Fairy tales don't really happen in our world -- especially not the kind that actually involve princesses.
But you wouldn't know that from "Roman Holiday," one of Audrey Hepburn's earliest ever movie roles -- as well as her breakout one. This adorable romantic comedy balances itself nicely between a sweet little romance, a lighthearted romance and the bittersweet, overhanging specter of royal duty.
Bored young Princess Ann (Hepburn) goes on a "Roman Holiday," when she gets upset, is sedated by a doctor, and has an odd reaction to it. Soon she has wandered out of the palace and into the streets of Rome, where she is found by struggling American journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). Since she appears to be drunk, he takes her home.
When Joe realizes that he has the missing princess in his apartment, he takes her on a whirlwind tour of Rome, with his pal taking photographs for a full article about her. But he doesn't count on falling in love with Ann, or having her truly fall for him. And Ann has a tough choice to make -- should she give up her royal life and stay with Joe, or fulfil her responsibilities as a princess?
"Roman Holiday" is one of those rare movies that sounds incredibly trite and Hollywoodish when you just hear what it's about, because it's been done so many times before. Surprise -- instead we get a movie that is mostly a cute, innocent little romance, but with an inevitable choice that looms over Anne throughout her fun.
But it's a fun ride while it lasts, with Anne and Joe careening through Rome on a scooter, dancing by the river, and getting her hair cut. This doesn't sound very funny, but William Wyler plays it with plenty of little jokes, including Joe's scandalized landlady raving at poor Anne in Italian, assuming that she's a one-night stand. And near the end he twists the storyline into a bittersweet examination of duty vs. love, with Anne forced to consider which way her life will go.
And there's one joke that Peck played on Hepburn in reality -- the infamous "Mouth of Truth" scene. There's a reason Hepburn shrieked so convincingly: she had really been tricked.
Hepburn and Gregory Peck are thoroughly solid as love interests -- Peck is breezy and likable as the jaded American journalist who is seizing an opportunity. And Hepburn showed off her range here -- she can be funny and quirky (including a hilarious "drunk" scene), then switch over into a doe-eyed sadness that breaks the heart.
"Roman Holiday" is a modern-day fairy tale that never sacrifices integrity for cheap gooey romance. A truly magical, bittersweet little movie.