Welcome to The Romantic Film Guru, the column that discusses what are the best, worst, overrated and under appreciated films with romance elements that have been made.
What this means is the reviews and Tier structure is solely based when looking at in the angle of someone who likes to watch romantic films. Some great films can have terrible romantic subplots, making it a bad movie for romance lovers. Others can be ok or even bad films that actually has a good romantic side to it.
There are tons of romantic films that The Wiz has seen and is dying to show you some of the best around…and of course, some of them that haven’t held together since it’s first release.
On this post, we are talking about a film that started a Hollywood legend. It has been honored in several ways since it’s release in 1953: The movie won two Oscars (Best Actress, Best Writing) and was nominated for 10 Oscars. The film is on the National Film Registry for film being preserved for its importance for the medium. It’s currently #235 in the IMDB’s Top 250 films of all time. The American Film Institute honored this film as one of the 10 Best Romantic Comedy’s of all time, coming in at #4.
It’s also the first that was American produced that was shot entirely in Italy. In fact, the landscapes of Italy were so beautiful that the filmmaker elected to not colorize it, fearing that it would take away attention from the main characters.
It’s classic. It, like movies like City Lights and It Happened One Night, are responsible for creating the template that many romantic comedies pass through today.
Roman Holiday, in some ways, reminds of one of my all time favorite romantic movie series: The Before films created by Richard Linklater. The film’s plot is made entirely from dialogue and concentrates on the characters and their relationship than any type of scene that shows an action of unabashed love.
The difference between this and the Before series is the tone. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are somber films that deals with the impending clock of the love affair having to end, whereas Roman Holiday is very light, cute and humorous with it’s very witty dialogue and two characters that are simply a joy to watch on screen.
So, compared to other movies discussed and modern films being made, how does Roman Holiday stack up?
Likes and Dislikes
If you are someone who can’t stand black and white anything for whatever reason, you shouldn’t bother.
Lovers of screenplay writing and dialogue need apply!
See the greatest actress of all time in what could be her best role!
Also, Audrey Hepburn is a great mix of cute lovability and pure beauty. Her eyes will make you melt! Her smile will make you red! Seeing her in pajamas will give you ideas!
See Gregory Peck smile!
The actual romance is mostly implied and not fully announced or dealt with; basically, this isn’t a showy film about lovers meeting (a la Nicholas Sparks movies).
Princess Ann (Hepburn) is someone who doesn’t like the life put forth to her. Being whisked away on appointment after appointment, she grows to detest the life she is having. One night, she decides to sneak out of the royal grounds to check out the nightlife in Rome. This leads to a chance meeting with Joe Bradley (Peck), a news reporter who lucks into one of the biggest scoops he’s ever had. Throughout the movie, each person lies to the other to hide the real truth of their intentions, while something may blossom throughout.
When released in 1953, Roman Holiday was a big deal for various reasons: it featured Gregory Peck in a more likable and jovial role, it was the first film to be shot entirely in Italy and, most importantly, it introduced the world to one of, if not the, greatest actresses of all time.
And man, this was a dynamite way to introduce her. Whether she was perfect for the character or the character was tailored to her, Audrey Hepburn is the key to this film being exceptional. Her presence is a perfect mix of movie star and charismatic actress: her smile illuminates the screen with her cute, yet beautiful smile and those big, lovely eyes.
Yet, her way of making the character work between a pampered princess rebelling her superiors and young woman exploring herself through the streets of Rome is played flawlessly. Sure, you can watch her be cute and perky and that would be enough, but she creates a character that, despite the movie being 60 years old and that this type of formula has been played through the ringer numerous times, is one of the more timeless and enjoyable characters to be put on film.
I never really dwell on looks of an actor, unless they are so off with the film or don’t feel right (in a makeup or casting sort of way), and part of me feels bad to talk about it because sometimes a actress’ look often is the primary attribute that many people focus on with female actors.
I’m mentioning this because just Audrey Hepburn: her look, her smile, her big beautiful eyes, her hair. Everything about her looks wise is the most stunning I have ever seen on an actress. For that to be said, in a black and white movie AND a movie that isn’t sexual in the slightest, shows how absolutely captivating she is to look at.
Again, this is used as a crutch for most actresses, but she uses her expressive face and her looks as part of a performance, not the actual totality. Her rebellious personality along with her cute, playful looks is a dangerous combination that it’s easy to see a man falling in love with her.
Speaking of the man falling in love with the main character, Gregory Peck is surprisingly good as the lighthearted foil for Hepburn to bounce off of. Peck, who’s more well known for his more serious roles in Spellbound, To Kill a Mockingbird (an all time favorite of mine) and Cape Fear, manages to be likable without being droning, stale or lacking in personality.
The funny thing about Peck is that he’s played completely straight and sort of conniving; he could easily have been looked at as sort of a scumbag, if he wasn’t so damn honorable in the first 15 minutes of the film. But Peck’s portrayal of Joe is very well constructed to go from ambiguously amoral to whole heartedly touched. Peck makes this somewhat annoying trope lovable.
Of course, two actors charming the camera can go so far. That’s why the biggest strength of the film is the screenplay. The strength of the screenplay is from two parts: the dialogue of the characters and slowly simmering romance that builds, even after the film is over.
The dialogue in all aspects, even not romantically involved, is a charming mix of old Hollywood and what are more or less called “talkative” films. By talkative, look at films like My Dinner With Andre, the Before series and 12 Angry Men, where all the main action and plot development is specifically done through dialogue.
The characters dialogue are intelligently written from each main character, giving them each a distinct personality that can be archetypical, but gives them a personality that is memorable. The dialogue also makes the characters seem real and seem intelligent.
The one thing that the screenplay does that I’ve seen very few movies do this well is give the romance angle a more simmering background feel. You can easily watch this movie and not see a romance coming. You can believe it is about one guy trying to get a scoop and the girl just trying to have fun for the first time in a long time.
But the film doesn’t really tell you what you should be feeling. It lets the viewer decide what’s really going on throughout the film. You can literally have 20 people watch the movie and they may all choose 20 different scenes in the film where they see the romance starting to bud. Some may also think that there isn’t a romance at all.
It’s this intelligent way the film is written that makes the relationship of the two characters that more palpable. Whether it is written to respect the viewer or to possibly hint at a different kind of relationship, the movie can be different for any person watching it and it will still work incredibly well.
Roman Holiday is an example of how a great screenplay, great actors and a great director can make a film that much more special. Audrey Hepburn gives easily one of favorite performances from an actor in any film and this is her first movie (And you can bet that Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady will be watched soon). The screenplay is one of the ten best screenplay I’ve seen in a film: it’s perfectly paced and respects the viewer enough to not pander to the audience.
This film deserves to be a must see for any romantic film lover.
Tier 1 – Best Romance in Films
Casablanca, It Happened One Night, Sense and Sensibility, Before Sunset, The American President, Chasing Amy, Shakespeare in Love, Roman Holiday
Tier 2 – Great Romance in Films
Before Sunrise, Notting Hill, Sideways, Her, Moulin Rouge, Jerry Maguire, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Punch-Drunk Love, Annie Hall, Say Anything…, Kissing Jessica Stein
Tier 3 – Decent Romance in Films
As Good As It Gets, Midnight in Paris, Secretary, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, There’s Something About Mary, About Time, Hitch, High Fidelity, The 40 Year Old Virgin, (500) Days of Summer, Walk the Line, Brokeback Mountain
Tier 4 – Not good Romance in Films
Love Actually, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Don Jon, Jersey Girl, My Best Friend’s Wedding
Tier 5 – Just Horrible Romance in Films
The Room, Gigli, Never Been Kissed, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mamma Mia!
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Comments always appreciated! Thank you for reading!
The Romance Film Guru #3