Published on July 1, 2016
Roman Holiday is a 1953 American romantic comedy directed and produced by William Wyler. It stars Gregory Peck as a reporter and Audrey Hepburn as a royal princess out to see Rome on her own. Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance; the screenplay and costume design also won.
It was written by John Dighton and Dalton Trumbo, though with Trumbo on the Hollywood blacklist, he did not receive a credit; instead, Ian McLellan Hunter fronted for him. Trumbo’s credit was reinstated when the film was released on DVD in 2003. On December 19, 2011, full credit for Trumbo’s work was restored. Blacklisted director Bernard Vorhaus worked on the film as an assistant director under a pseudonym.]
It was shot at the Cinecittà studios and on location around Rome during the “Hollywood on the Tiber” era. The film was screened in the 14th Venice film festival within the official program.
In 1999, Roman Holiday was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Ann (Audrey Hepburn), the crown princess of an unspecified country, has started a widely publicized tour of several European capitals. In Rome she becomes frustrated with her tightly scheduled life, and breaks down at having to repeatedly answer “yes, thankyou” and “no, thankyou” to demands of her time. Her doctor gives her a sedative to calm her down and help her sleep, but she secretly leaves her country’s embassy.
The sedative eventually makes her fall asleep on a bench, where Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an expatriate American reporter working for an American news service based in Rome, finds her. Not recognizing her, he offers her money so she can take a taxi home, but a very woozy “Anya Smith” (as she later calls herself) refuses to cooperate. Joe finally decides, for safety’s sake, to let her spend the night in his apartment. He is amused by her regal manner, but less so when she appropriates his bed. He transfers her to a couch. The next morning, Joe, having already slept through the interview Princess Ann was scheduled to give, hurries off to work, leaving her still asleep.
When his editor, Mr. Hennessy (Hartley Power), asks why Joe is late, Joe lies, claiming to have attended the press conference for the princess. Joe makes up details of the alleged interview until Hennessy informs him that the event had been canceled because the princess had suddenly “fallen ill”. Joe sees a picture of her and realizes who is in his apartment. Joe immediately sees the opportunity and proposes getting an exclusive interview for the newspaper for $5000. Hennessy, not knowing the circumstances, agrees to the deal, but bets Joe $500 that he will not succeed.
Joe hurries home and, hiding the fact that he is a reporter, offers to show Anya around Rome. He also surreptitiously calls his photographer friend, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), to tag along to secretly take pictures. However, Anya declines Joe’s offer and leaves.
Joe shocks his royal friend, pretending to have lost his hand to the Mouth of Truth.
Enjoying her freedom, on a whim, Anya gets her hair cut short. Joe follows and “accidentally” meets her on the Spanish Steps. This time, he convinces her to spend the day with him. They see the sights, including the “Mouth of Truth”, a face carved in marble which is said to bite off the hands of liars. When Joe pulls his hand out of the mouth, it appears to be missing, causing Anya to scream. He then pops his hand out of his sleeve and laughs. (Hepburn’s shriek was not acting—Peck decided to pull a gag he had once seen Red Skelton do, and did not tell his co-star beforehand.)
Later, Anya shares with Joe her dream of living a normal life without her crushing responsibilities. That night, at a dance on a boat, government agents finally track her down and try to escort her away, but a wild melee breaks out and Joe and Anya escape. While trying to rescue her from plain clothes government agents, Joe is ambushed and falls into a river after being struck. Ann dives in to save him, and they swim away together away from the agents, finally sharing a kiss as they sit shivering on the riverbank. The princess then bids farewell to Joe and returns to the embassy. There she is lectured upon the sense of duty she must display, but visibly pained retorts that without such a sense, she would never have returned.
Joe and Anya on a scooter ride through Rome—a ride that ends at the police station.
During the course of the day, Hennessy learns that the princess is missing, not ill as claimed. He suspects that Joe knows where she is and tries to get him to admit it, but Joe claims to know nothing about it. Joe decides not to write the story, despite the considerable amount of money riding on it. Irving first plans to sell his photographs independent of the story, but eventually decides against it.
The next day, Princess Ann appears to answer questions from the press, and is surprised to find Joe and Irving there. Irving takes her picture with the same miniature cigarette-lighter/camera he had used the previous day. When asked by a reporter which city of her European tour was her favorite, Ann first makes a diplomatic all-were-equally-good answer, but interrupts it with an impulsive “Rome, by all means, Rome.” At the end of the interview, the Princess requests to “meet” the journalists, shaking hands and making highly formal conversation. As she reaches Joe and Irving, the latter presents her with an envelope with the photographs he had taken, under the pretext of a generic memento of Rome. The three make several statements that hint at the truth and their dispositions, while pretending to formality and the distance expected between the princess and two strange journalists.