havilland’s acting equal here as Catherine’s doctor father, a widower who has never forgiven her for being plain and socially maladroit when his idealized late wife was anything but. The two reside in the Washington Square neighborhood with the doctor’s sister (Miriam Hopkins) an often extended houseguest in a world of polite society, which is something to think about the next time you see somebody strumming a guitar adjacent to that neighborhood Arch down NYU way. The latter — and it’s a good role for Hopkins — is a not unsavvy flibbertigibbet, which, when combined with a romantic streak, makes her prone to cheerlead a courtship by the young Montgomery Clift’s Morris Townsend, whose dashing good looks and world travels camouflage the fact that he’s also something of a bounder.

Not taken in, though, is the doctor himself, who thinks he knows a fortune-hunter when he sees one — though Clift is such an appealing presence that the movie is probably more effective than its antecedents (I’ve read James’s wonderful novel, but it was many years ago) in making us entertain the possibility that he’s sincere in his affections. This is a tough sell for Dr. Sloper because his daughter’s social graces are so (sympathetically) clunky he just can’t bring himself to love her. There’s only so much that even a Wyler can do to turn an actress as beautiful as de Havilland into someone plain. But the character’s inability to make conversation or even to put a drink down before she steps onto the dance floor — usually with some aged poster child for gout — provide all the winces that any viewer needs.

At this point, we’re veering close to spoiler territory, so let’s see how Wyler dressed his movie up. Well, there was the Oscar win for scoring by Aaron Copland himself (no Vic Mizzy he); another for the costumes by Edith Head (subject of a featurette in the Criterion bonus section); and another for production designer Harry Horner. Though he didn’t always get the productions he deserved (stop directing the whack-job-ish camp fest Red Planet Mars — you don’t have to go much further in gauging Horner’s talent than to note that the challenger to The Heiress as his career achievement is the design he did on that incredible arena and dance floor in Sydney Pollack’s film of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (I also like the way he set up the spatial relationship between the restaurant seating and the principal actors in Separate Tables, a movie I still think is better than its now diminished critical reputation would indicate).

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The Criterion essay is by Brit critic and historian Pamela Hutchinson, who’s also known as an expert on G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (now, there’s a contrast for the ages when it comes to female protagonists). She hits all the key points, and there are many to hit dating back to James — though one of the most interesting is how de Havilland initiated the project and hand-picked Wyler probably knowing what was going to be in store: take after take and (in one case) walking up steep stairs 30 or so times with a suitcase until she looked exhausted enough to convey Catherine’s defeat. But as noted earlier, the worm eventually turns here, and I have to think this is a movie any feminist will love.

Quite the brainstorm here was the decision to put the wonderful film essayist Farran Smith Nehme with Jay Cocks, who was not only Time’s film critic when the magazine was still in its prime but the screenwriter for Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, which I love as much as The Heiress. I wish Criterion did more of these back-and-forth pairings as supplements because at least the ones I’ve seen have always worked. There’s also 1981 footage of Richardson that was shot for Catherine Wyler’s documentary on her father (the senior Wyler’s footage was completed just before his sudden death), and Sir Ralph recalls an initial clash that was soon cleared up. I wonder if his warm feelings were further influenced by Richardson’s old colleague Laurence Olivier crediting Wyler with teaching him how to act for the movies, by virtue of Wuthering Heights and the Carrie that would be Stephen Crane’s Carrie and not Brian De Palma in the girls’ locker room). The Goetz’s penned the Carrie screenplay (as they did for The Heiress), and I think it’s almost as good, sparked by what many think (myself included) is Olivier’s greatest work on screen.

We also get a two-part interview of de Havilland by Paul Ryan, in which she’s enthusiastically anecdotal — a high point being the story of how Errol Flynn once left a long dead snake wrapped up in her fresh underwear. She also joins Bette Davis (a Warner Bros. treat just by itself) on a Merv Griffin tribute to Wyler, flanked by Walter Pidgeon (lighting cigarettes galore and tossing in what-me-worry-ish asides) and The Collector’s Samantha Eggar. That gorgeous redhead’s verbal contribution isn’t included in the excerpt, though unambiguously conveyed as same universal language in her looks that goosed me into seeing that movie three or four times during its original release. It’s good to see Eggar sharing a hug-ish greeting with Wyler when he makes his entrance because there was real tension on the set of what was inherently a difficult project.

Finally, there’s Wyler’s relatively brief (maybe five minutes) acceptance speech getting the AFI Life Achievement Award back when that meant a lot more than today. It’s very funny, though obscures the fact that were massive technical problems during the taping, necessitating reshoots that I seem to recall lasted for hours. Talk about a primer in irony, given Wyler’s five-decade rep as master craftsman second to none. Case in point: I think I may be more impressed by his 12 nominations than the three Oscar wins — and that was with no best director nomination for Funny Girl, which would have happened more years than not back then).

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Heiress’ and ‘This Gun for Hire’