By Laura Emerick | For the Sun-Times
If any film could be labeled as an adult fairy tale, “Roman Holiday” (1953) certainly would take the crown.
To begin with, the plot involves a runaway princess (Audrey Hepburn) on a whirlwind adventure through Rome, courtesy of a Prince Charming (Gregory Peck, at the height of his tall, dark and handsome phase) in the guise of an American reporter, who stumbles on the story — and the love — of his life.
In her first major film role, Hepburn took the best actress Oscar, winning over established stars such as Leslie Caron, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. With “Roman Holiday,” Hepburn became, as her son would observe decades later, “an icon of the city, an icon of a different, free-and-easy Roman spirit that was symbolized by a girl who traveled the world on a Vespa.”
To mark its 60th anniversary, “Roman Holiday” underwent a digital restoration, which had its world premiere this spring at the TCM Classic Film Festival at Hollywood’s historic El Capitan theater. In partnership with Fathom Events, the cable network is bringing the film back to the big screen nationwide for two dates — Sunday, Nov. 29, and Tuesday, Dec. 1 — as part of its “TCM Presents” series (which revives classic movies for short-run theatrical re-releases).
Nominated for 10 Oscars, including best director for William Wyler (in a rare comedic turn) and best black-and-white cinematography, the film won three. Along with Hepburn’s award, legendary designer Edith Head won the best costume category (for the fifth of her eventual eight Oscars), and the best story prize went to British writer Ian McLellan Hunter — a front for blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. A victim of the House Un-American Activities Committee, a group charged with what its members viewed as rooting Communists out of Hollywood, Trumbo declined to name names and went to prison for his refusal.
Now in theaters, “Trumbo,” starring Emmy and Tony winner Bryan Cranston, takes on that dark chapter in Hollywood history. In one of the film’s most bittersweet moments, Cranston’s Trumbo is watching the Oscars on television when McLellan’s name is announced. To get around the blacklist, Trumbo, who at his peak was Hollywood’s best paid screenwriter (making a then-astronomical $75,000 in the late ’40s), had recruited other writers to take credit for his scripts so that he could continue working in Hollywood. “The point was that [Trumbo] had an opinion [about social activism], and he went to prison because he had a thought, he had an opinion,” said Cranston in a recent interview with the site IndieWire.
Thanks to the efforts of star Kirk Douglas, who defied Hollywood conventions and hired Trumbo to write the 1960 blockbuster “Spartacus,” the blacklist era finally ended. Decades later, in 2011, Trumbo got his own happy ending when the Writers Guild of America restored his name to the credits of “Roman Holiday.” In an introduction to the film, recorded for the Nov. 29-Dec. 1 screenings, TCM host Robert Osborne will salute Trumbo’s legacy.
And he might even mention another fairy-tale twist of “Roman Holiday”: Gregory Peck, depressed by his recent divorce, met his second wife, Veronique Passini, while making the movie. In a mirror of the film’s plot, she was a journalist assigned to cover Peck. Romance bloomed, and they remained married until Peck’s death in 2003. That’s amore.