Friday, January 8, 2016

Audrey Takes a Holiday

TCM's Fathom Events series in November featured Audrey Hepburn's introduction to American audiences with Roman Holiday (1953).  Ms. Hepburn plays the Princess Anya, a young woman born into royalty, but oh so tired, after a long world tour, of the protocols that come with being a representative of her country.  After she has a stress reaction to her duties, her physician gives her a sedative, which only succeeds in making her, to all intents and purposes, drunk.  With her inhibitions gone, Anya makes a break for it, sneaking out of her country's Embassy in Rome.  She's found napping in the park by American correspondent Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who winds up taking her to his apartment, and dumping her on his sofa.  It is only the next morning that he realizes he has a princess - and a doozie of a story on his hands - as Anne Smith (Smitty) takes a day to explore the life of a commoner.

 As is outlined in one of these TCM articles, Gregory Peck, whose contracted stipulated sole star billing, called the powers that be at the studio and insisted that Audrey Hepburn be given star billing with him.  Ever the gentleman, Mr. Peck would later claim that it was merely enlightened self-interest - that he would look ridiculous being labeled as the only "star," when Ms. Hepburn so clearly dominated the film.  But it is also a mark of his total professionalism and dedication to his craft that he so quickly recognized the birth of a new star. 
For dominate she did - has any actress ever looked more radiant in her first starring role?  Of course, she had the magnificent William Wyler as her director - Wyler guided her (along with Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand (also in her first film role), Greer Garson, Teresa Wright - a grand total of 14 actors) to an Oscar in the acting category.  Hepburn is glorious here - she conveys both the innocence and strength of Anne.  Especially effective is a scene at the end of the film, which counterpoints a similar scene at the beginning.  In both, Anya meets with her courtiers, but the results of each scene are quite different.  Hepburn effectively grows the character before your eyes, and you believe in Anya's development as a future monarch.

Hepburn was not the first choice for the part - it was considered as a role for Jean Simmons, Elizabeth Taylor (the first choice of the Frank Capra, who at one point was going to direct), and Suzanne Cloutier (who was screen tested by Wyler).  Cary Grant (who declined the part) was the first choice for Joe Bradley (thankfully - he and Ms. Hepburn would work together FINALLY in Charade.  They were a match made in heaven!).  For more detail on the background of the film, see this extensive article in the AFI Catalog.

Eddie Albert plays photographer Irving Radovich, Joe's friend and conspirator in the quest to get a story about the runaway princess.  Mr. Albert gets to show off his acrobatic side - he was at one point a trapeze performer - becoming the victim of a number of "accidents," as Joe is continually trying to prevent him from spilling the beans about one secret or another (and Joe has lots of them).  Mr. Albert was working as a radio host when was offered a contract with Warner Brothers.  His first film role was Bing in Brother Rat, a role he had originated in the Broadway production.  He, in fact, appeared in 9 Broadway productions, including The Music Man (as a replacement for Robert Preston), and The Seven Year Itch (replacing Tom Ewell).  With a film career that started in 1938 and continued until 1994, he has a large body of work, including film such as My Love Came Back (1940), The Sun Also Rises (1957), and Oklahoma (1955).  His career might have been even more substantial had he and his wife, the actress Margo (they were married from 1945 until her death in 1985), not been caught up the Hollywood Blacklist.  Eventually, Albert segued into television - most famously in the series Green Acres, but also in Switch and a daytime variety show called The Eddie Albert Show.  He lived til age 99, dying in 2005 of Alzheimer's disease.

Eddie Albert wasn't the only person on this film touched by the Blacklist.  In 1992, AMPAS finally awarded to Dalton Trumbo his Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story, which had previously been credited to Ian McClellan Hunter (who himself was later blacklisted) as sole author.  Having just seen Roman Holiday, it was interesting to also see Trumbo, which goes into some detail about the help Hunter provided in getting Trumbo's screenplay to film.
Roman Holiday has been included in the Library of Congress's National Registry of Historic Films as well as being number 4 on the AFI's 100 Years, 100 Passions list. It's a lovely film, with a visualization of true emotions and adult responsibilities. I'm going to close with perhaps the most famous scene in the film, the Mouth of Truth.  Allegedly, Mr. Hepburn didn't know that Gregory Peck was going to pretend his hand had been bitten off, and her quite convincing scream was real.  Regardless, it's a joy to watch, and expertly done.  Enjoy!