Dinner & a Movie: Roman Holiday (1953)

I recently checked a new book out from the library, TCM: Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by the Films we Love.  While I questioned some of the meals, I liked the idea of pairing a meal and a cocktail with a film.  A decade or so ago, TBS had a television show that followed these same lines.  It, I believe, was called “Dinner and a Movie.” In the show, the hosts would prepare a meal that was loosely themed to the featured film.  Usually it had some cutesy name (often times the name was a pun on the name of the film).  I liked the ideas featured in the TCM book as it was less corny and seemed more in tune with my idea of making film viewing an event in and of itself. Who says you have to leave the house to “go out” ?

I’ve been trying to come up with some type of feature for the blog.  I often enjoy pairing drinks and/or meals with specific films.  Even if this is my hundredth time watching the film, it can feel like a different experience in the context of a dinner and drink event.  For my first feature, I went with Roman Holiday (1953).  I decided to go with Roman Holiday, because I wanted to watch something that took place in Italy to go with my Italian meal. I made lasagna and paired it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from California.  I’m not going to include recipes, because lets face it, I had to use a recipe to make the meal in the first place–so it’s not my recipe. My lasagna happened to be made with italian turkey sausage (instead of the traditional ground beef or ground beef and pork sausage blend).  The turkey makes the meal feel lighter.  I also added fresh spinach to the ricotta filling.

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My turkey, spinach, tomato lasagna with a breadstick and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.  I USUALLY TRY NOT TO BLOW PLOT POINTS, BUT I NEED TO DO SO FOR THE SAKE OF DISCUSSION***

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Roman Holiday is such a delight.  It is Audrey Hepburn’s first major film role and is the film that catapulted her to stardom.  Peck was very kind to Hepburn during the making of this film.  At this point, Peck was the bigger star and should have received sole star billing (i.e. above the title).  However, he felt that this was Hepburn’s film and that she would win an Oscar for it.  He insisted to the studio heads that Hepburn’s name also appear above the title with his.  He was right.  Hepburn went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for her work in this film.  Peck and Hepburn went on to be life long friends.

In this film, Hepburn portrays Princess Ann.  Princess Ann’s nationality I do not believe is ever disclosed in this film. Princess Ann is on a European tour and is quickly growing bored with her regimented routine and schedule.  One night, appearing at another function (undoubtedly just one of hundreds that she has to attend), Ann has a breakdown after being briefed on her next appearance.  A doctor gives her a sedative (seemingly every doctor in the Golden Age’s solution. “She’s hysterical. Give her a sedative”).  Not knowing about the sedative, Princess Ann sneaks out of the embassy and into Rome.  Joe Bradley (Peck), an American reporter for the American news service comes across her sleeping on a bench.  Not knowing of her true identity, he tries to give her money for a taxi to go home, but she’s too out of it to cooperate.  He ends up taking her home to sleep it off.

The next morning, word is out that Princess Ann has taken ill and has canceled all appearances (obviously the embassy is trying to save face and figure out where she is).  Bradley ends up going to work late under the pretense that he’s completed his interview with Princess Ann.  His boss calls him out on his lie.  Bradley sees a photograph of the Princess in the newspaper in his boss’ office.  Seeing an opportunity, Bradley bets his boss $5,000 that he can get an exclusive interview with Princess Ann.  He returns home and despite the Princess’ hesitations, he ends up taking her out for a day of fun in Rome.  With her newfound freedom, Princess Ann cuts her hair short and even drives a Vespa around town! Unbeknownst to her, Bradley has hired his friend Irving (Eddie Albert) to photograph the Princess during her day of freedom.

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Isn’t this just one of the most joyful scenes in cinema?

Many romantic comedies involve deception.  Roman Holiday features multiple deceptions.  Gregory Peck deceives Audrey Hepburn in two ways: 1) He knows her true identity but pretends like he doesn’t and 2) He tells her that he is a fertilizer salesman.  Audrey Hepburn deceives Gregory Peck by devising her fake identity of “Anya.” Of course, Hepburn’s deception seems reasonable, as she wouldn’t want word to get out as to her whereabouts.  Peck on the other hand, at the beginning of the film, is lying to Hepburn purely to profit off of her decision to be “free.” Of course, in most of these romantic comedies, the characters usually find out about the other’s deception and the relationship seems to be in jeopardy at first until one of them makes a great gesture.

In Roman Holiday, however, Hepburn never finds out about Peck’s true intentions.  In fact, she realizes that her jig is up when the government agents track her town at a party and chaos ensues.  At the conclusion of the party, Hepburn bids Peck adieu, stating that she must resume her royal duties.  Peck realizes that he’s developed true romantic feelings for her and doesn’t want to hurt her by profiting off of the photos he has of Hepburn acting very un-Princess like.  While appearing at another meet and greet event, Peck and Albert present Hepburn with the photos of her trip under the guise of a generic memento of her trip to Rome.  Hepburn and Peck exchange some vague but direct allusions to their day together while maintaining the appropriate distance between a royal and a “strange” reporter.  At the conclusion of the event, Peck is left to wonder what could have been as he leaves Princess Ann. I can’t help but think that Peck’s character will stick around in Rome hoping to see Princess Ann each time she visits–or perhaps he’ll get an assignment in Princess Ann’s country.

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Joe Bradley says goodbye to Princess Ann.

When I first saw this film, I loved Audrey Hepburn’s character but thought that Gregory Peck seemed wooden.  I have had that same opinion of Peck in other films, but as I see more of him and learned about him as a person outside of the silver screen, I’ve grown to appreciate him more.  Now, when I watch him in Roman Holiday, he still has that deep, stiff sounding voice.  However, now his deep voice lends itself to sounding more romantic and strong–which is a good quality for a leading man.  He and Audrey have magnificent chemistry.  Audrey’s effervescence is a nice contrast to Peck’s tendency to seem too serious and she helps lighten him up a bit.

This film is filled with so much joy and happiness that it is impossible to tire of it.  This film was a wonderful way to introduce Audrey Hepburn to the American public.

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