On Aug. 27, 1953, Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The film would go on to win three Oscars at the 26th Academy Awards, for costume design, Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay and for Hepburn as best actress. The Hollywood Reporter‘s original review, titled “‘Roman Holiday’ Smash,” is below:
William Wyler’s first comedy in almost 20 years proves a charming, laugh-provoking affair that often explodes into hilarity. With Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn turning in superb performances, Roman Holiday is 118 minutes of sheer entertainment. The critical acclaim and word-of-mouth praise that is bound to come should help make it a box office bonanza.
Out of one of the most ancient premises in story-telling — that of hopeless love between royalty and a commoner — Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton have created a delightful screenplay that sparkles with wit and outrageous humor that at times comes close to slapstick. As staged with artistic subtlety and tongue-in-cheek restraint by Wyler, Holiday adds up as rollicking fun that will be enjoyed by all types of audiences.
Miss Hepburn makes her American screen debut a memorable occasion. A beauty, she reveals sensitivity and sincerity in her captivating portrayal of a princess, next in line for the throne of an unnamed country, making a good-will tour of Europe. By the time she reaches Rome, she is so exhausted from the series of dull public appearances, she gets hysterical and is given a sedative. But before the shot takes effect, she slips out of the embassy, determined to find a little fun for herself.
She is found sound asleep on a bench by an impoverished American newspaperman (Peck) who, thinking she is tight, lets her sleep it off in his very small apartment. It isn’t until the next day, when the scheduled press conference with the princess is canceled because of her “illness,” that he realizes the identity of his guest. Knowing the financial value of such a scoop, he enlists the aid of his news service’s ace photographer (Eddie Albert) and embarks on a fun-seeking tour of the city with the princess, with Albert busily getting pictures with a camera concealed in his cigarette lighter. Naturally the princess and Peck fall in love and, of course, it is a hopeless romance. But the final parting still manages to stay within the bantering mood, taking place at a crowded press conference. It is one of those rare scenes that gets a chuckle and a gulp at the same moment.
Among the comedy highlights are a satirical shot of the secret agents from the princess’ country furtively getting off a plane, their parade-like formation and similarity in dress making them hilariously conspicuous; a riotous free-for-all at a dance, with the princess enthusiastically whacking away at all heads within sight; and a wild motor scooter ride through the streets of Rome.
Peck turns in another of his outstanding performances, playing the love-smitten reporter with intelligence and good-humored conviction. Albert is excellent as the photographer, and Hartley Power scores effectively as their editor. Paolo Carlini is amusing as a romeo-like barber, and Tullio Carminati, Margaret Rawlings and Alberto Rizzo contribute to the laughs.
The Wyler production was shot entirely in Rome, with all the high quality associated with his name. Frank F. Planer and Henri Alekan do a fine lensing job of incorporating Roman landmarks into the story line. Georges Auric’s music is a definite mood contribution, and Robert Swink gets credit for a fluid editing stint. — Milton Luban, originally published June 30, 1953.