Three-time Oscar winning film Roman Holiday is the latest Paramount catalogue title to join the Paramount Presents label and fans of the 1953 comedic romance have a lot to be excited about. It’s not just that Paramount has gathered previous bonus materials together and added a new featurette starring film critic and historian Leonard Maltin or the fact that this version is available for digital streaming, it’s that Roman Holiday is getting the blu-ray treatment for the first time and it’s a 4K remaster. Paramount employed a time-intensive process (one that rivals what recent Criterion Collection releases The Naked City and Brute Force experienced) to restore the film as safely as possible so that it can stream alongside modern films easily. Placed inside the now signature Paramount Presents packaging, the ninth addition to the series captures the timeless joy of Roman Holiday wonderfully and is bound to entice fans old and new.
During her European tour, young Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) grows increasingly restless of her duties, tired of moving from one public engagement to another without taking part in any of the communities or cultures that make each city special. After a particularly trying day, Ann is given some medication to help her sleep, but, before it can take effect, Ann seizes upon an opportunity to escape her country’s consulate so that she can see Rome for herself. Just as the medication takes full effect, news reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) happens across her and helps her find shelter. At first, Joe doesn’t realize who Ann is, but, once he does, he sets a plan in motion to get the scoop of the year. But as the two explore Rome, will Joe be able to follow through or will a different story get in the way?
Even with 67 years between its release date and now, it’s easy to see why so many fell in love with Roman Holiday. From its beginning, it charms you with its breezy comedic timing as it shows Princess Ann struggle to ease her aching feet during an excessively long greeting procession to the point of losing her shoe. It’s a moment that tickles us while showing us that Ann is not royalty with a capital R but human with a capital H. Then, of course, there’s the following scene with Ann in repose, discussing the next day’s plans before bed. Hepburn reacting with a delightful “thank you” and “no, thank you” that not only offers a sense of Ann’s own feelings on her responsibilities but also enchants the audience with Hepburn’s natural comedic abilities. Roman Holiday may be a partnership between Peck and Hepburn, but it’s Hepburn who carries the true weight of enchantment on her shoulders. If the audience is not charmed by Ann, then there’s no hope of believing anyone else would be. Peck, coming off a string of more serious films like The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The World in His Arms (1952), and David and Bathsheba (1951), already possessed a respectable relationship with the audience and, according to the Filmmaker Focus featurette included within the release, Peck was looking for something lighter to do. Roman Holiday is not only an unexpected delightful comedy on the whole, it provides opportunities for both Peck and Hepburn to shine, even while the focus primarily remains on Hepburn’s Ann. Looking backward on the film, perhaps what makes Roman Holiday so refreshing is that while Ann is constantly treated as a commodity by, first, her caretakers and, second, by Joe, the film itself never treats the character as one. In combination with entertaining performances from the whole cast, even the elements which are decidedly a product of their time are overshadowed by the pure delight of the picture.
Speaking more literally, let’s talk about the picture. The story behind the restoration of Roman Holiday is an interesting one. Evidently, what audiences see in this remaster was hand-crafted via a pain-staking process in which the original negative was pieced back together, even to the point of using extensive amounts of tape, so that a usable negative could be spliced together to run through a printing machine without splintering further. They ended up making a duplicate negative, which they then blew up in size in order to remove any visible traces of the tape. Speaking of someone whose first experience with Roman Holiday is this remaster, outside of one moment where the film visibly jumps from one frame to another, something which occurs from time to time in older pictures, you honestly can’t tell how much damage the original negative incurred. As a black and white film, what we see via the remaster is strong detail in the varying shades of grey so that each frame is crystal clear. There’s truly no sign of the artifacting that appears in modern films when compression can’t handle the dark blacks, resulting in contamination of the scene on display. Instead, Roman Holiday is, for its time, remarkably beautiful. For those interested in the audio portion of the remaster, take note that the original mono track was remastered to achieve the Dolby TrueHD sound accompanying the English audio whereas the French is Mono Dolby Digital.
Whether you’re a completionist looking to gather all of the Paramount Pictures releases or you’re just a fan of the classic romantic comedy, there’s little doubt that this first-time blu-ray release is worth the funds. It may be light on new bonus features, but the improved video and audio elements of the blu-ray over DVD along with the ability to watch via a variety of digital platforms using the accompanying digital code are enough to upgrade.
Roman Holiday Blu-ray Special Features
- *New* Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on Roman Holiday
- Behind the Gates: Costumes
- Rome with a Princess
- Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years
- Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist
- Paramount in the ’50s: Remembering Audrey
- Theatrical Trailers
- Four Photo Galleries: Production, The Movie, Publicity, The Premiere
Available on Blu-ray and digital September 15th, 2020.