Given this fan’s appetite for excellence in classic cinema, I’ve lost count how many times I have seen the 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday. So, when the opportunity arose from Fathom Events to revisit the pairing of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn (not to mention Eddie Albert pre-Green Acres) at a theater, there I was among other nostalgic movie enthusiasts enjoying this tale of a bored and sheltered princess named Ann (Hepburn) who escapes her guardians and falls in love with Joe Bradley (Peck), an American newsman in Rome.
Like other films presented by Fathom Events, I particularly enjoy the commentary before or after each film care of a film historian. This time, Leonard Maltin was on tap to discuss Roman Holiday.
In her first major film role, Audrey Hepburn, then just 24, won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. It was no surprise to Gregory Peck, however. He suggested to the producers to also put her name over the film’s title because he predicted she would win. In her star-making performance as Princess Ann, this was the first of a string of memorable roles for the beloved actress and humanitarian.
Roman Holiday took home two additional Oscars: Best Writing, Motion Picture Story; and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.
Initially, Roman Holiday director William Wyler had envisioned either Elizabeth Taylor or Jean Simmons in the role of the princess. Cary Grant, meanwhile, was the first choice to play Joe Bradley, but turned down the role because he felt he was too old. Now, of course, you could not imagine anyone else other than Gregory Peck, then 37, and Audrey Hepburn in this film.
In honor of seven decades of Roman Holiday, here are 10 additional factoids you may not know about this classic.
1) Roman Holiday was filmed entirely in Rome, becoming one of the first American films to be made in Italy.
2) Director William Wyler chose to shoot Roman Holiday in black and white so the story and the characters would get the focus, not the location. It was also a way to reduce the cost because it filmed on location.
3) The “mouth of truth” scene where Joe Bradley pretends his hand is bitten off, was suggested by Gregory Peck, who had seen comedian Red Skelton do a similar bit.
4) Eddie Albert as photographer Irving Radovich was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It was one of the film’s 10 nominations. But the winner in the category that year was Frank Sinatra for From Here To Eternity.
5) From Here to Eternity also won the Oscar for Best Film over Roman Holiday (and the other nominees Julius Caesar, The Robe and Shane).
6) In the UK, Roman Holiday benefited from the then romance between Princess Margaret and commoner Peter Townsend. Ultimately, Princess Margaret was forced to renounce Townsend because he was divorced.
7) Although aforementioned Cary Grant passed on Roman Holiday because he was 25-years older than Audrey Hepburn, the pair did star together in the suspense drama Charade in 1963.
8) Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar win was the same year William Holden won for Best Lead Actor as Sgt. J.J. Sefton in drama Stalag 17. The two appeared together in another romantic-themed film, Sabrina, in 1954.
9) Due to Roman Holiday’s popularity, both Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn were approached about filming a sequel, but the proposed project never got off the ground.
10) In 1987, Roman Holiday was remade as a TV movie with Catherine Oxenberg as Princess Elysa and Tom Conti in the role of Joe Bradley. Ed Begley, Jr. provided the comedic support as Leonard Lupo. Naturally, this paled in comparison to the original. “It is one of the more embarrassing duds of a decade,” said The New York Times in a review.
Now, 70 years later, you can discover (or revisit) the original Roman Holiday courtesy of Fathom Events.
“Celebrating the anniversary of Roman Holiday is a fantastic way to kick of our first-ever Fathom’s Big Screen Classics Series,” said Tom Lucas, Vice President of Studio Relations for Fathom Events. “Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar-winning performance is one that everyone should see in the theater, and on the big screen.”
No stranger myself to these Fathom movie events, I have experienced the magic of also revisiting classics like All About Eve, Gone With the Wind, musical Meet Me in St. Louis, and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the next title…and beyond!