Welcome to a weekly classic movies column here on Nerdist.com. Each week focuses on a different film available on streaming. Sit back, grab some snacks, and expand your film knowledge with old Hollywood cinema.
In November of 1947, Hollywood experienced a major shakeup that left an impact in cinema for decades to come. Ten writers, referred to as the “Hollywood Ten,” were named as in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. These “blacklisted” professionals were barred from working in the motion picture industry, often for decades. The reason? They were either a member or sympathizer of the Communist Party USA and refused to aid Congress by naming other party members or helping with investigations. Sometimes, these allegations were based upon pure speculation with no evidence the individual had any ties to Communism. Nevertheless, it left a blemish on Hollywood that deeply impacted the industry.
One of the original members of the “Hollywood Ten,” Dalton Trumbo, continued to work as a screenwriter by having friends submit his scripts to studios and directors as their own. Trumbo had conceived of an idea for a romantic comedy set in Europe, wrote a script, and had screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter submit it to director Frank Capra on his behalf. Capra loved the idea, and purchased the script for his production company Liberty Films for $50,000. That script would become the now-beloved film Roman Holiday.
Capra originally planned to direct Roman Holiday, which had a similar rom-com plot to his previous hit movie It Happened One Night. Plans for production hit a snag in 1948, though, with Liberty Films’ first release, State of the Union. Capra ended up selling the company (along with all its undeveloped projects) to Paramount Pictures. The director eventually dropped out of the project when Paramount wouldn’t offer a larger budget than $1.5 million. Paramount then offered the film to William Wyler, who accepted on the condition that the movie be shot completely on location. Roman Holiday became the first U.S. motion picture since World War II entirely shot in Rome.
Roman Holiday revolves around American reporter Joe Bradley (played by Gregory Peck) who is assigned to cover the press tour of Princess Ann (played by Audrey Hepburn). Ann is tired and bored of royal life, and escapes from her guardians in Rome. Bradley unknowingly encounters the princess, unaware of who she is at first. When he finally becomes aware of who Her Royal Highness is, he offers to take her on a tour of the city. The pair eventually fall for each other on their journey exploring Rome. The plot of Roman Holiday is a fairly standard romantic comedy, but most importantly it was the films stars that elevated the film to an essential classic.
Roman Holiday marked the first major starring role for then relative unknown Audrey Hepburn. First spotted by a casting director while performing in London theater as a chorus girl, Hepburn was registered as a freelance actress with the Associated British Picture Corporation. She snagged a few minor film roles in 1951, then nabbed her big break that fall. French writer Colette happened to be on set for one of the films Hepburn was working on and immediately casted her on the spot as the title role in the musical Gigi. When casting Roman Holiday, the film’s producers initially went after Elizabeth Taylor for the role of Princess Ann. However, they were so impressed by Hepburn’s screen test for the role that they offered it to her.
Audrey Hepburn’s screen test for Roman Holiday.
Gregory Peck, who was already a star at the time, was reportedly so dazzled by Hepburn’s performance that he called his agent to demand that Hepburn receive equal billing with Peck for the movie. While the film did not fare well upon first release in the U.S., Roman Holiday turned Audrey Hepburn into a huge star around the world. Director William Wyler reported that when he visited Japan in support of the film, women there were wearing there hair just like Audrey Hepburn’s character. The movie garnered seven Academy Award nominations, earning three – including Hepburn’s win for Best Actress.
Throughout the film shoot, director William Wyler filmed many takes to get scenes right. During the “Moment of Truth” scene though, the shot only required one take. Without Audrey Hepburn’s knowledge, Gregory Peck hid his hand in his sleeve so that when he took it out, it would look like his hand had been eaten. Hepburn’s reaction is real and spontaneous, exactly what Wyler wanted to capture on film.
When production wrapped on the film, Paramount Pictures gifted Hepburn with her entire wardrobe from the movie.
In the big Embassy Ball sequence of the film, extras featured in the scene were members of real Italian nobility. They donated their salaries from the shoot to charity.
In 1999, Roman Holiday was selected by the United States National Film Registry for preservation as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Roman Holiday is currently available to stream on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime Video.
What’s your favorite romantic comedy? What other classic movies would you like to see in a future column? Drop us your thoughts in the comments below!