There is something so special about a film that delivers a star-making performance that shakes up the cinematic landscape as we know it. In 1953, we were still several years away from iconic performances in films such as Breakfast At Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady, but America was about to be introduced to the incredibly talented actress at the heart of both of those productions. Roman Holiday brought the incredible Audrey Hepburn into the public consciousness with a role so effortlessly endearing that it earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Appearing opposite the wonderful Gregory Peck (To Kill A Mockingbird) and directed by the prolific William Wyler (The Letter, Dodsworth), Hepburn brought a spotlight to Roman Holiday that would lead it to ten Academy Award nominations and critical adoration ever since. After nearly seventy years, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment has given it the lovingly restored home entertainment release it so richly deserves.
Audrey Hepburn stars as Ann, a crowned princess from a nation that the movie does not bother to mention. Princess Ann is on a press tour around the globe that has landed her in Rome. Being a princess brings with it a multitude of responsibilities, the likes of which are starting to wear down our beleaguered royal. Her escorts have her schedule so tightly packed that there is barely time to even breathe. After a minor meltdown, a half-sedated Ann escapes from her country’s embassy and into the life of Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American journalist who shelters her after finding her passed out on a bench. Joe has no idea who he has just picked up, but, once he discovers the highly improbable scenario at hand, he is quick to try to figure out how to play the situation to his advantage. By going along with Ann’s undercover identity, Joe hopes he can land the story of his career.
One of the first images on the screen is a title card indicating that the film was shot entirely in Rome, and that attention to authenticity shows. It is a cliché to say that “*insert location here* was like another character in the movie,” but that does not change the fact that the scenic Roman locations give this film a wonderful immediacy that would not have been possible on a set. The film was shot in black-and-white due to the cost of filming in color outside, and the lovely cinematography presented on screen proves that this was no loss for the picture. The story is one that has been replicated over the years in various forms, but this original version is so lovingly executed that you immediately understand why it is considered a classic. The situations during the “holiday” are humorous without being too overblown. Even when you have a runaway scooter or a fight on a barge, it feels just on the right side of believable within the context of the story.
The true reason this film works, though, is the career-launching performance from Hepburn in the lead role. Legend has it that Hepburn was not even going to get over-the-title billing for the film until Peck told the studio they would look foolish if they didn’t credit her accordingly after performing opposite her for a few days. Hepburn gives Ann an otherworldly warmth and playful naïveté that makes you fall in love with the character instantly. The chemistry between her and the wonderful Gregory Peck is pure joy. After a pivotal scene where Ann cuts off her hair, you feel that a star has just been unveiled. The story is simple, but it just works so incredibly well. As you near the end, you worry that typical Hollywood tropes will ruin this perfect vacation from reality, but the film sticks the landing in a way that is heartfelt and believable. If you have seen Roman Holiday, I am not telling you anything new, but, if you have yet to witness this classic, you owe it to yourself to immerse yourself in this joyful tale.
Roman Holiday makes its long awaited Blu-Ray debut with a new digital restoration in 1080p from the Dupe Negative and a Fine Grain element that is quite excellent. This is a film that has had a long, complicated history filled with poor elements that have prevented it from being properly restored previously. The black and white cinematography is simply gorgeous with smooth gradients and subtle textures. This transfer maintains the filmic quality of the picture with fine film grain giving way to rich details. Black levels are appropriately deep without any pesky nuisances such as digital noise or compression artifacts. The transfer also eradicates any dust specks or print damage that previously plagued the best surviving elements. This picture showcases some nice depth to the image which gives way to a pleasing sense of scale within the locale. This film looks better than I ever would have imagined after all the horror stories I have heard over the years. Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment should be praised for this transfer.
The Blu-Ray comes with a Mono Dolby TrueHD track that is of the highest quality. The dialogue and background noises are rendered crisp and clear with no obvious sync issues. Instances of age-related wear or popping are virtually nonexistent. The score from Georges Auric is quite lovely and maintains a good balance with the dialogue that never compromises the presentation. There are a plethora of optional subtitles included during the main feature, including English and English SDH. Overall, this is a lovely sounding release that does the film justice.
- Filmmaker Focus – Leonard Maltin on Roman Holiday: A seven-minute discussion with famed film critic Leonard Maltin in which he gives some background on Wyler, discusses the development of the film, gives some fun anecdotes, talks discovering Audrey Hepburn and more. Maltin is very informative and provides the information in a concise and entertaining manner.
- Behind The Gates – Costumes: A five-and-a-half minute featurette on the Paramount costume archive which takes the viewer inside to showcase some of the amazing pieces they have in their collection. Special attention is paid to Edith Head, who was in charge of costumes on Roman Holiday.
- Rome With A Princess: A nine-minute piece which delves a little further into the Roman locations on display in the film. A gentle narrator gives a lot of wonderful information that should be of great interest to those who want to know more about the city.
- Audrey Hepburn – The Paramount Years: A thirty-minute featurette that gives a nice overview of Hepburn from birth to the superstar she eventually became at Paramount. As someone who does not have a vast knowledge of Hepburn, this was such an enjoyable supplement.
- Dalton Trumbo – From A-List To Blacklist: A twelve-minute look at the incredible screenwriter that looks to redeem his legacy after being unfortunately blacklisted during Hollywood’s golden era. The figures they get to give background on Trumbo are gushing in their admiration for the man.
- Paramount in the ‘50s: A ten-minute featurette focusing on the output of Paramount Pictures in the 1950s.
- Remembering Audrey: A twelve-minute reflection on the life of Audrey Hepburn with her son and her longtime companion. The two talk about Audrey as a person as well as an actress in a really loving way.
- Theatrical Trailers: The original theatrical teaser, full-length and re-release trailers are provided here that provide a fascinating look at the evolution of marketing the film. Once the world became enamored with Audrey, the studio had to capitalize on the opportunity.
- Galleries: Photos from the Production, The Movie, Publicity and The Premiere.
Roman Holiday is rightly considered to be an all-time classic anchored by winning performances from Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The film is one that leaves you feeling better than when you first started it. After years of clamoring, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment has finally delivered a fantastic Blu-Ray with a pleasing A/V presentation and some entertaining special features. This film is essential for any classic movie lover. Highly Recommended
Paramount Presents Roman Holiday will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray on September 15, 2020
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.