Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Roman Holiday": Trumbo was blacklisted when this classic was made


Back in September, PBS stirred up some interest in the onetime blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, and one of his most famous stories that made it to film is “Roman Holiday”, from Paramount, in 1953, directed by William Wyler. Trumbo was not credited at the time because he was on the “Commie” blacklist. In those days, Hollywood made romantic comedies in black and white but made them look stylish and artsy, somewhat like today’s indie films. Imagine the Coliseum in black and white (compared to how it looks in all those 50s Fox Cinemascope spectacles).

The film was the first (for Americans) with Audrey Hepburn, as the spoiled princess (on tour in Rome) who first (with some nihilism) tells her servant she thinks she is dying and then “escapes” to be a real person (“Ayna Smith”). (Imagine if Prince William or Harry wanted to become “ordinary people.”) Having gotten it “in the muscle” from the nurse before escaping, she falls asleep outside, and is found by a wayward journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). He takes her to his apartment , where she wakes up in a potentially embarrassing situation (by 50s standards). But then he needs his “people skills” to get a real tabloid scoop for his editor (Hartley Power), who has been on the verge of firing him.

There is a class-conscious bit of dialogue when Hepburn rides on the motorcycle with Peck through streets in Rome, "I can do just what I want all day long; you have to work." Yes, a princess runs away and finds out she could have to work too. Just a tad of Marxism maybe.

The movie speaks to a lot of the cultural standards of the day, as to how “public relations” is hard work. In one funny scene, Ayna takes her first cigarette. Later, screenwriters would feel “guilty” for making cigarette smoking glamorous!

The DVD has a stort "Remembering Roman Holiday" which explains how Trumbo wrote many screenplays under pseudonyms during the blacklist. The short also explains the concept of a princess running away to the real world, and who at the same time Princess Margaret had an affair with a commoner, Mr. Townsend, but at the end, just as in the movie, had to go back to her "official duties." This more or less is the ending of the film, upbeat as it is, especially with the music score by Georges Auric.

There is also a short "Restoring Roman Holiday" which explains the difference between preserving films (less than 25 years old) and restoring them. The name "Dalton Trumbo" was added back to the credits during the resoration.

The DVD also has a short about Edit Head.

Eventually Ayna has to deal with her "loyalty" to her "family" and unnamed "country". Some choices you don't get to make.

The film was remade for television in 1987.

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