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A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1953 – Roman Holiday

Colin was visiting earlier in the month. And I was telling him about the articles and such. And I was talking about this one, about how I felt unsure if this was the right choice for 1953, given the amount of great films that came out in 1953.

I said, “I feel like that’s gonna be a difficult one to justify given everything else from that year.”

And his response was, “No. It’s Roman Holiday. You don’t need any justification. Fuck that shit.”

So that’s how I’m going about this.

It’s Roman Holiday. Fuck that shit.

I’ll admit, though, 1953 is tough. If I look at everything from 1953, and then only narrow it down to ones that actually feel like they could represent 1953… there are a lot of choices. You look at something like The Wild One… that could represent both a cross-section of the 50s and the advent of method acting. But then… if I wanted method acting, I’d go Streetcar, since that’s more iconic, and also I have something to represent “the 50s.” So that’s okay, but no. There are foreign films from 1953, but they don’t represent film history so much as they are great films that happened to be out that year. Stalag 17 is great, but can’t represent the year. That could have come out any year and just been a great movie. The Robe represents Cinemascope, but, all due respect… no. Pickup on South Street is an interesting choice. Sam Fuller, independent cinema, the B movie, the Red Scare. A lot of things going on with that. The Moon Is Blue. The film that was one of the first big cracks in the Production Code. From Here to Eternity is really the one that is the alternative choice to Roman Holiday. And I get that.

But also Roman Holiday.

So, deciding between the two, I went with Roman Holiday. Because Audrey Hepburn. She had made six movies before this one, but this one was her real coming out party. She went from being in small British films to international movie star overnight. This was her first Hollywood movie. Gregory Peck always told a story that, when shooting, he saw how good she was and how charming she was, and went, “You guys better put her name on top of the billboard, because she’s gonna be a star.” And they got double billing, and she won the Oscar for it.

The other great story about her being cast in this is when she screen tested for it. They wanted Elizabeth Taylor or Jean Simmons, but neither was available. And even now, it seems ludicrous that anyone else could have played this part. But anyway, Wyler couldn’t stay for the test, so he told them to keep filming her, even after they said cut. So he watched this screen test, and it has this footage of her just being herself, totally relaxed. And that’s what won her the role (and everyone’s hearts).

This film is one of the few romances from earlier cinema that really holds up. Even today. It’s pretty impossible to not love this movie. The plot was so good that it’s since become cliché. You can’t make any version of this movie again without people going, “Ah… Roman Holiday.”

The other thing this movie also represents, is a trend Hollywood started moving toward during this time, and definitely later on, in the early 60s, which is runaway production. Hollywood shooting at foreign locations, outdoors, and not on soundstages. You watch this movie, and you’re at real places in Rome, and outdoors with traffic zooming by. And that adds something extra to the overall impact of the film. Doubly so in 1953, when people weren’t used to seeing all these foreign locations actually being in the film, rather than having sets designed to look like them. So runaway production is also an important thing going on that this film represents.

Oh, and the movie was written by a blacklisted writer. So there’s that too.

But honestly, I really don’t need to say anything more than, “It’s Roman Holiday.” Because this film is glorious, and is my choice for 1953.

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