Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: Roman Holiday

One of the best parts about having a subscription to Netflix is watching old movies whenever I'm in the mood for one. I received Roman Holiday about a month ago, but it's only tonight that I finally was able to watch it (the film still is courtesy of Wikipedia). The movie is now 55 years old, having been released in 1953, and it is #4 on the American Film Institute's Top 10 Romantic Comedies. I love Audrey Hepburn, but then again who doesn't? She was beautiful in this film, a lithe creature, capturing the essence of a young woman trapped by her duties as a princess, desperate to live a life of her own. The cinematography of Rome was magnificent. The movie was one of the very few at that time to actually be filmed live in another city and not on a Hollywood set. As a result, the city of Rome became another character in the way sites from the Piazza di Spagna to the Castello Sant'Angelo weave themselves between Hepburn, Gregory Peck, and Eddie Albert throughout the film. The sweet innocence of Hepburn's character and a Rome with few tourists and traffic really make this film tug at your heart strings. But, I have to admit, looking at it now, half a century later, that same naivete seems frightening in some scenes: the brusque way Peck treats her in the very beginning; the conniving on his and Albert's part over getting the scoop about who she really is; the way Peck tries to take the camera away from the little girl by sweet-talking her and touching her. The uber-machismo that runs through this movie disturbed me at times, although I'm sure in the early 1950s it was considered attractive. But even in scenes where Hepburn's character flits in and out trusting people she doesn't know, it's like you're waiting for someone to rob her or assault her, and it never happens. It makes it almost unbelievable. This perception though is the product of the urban civilization we live in now, a post-9/11 world where such aspects of innocence couldn't possibly exist anymore. That same innocence is something to wish for and be afraid of at the same time. The ending of the movie, however, did satisfy me. For a while there, I didn't like where it was heading, but it took the right turn in terms of the plot and character development, and I was pleased by the last twenty minutes. Edith Head's costume designs were spectacular, especially the last dress Hepburn wears in the film. The one other thing that struck me with the movie was how Hepburn resembled Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret at that time. When this movie was released, Elizabeth was new to the throne and her sister was in love with a divorced working class commoner. Margaret was forced to give him up. I wondered if there was a connection, and in the special featured documentary on the DVD, they addressed this, claiming it was all just a coincidence, but it made for great press for the film. All in all, Roman Holiday was an excellent film, and I can see how this movie not only jumpstarted Hepburn's Hollywood career but earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. If you haven't seen the movie, here's the official trailer.

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