Thursday, October 1, 2009

Roman Holiday (1953)

Princess Ann: Were I not completely aware of my duty to my family and to my country, I would not have come back tonight... or indeed ever again! ~Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday, the lighthearted frolic the catapulted Audrey Hepburn to stardom and an Academy Award, could be dismissed as a piece of fluff except for the messages it sends about duty and commitment. Allegedly based upon the Italian misadventures of Britain's Princess Margaret Rose, Roman Holiday shows that the heart of royalty, or any life of privilege, is not the honor and luxury but the high responsibilities to others. As a film it is fun to watch, especially the scenes of Rome. According to the 1953 review in The Nation:

The Paramount crew that worked on Roman Holiday reminded me of expert marksmen who had made "charm" their target and seldom if ever missed it. The ancient buildings and streets of Rome are used as an unobtrusive backdrop, and I doubt whether architecture and sculpture have ever been tied in so tenderly and humorously with what the characters are doing at the moment. In the leading role of a bored princess who steals away from dull court routine for a day of street adventures with an American newspaperman, Audrey Hepburn has enough poise and looks for seven princesses....
The screenwriter Dalton Trumbo wrote Roman Holiday under a different name after being blacklisted. Trumbo is now usually viewed as a being a martyr to his Communist convictions. However, Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley in "Hollywood's Missing Movies" discusses Trumbo's influence in Hollywood over the years:

Dalton Trumbo (Kitty Foyle), a Communist Party member and for a time the highest-paid screenwriter in town, described the screenwriting trade as "literary guerrilla warfare." The studio system, in which projects were closely supervised, made the insertion of propaganda difficult if not impossible. Hollywood did not become a bastion of Stalinist propaganda, except as part of the war effort, when Russia was celebrated as an ally. Ayn Rand, then a Hollywood screenwriter and one of the few in the movie community who had actually lived under communism, was to point out that, in their zeal to provide artistic lend-lease, American Communist screenwriters went to extraordinary and absurd lengths. In such wartime movies as North Star and Song of Russia (both 1943), they portrayed the USSR as a land of joyous, well-fed workers who loved their masters. Mission to Moscow (also 1943), starring Walter Huston, went so far as to whitewash Stalin's murderous show trials of the 1930s.

But if Comintern fantasies of a Soviet Hollywood were never realized, party functionaries nevertheless played a significant role: They were sometimes able to prevent the production of movies they opposed. The party had not only helped organize the Screen Writers Guild, it had organized the Story Analysts Guild as well. Story analysts judge scripts and film treatments early in the decision making process. A dismissive report often means that a studio will pass on a proposed production. The party was thus well positioned to quash scripts and treatments with anti-Soviet content, along with stories that portrayed business and religion in a favorable light. In The Worker, Dalton Trumbo openly bragged that the following works had not reached the screen: Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; Victor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom; and Bernard Clare by James T. Farrell, also author of Studs Lonigan and vilified by party enforcer Mike Gold as "a vicious, voluble Trotskyite."

Even talent agents sometimes answered to Moscow. Party organizer Robert Weber landed with the William Morris agency, where he represented Communist writers and directors such as Ring Lardner Jr. and Bernard Gordon. Weber carried considerable clout regarding who worked and who didn't. So did George Willner, a Communist agent representing screenwriters, who sold out his noncommunist clients by deliberately neglecting to shop their stories. On a wider scale, the party launched smear campaigns and blacklists against noncommunists, targeting such figures as Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, and Bette Davis.

It is interesting to me that a Communist like Trumbo, while wholeheartedly exposing the absurdities and discomforts of royal protocol in Roman Holiday, would also tap the core of what it means to be a princess, perhaps in spite of himself. It calls to mind the work of Communist director Luchino Visconti in The Leopard. Both Trumbo and Visconti, in showing the flaws of the old order, which they worked to overthrow, also revealed in their works the beauty of the tattered remnants of chivalry and tradition. Princess Ann's sacrifice of the man she loves in order to fulfill her duty to her country helps Joe (Gregory Peck) to rise above selfishness and make a sacrifice for her in his turn. By the end of the film Joe has become a knight through the love for his lady.

As one reviewer notes in Top Ten Reviews:
It's a Cinderella tale in reverse. It was supposedly based on the real-life Italian adventures of British Princess Margaret. Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) gets tired of protocol after a week of hitting a number of European cities on an official good-will tour. On her Rome visit, she's injected with a sleeping medicine but before it takes effect sneaks out of the countess's palace where she's staying as a guest. The Princess hopes to relieve her boredom by being on her own for a few hours. She's found groggy in the street by economically struggling American reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who puts her up for the night in his cramped apartment without any foul play--giving her the couch while he takes the bed. The next day he discovers from the bureau chief of his news agency (Hartley Power) that the Princess is missing and by looking at a newspaper photo realizes that the girl in his apartment is the runaway Princess. Smelling big money, he shakes hands with his the bureau chief that if he gets an exclusive story and pictures of the Princes there's at least $5,000 in it for him. With that in mind he gets Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), a newspaper photographer friend, to tag along with him while he spends the day with the Princess. Using his lighter camera Irving takes photos of the Princess on the sly as she sports her new short haircut, sits in a cafe, visits numerous tourists sights such as the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Castel Sant' Angelo, Brancaccio, Barberini Palazzi and the "Mouth of Truth," and gets photos of her involved in a brawl in a barge dance on the Tiber when undercover agents try to take her back to her royal party. Joe is her nice guy 'Prince Charming' commoner, who kisses her and then has a change of heart of running the scoop on her escapade. In the end, the average-guy Joe shows he can rise to the level of a noble and be just as regal as the Princess.
The final scene in which Princess Ann casts one last look at Joe, eyes full of tears, shines with the poignant beauty of a love which triumphs even as it is lost. As for Joe, as his expression proclaims as he leaves the glittering embassy, the encounter with his princess and his sacrifice in her regard has lifted him into another realm of being.

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Enbrethiliel said...


I absolutely love this movie! <3

How interesting to know its backstory. Thanks, Elena. =)

Julygirl said...

I did not know all that. Found lots more interesting information when I clicked on the word '(Photo)'.