#261. Roman Holiday (1953)

[Editor’s Note from the Future: I wrote this just after watching it with Rosie, when we were still together, and now that afternoon is plastered in my mind as a particularly good time. And the movie’s colored by it. I’m a fan.]

The ladyfriend watched this one with me because it’s been one of her favorite movies for years and when we got a few minutes into it she said that Audrey Hepburn’s beauty gives her goosebumps. Waxed intermittently on how charming Hepburn is. Started planting this seed of reverence in my head. So I feel too that Hepburn here is absolutely dazzling and believable as a young princess on the edge of a nervous collapse in response to the tedium and demand of her role.

            In fact the movie starts with some painfully long, rote, ornate and mannered ceremony where she’s forced to systematically field the greetings, one at a time, of dignitary after dignitary, and then to waltz ina  slow humorless way. It sets the stage perfectly for illustrating the near-breakdown she has that night which she’s injected with a sedative—a sedative that turns her into a gregarious and chatty sleepwalker (like a festive version of Dr. Caligaris somnambulist). It sends her sneaking out of the palace and into the streets of Rome (where a title card tells us the entire picture was proudly filmed). Sleeping and slurring on a fountain, she’s picked up by a dashing roguish journalist, an uber-bachelor, played by Gregory Peck. He puts her in a cab, tries to get rid of her, but ends up laying her out in his bed to get some sleep.

            It wasn’t long into the movie when Rosie started in with this chorus of “not in 2018.”

            Peck picks up an ostensibly drunk woman half his age and gets in a cab with her.

            “Not in 2018.”

            Helps this inebriated noodle of a young woman into pajamas when they get back to his place.

            “Not in 2018.”

            Asking his landlord to forbid her from leaving his apartment after he finds out she’s royalty.

            “Not in 2018.”

            She was tongue-in-cheek about it but there was a grain of sincerity, and truth. Like she was somewhat at odds with herself for loving the movie so much. And it wasn’t distracting (the movie, though very clever and fun and led by two fantastically charming leads, is nonetheless not my cup of tea, and I was open to commentary—I also made the mistake of taking a 1 p.m. Sunday beer with our viewing, which inflated a drowsiness from whose grasp her occasional remark snapped me free). But now, a day later, I’m thinking of what percentage of mvoies fromt eh List might be overwhelmed by that chant. A lot of the driving action from a lot of these movies just isn’t socially acceptable anymore and I’m still not decided on how useful it is to point that stuff out and talk about it. Because a huge percentage of that discours,e when ti comes to thse old movies, is just an opportunity for the speaker to lord their moral superiority over a bunch of dead people whose work has been somewhat muted with time and who can’t respond. A way to feel like you’ve done something, fought a good fight, without actually having to risk anything.

            Or so it strikes me.

            Anyway. Roman Holiday has a lot in common with It Happened One Night, the Capra-directed rom-com starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert from 1934, wherein a reporter picsk up a young heiress, on the lam from her stiflingly wealthy family, and promises to shepherd her on her journey to safer lands in exchange fro the exclusive story.

            Gregory Peck’s character her is looking to write a similar expose about how the princess, disguised with a bob-like haircut, spends her day beyond the palace walls. Like Gable, Peck doesn’t end up publishing the piece. They both, in fact, end up surrendering the material necessary to do so.

            But as products of different eras, it’s neat to see how, as films interested in satisfying their respective audiences with a couple hours of charming romantic escape, they take slightly different approaches. A product of the Great Depression, the lump of cash that fuels our hero’s journey is, ultimately, attained, albeit by nobler means.

            In Roman Holiday, the life-changing $5k that Peck might get by publishing the story is, finally, surrendered in exchange for virtue, loyalty. Maybe a projection of something that was absent in a Hollywood that trembled under the shadow of Joseph McCarthy, HUAC investigations, labeling people Communists and running their careers (and most directly addressed, to date, in High Noon).

            The end of Roman Holiday is a bit melancholic. Mournful. With a beautiful tracking shot that follows Peck, from the front, as he walks alone, head down and hands in his pockets, out fromt eh massive hall where he just participated in the Princess’s Q&A with press. (The shot is reminiscent of the long, gorgeous, bittersweet closing shot of Carol Reed’s The Third Man.)

            Not sure how I feel about it as a whole. Feels like a simple rom-com outta the 1930s, but there’s also something a little more tormented about it.

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