Oscar: Best Actress–Hepburn, Audrey, Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday poster Roman Holiday Roman Holiday Roman Holiday Roman Holiday

Audrey Hepburn won the 1953 Best Actress Oscar at her first nomination for William Wyler’s romantic comedy, “Roman Holiday.”  Hepburn would be nominated four more times, but this was her first and only competitive Oscar.

Hepburn won over competition from Leslie Caron in “Lili,” Ava gardner in “Mogambo,” Deborah Kerr in “From Here to Eternity,” and maggie McNamara in “The Moon Is Blue.”

With a script by Ian McLellan Hunter (fronting for the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo) and John Dighton, “Roman Holiday” is a charming fairytale, a romantic melodrama that benefits from on location shooting in Rome and star performances by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, who show great chemistry..

The young, then largely unknown in Hollywood Audrey Hepburn plays Princess Anne, a monarch of an unspecified European country. Bored with her busy schedule of ceremonies and tired of being watched all the time, Anne decided to experience the world firsthand-and by herself. But nor for too long. She quickly meets a captivating American Journalist (Peck) and his eccentric photographer (played by Eddie Albert).

The characters are a tad too familiar, a down-at-the-heels American newspaperman and down-on-the-world European princess, but there is good chemistry between the stars.

William Wyler, a proficient director who lacks humor, might have been wrong for this assignment and he was criticized at the time for his heavy-handed and humorless approach. This project would have been perfect material for Ernst Lubitsch (who died in 1948), known for his light, sophisticated touch, and even Frank Capra, who was approached by the studio, but for some reason decided not to do the movie.

Good with the camera and with editing, Wyler makes the most of the location shooting. The movie helped put Rome, seen as a colorful backdrop, on the touristic map of many Americans, who were captivated by the sights. Other films, such as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” in 1954, also set in Rome, performed similar function.

As the critic Andrew Sarris pointed out, “Roman Holiday” has endures as a romantic classic of love and unrequited longing, because of the aching restraint, decency, and dignity of the lead actors Peck and Hepburn. It’s built into the genre: All great love stories involve renunciation or rejection.

In an Oscar-nominated role, Eddie Albert, as Peck’s hustling photographer friend, provides broad but much needed comedy relief.

“Roman Holiday” was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, and won 3, including Best Actress for the enchanting Hepburn

See Oscar Alert