The enchanting “Roman Holiday” has a new life with its 4K restoration
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Newcomer Audrey Hepburn won the Academy Award for Best Actress as Princess Ann in William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday.” Gregory Peck plays American journalist Joe Bradley.
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“ROMAN HOLIDAY: PARAMOUNT PRESENTS”
Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1953; unrated; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: YouTube “Restoration discussion with Leonard Maltin and Andrea Kalas”
THE FIRST Hollywood movie shot entirely on location, “Roman Holiday” also broke ground by introducing Audrey Hepburn to the world. And when you see this utterly delightful film, you’ll understand why the world became immediately enchanted with the adorably waif-like Dutch actress.
Hepburn plays Ann, a young princess from an unnamed country, who is on a sort of diplomatic tour. We meet her in Rome, where it’s clear she’s fed up with the endless obligations, rules and restrictions that her position requires. When, one evening, she longingly looks out her window at a lively outdoor dance, Ann plans an escape from her tedium. In the dead of night, she leaves the embassy and wanders the Roman streets until, exhausted, she falls asleep on a fountain wall. It’s there she’s discovered by Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American reporter, who manages to get the semi-conscious young woman up to his modest apartment, where she can safely sleep. It so happens that Joe had just been assigned by his editor to interview Princess Ann. When he sees her photo in a newspaper the next day, and realizes that’s whom he’s rescued, he tells his photographer friend (Edward Albert) about it. The two come up with a scheme to show the princess around Rome without telling her they’re journalists, and get a story and photos with the potential to earn them lots of money. Everything goes according to plan — or does it?
(1) The Paramount production cost $1.5 million to make in Italy. (2) The film opens with newsreel footage of the young princess. (3) Princess Ann is introduced at the Embassy gala.
With William Wyler’s savvy direction, a story and screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, and cinematography by Henri Alekan, “Roman Holiday” is a smart, charming, timeless romantic fairytale without a scintilla of sentimentality. The Academy voters agreed, and the film received ten nominations and three Oscars — for Hepburn (best actress); for Trumbo (story); and for Edith Head (costume design).
Paramount’s frame-by-frame 4K restoration is stellar and looks wonderful in its first 1080p presentation. Filmed in black and white, and framed in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this version presents all the variations and shades of gray possible, along with a satisfying grain and excellent fine detail.
The mono soundtrack is also flawless and well-balanced, with realistic sound effects and clear always-intelligible dialogue.
(1) In the middle of the night Princess Ann escapes from the embassy. (2) Joe Bradley and photographer friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) play poker late into the night. (3) After the card game, Bradley finds the half-asleep princess on a bench at the Via della Curia, Fori Imperiali. (4) Bradley takes the young woman up to his modest apartment, where she can safely sleep.
The bonus features are plentiful on this disc, with a new “A Filmmaker Focus” by film critic Leonard Maltin, while the rest were carried over from previous DVDs: “Behind the Gates: Costumes,” “Rome With a Princess,” “Audrey Hepburn: the Paramount Years,” “Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist,” “Paramount in the ‘50s,” “Remembering Audrey,” and some photo galleries.
The best extra is available on YouTube, “Restoration Discussion with Leonard Maltin and Andrea Kalas.” Maltin notes that the original script by Dalton Trumbo was bought for Frank Capra in the late 1940s, but the director had “mixed feelings” about it. When Wyler was offered the film, he said he’d do it, but only if he could shoot the whole thing on location in Rome.
At that point, Wyler was considered a “very bankable director,” so Paramount gave in to the costly proposition. The cast and crew were flown to Italy, and had the use of the Cinecittà studios, as well as the fabulous sites all over the Eternal City. Maltin also reiterates what is covered in the Trumbo featurette — that the writer was blacklisted during the Joseph McCarthy HUAC hearings and his name couldn’t be used in the screen credits. Instead, Trumbo borrowed the name of a friend, Ian McLellan Hunter, who, as Trumbo’s “front,” accepted the Oscar in his place.
Andrea Kalas, the head of Paramount Archives, mentions the rarity of shooting a film on location at that time, and notes the fact that Rome was “opening up again” after World War II. One of the many challenges faced in the restoration was the fact that Wyler had to use the film labs in Rome, which had “different standards” than those in the U.S., resulting in the original negative having been “damaged while the film was being made.” The restoration required frame-by-frame repairs, due to scratches and bad splices. Kalas also says that the sons of Trumbo and Hunter, the man who became Trumbo’s front, became close friends and “worked to get credit back for Trumbo for both the story and the screenplay.” The new 4K master has Trumbo listed as author and co-screenwriter. Kalas also comments that “the tools for digital restoration are so advanced now … it’s possible to honor the original film grain and get rid of flaws that interfere with the enjoyment of the film.” As for the monaural soundtrack, Paramount chose not to do an “up-mix” and kept it as originally recorded.
Don’t miss this timeless treasure.
— Peggy Earle
(1) With a newspaper article and picture, Bradley confirms the young woman asleep in his apartment is the princess. (2&3) She and Bradley go to the rooftop for a view of the Eternal City. (4&5) The princess gets a new sassy haircut.
(1) The princess drives a Vespa through the streets of Rome. (2) She and the guys visit “The Mouth of Truth.” (3) After an evening of eating and dancing and then fighting off her own security guards, Ann and Bradley start to have feelings for each other. (4) The princess realizes she must return to the embassy.
(1&2) After returning to the embassy she and her staff have a heated conversation. (3) The next morning, Princess Ann meets the press.