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Paramount Studios presents
Roman Holiday (1953)

Ann: At midnight, I'll turn into a pumpkin and drive away in my glass slipper.
Joe: And that will be the end of the fairy tale.

- Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: November 25, 2002

Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck
Other Stars: Eddie Albert, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings, Hartley Power
Director: William Wyler

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing offensive)
Run Time: 01h:58m:02s
Release Date: November 26, 2002
UPC: 097360620443
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

On the surface, Roman Holiday doesn't seem like it should be much of a film, this trifle of a story about a princess who feels confined by her royalty and runs away from the palace to discover what life is really like. It's a sort of fairy tale, Cinderella in reverse容njoyable, perhaps, but not the kind of movie you expect to stick with you. But then, most movies don't have such a solid script (penned by Dalton Trumbo, a casualty of the Hollywood blacklist), or as beautiful a setting as Rome, or as captivating a lead as Audrey Hepburn, the loveable pixie, all neck and limbs and tiny waist, who brought the world to its knees with this, her first major motion picture.

Hepburn plays Ann, a European princess on an official tour through Rome. After days of elegant balls, fine dresses, and polite exchanges with heads of state, Ann is fed up with her regimented lifestyle. After going into hysterics one night, she is given something to relax her by her doctor and left to sleep. Instead, she sneaks out of the palace and sets about exploring the city. Soon the drug takes effect, and she falls asleep in the street, only to be picked up by gruff newspaperman Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who figures he'll get an exclusive story out of her, provided he doesn't let on who he is (which works out well enough, as she's likewise not eager to reveal her identity, and is unaware that he recognizes her).

The setup is simple enough, and certainly nothing new, but that familiarity actually works in the film's favor, as it puts the actors front and center. Peck is decent in his role, admirably performing various gags and pratfalls, but one can't help but wonder what the film would have been had Cary Grant been given the lead (Peck jokes that every time he read a romantic script he knew Grant had already read it and passed). Perhaps anyone would pale in comparison to Audrey, however, who is utterly charming and completely genuine as Ann (she picked up an Oscarョ for her efforts). Looking as much at home in elaborate gowns as in men's pajamas (designed by the legend-in-her-own-right Edith Head), Hepburn quickly became one of the most popular box-office draws, setting fashion and style trends throughout the 1950s.

William Wyler, best known for directing dramas like The Best Years of Our Lives and spectacles like Ben-Hur, tried his hand at romantic comedy with Roman Holiday, and perhaps he was the wrong choice for such a picture葉he pacing is often not what it should be, the gags don't always play as well as they could傭ut the picture floats along nicely nevertheless, thanks in large part to the remarkable Roman scenery. Most pictures at the time were shot completely in Hollywood, on soundstages, but Wyler takes full advantage of shooting on location, capturing in glorious detail the most famous landmarks and the smallest, quaint caf&eactue;s, creating a travelogue of the city without sacrificing story for spectacle.

Roman Holiday was nominated for ten Academy Awardsョ and ended up winning three, losing Best Picture to From Here to Eternity. Time has treated it quite well, though, and in retrospect it's the most entertaining of the year's nominees. Perhaps it was then, as now, that lightweight romantic comedies rarely win the top awards. That it stands up 50 years later as one of the best of its genre shows that, perhaps, awards don't always matter. Besides, they got at least one right: the Best Actress award for Hepburn cemented her status as Hollywood's It Girl and jump started her now legendary career.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Roman Holiday went through a full digital restoration for release to DVD (the process of which is outlined in the bonus materials), and the results are quite remarkable葉his nearly 50-year-old film looks as good as new. The black & white image is nice and crisp, with excellent detail. Blacks are rich and solid, showing excellent shadow detail. Edge enhancement and artifacting are never a problem. The really impressive part if the quality of the source materials (or rather, the cleaned-up source materials). The digital restoration has removed any trace of scratches, dirt, marks, or lines on the print. Grain is also kept to a minimum, much of it removed as part of this same restoration. Some argue that the removal of grain actually takes away from the "film like" look, but its absence here does not distract.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: This disc wonderfully preserves the original mono track, and a very fine one at that. Dialogue is crystal clear and always sounds natural. The score and sound effects are well supported for the most part (though some of the higher ranges can sound a bit harsh on occasion). As far as mono tracks go, dynamic range is quite good葉he mix sounds nice and full, with minimal background hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Galleries
Extras Review: Paramount has included some nice featurettes that do a good job of placing the film in a historical context. While not as comprehensive as their Sunset Blvd. release, Roman Holiday's DVD is nothing to sneeze at.

First up is the 25-minute documentary Remembering Roman Holiday. This piece follows the creation of the film from casting to release, and supplements behind-the-scenes photos with lots of interviews with surviving crew and cast and with the daughter of William Wyler. Aside from various facts and trivia about the film, there is footage of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo speaking in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (Frank Capra was, in fact, set to direct until he learned that a blacklisted writer had produced the screenplay). Other vintage footage includes Audrey Hepburn's screen tests and her acceptance speech at the Academy Awardsョ. There's also old interview footage of Gregory Peck speaking about comedy and working with Hepburn. Though brief, this piece is packed full of information and quite well produced.

Edith Head: The Paramount Years is a 15-minute piece on costume designer Edith Head, who was a staple at Paramount throughout Hollywood's golden age. The piece charts the course of her career, from her start during the silent era through her celebrated work on White Christmas, A Place in the Sun, To Catch a Thief, and Sunset Blvd. The piece includes interviews with a number of the creative talents who worked with Head. Note that this "exclusive featurette" also appears on the discs for To Catch a Thief and Sunset Blvd.

The final featurette is a very interesting 6-minute piece on the film's digital restoration, which features additional footage of the Paramount archives. Before and after footage reveals just how much the image has been improved using digital technology. True cineastes will be troubled to note the disdain with which the restoration guys talk about film grain.

Rounding out the disc are three trailers (including a special teaser featuring screen test footage of Hepburn and a clip for the 1960's re-release) and a four-part photo gallery that divides about 90 pictures into Production, The Movie, Publicity, and The Premiere.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Roman Holiday is certainly one of the most charming romantic comedies ever made, thanks in no small part to a luminescent breakout performance from Audrey Hepburn. Paramount has finally brought a classic to DVD and the gorgeous transfer and spiffy supplements were certainly worth the wait葉his disc is a ringer.


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