Friday, July 31, 2015

1953: Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday

In her first starring role, soon-to-be screen icon Audrey Hepburn plays a princess on a tour of Europe. Fed up with schedules and duties, she escapes from the embassy in Rome, and, as fate would have it, runs into a reporter in need of a scoop. He gives her the fun day she's always wanted, but will she discover his identity?

It's difficult to imagine a world in which no one knows who Audrey Hepburn is. Most people my age who don't even watch old movies have heard of Audrey Hepburn. But before this movie, her name was only vaguely familiar to a few people. It was her performance as Princess Ann that made her famous, with good reason. She demonstrates an extraordinary degree of natural talent in this rather unusual role. She has to play regal and dignified, but at the same time likeable and relatable to the average audience member, and she is brilliant at both. It's no wonder she became one of the most well-known movie stars of her time. I don't think this is my favorite Audrey Hepburn film, but it's still pretty wonderful. It certainly provides a perfect introduction to her, since it lets her demonstrate a wide range of skills.

For example, she displays excellent comedic timing, especially in the scene toward the beginning when she's been drugged. But she's also perfectly capable of playing it straight and letting someone else be the funny one when it's called for, letting Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert joke around her while she is seemingly oblivious. Then there's the extremely wide range of emotions she effectively portrays: hysterical, bored, upset, overjoyed, nervous, terrified, amorous, determined, the list goes on and on. The movie seems simple and straightforward, yet her character is anything but. Somehow she makes it look easy. I've watched this a few times before, and I never fully appreciated just how challenging of a role this must have been. Hepburn pulls it off like a seasoned actress, not at all like the novice she was. It's less surprising now, knowing all of the other great performances she would give soon afterwards, but it must have been shocking to audiences of the day that a young newcomer could hold her own against an established star like Gregory Peck. So appropriately, she was given an Oscar.

This was Hepburn's first of five Best Actress nominations, and her only win. She was nominated the following year for Sabrina, then for 1959's The Nun's Story, 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and 1967's Wait Until Dark. She was also awarded the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award after her death in 1993, for her work with UNICEF. She was also the fifth person to have won a competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, though the Grammy was awarded posthumously. She was a tremendously talented, generous human being, and if you only know her as a style icon, you're missing out. Everyone should definitely see at least one of her movies besides Breakfast at Tiffany's, and her Oscar-winning performance is a good place to start.

Coming up next: Grace Kelly, in an Academy decision that Judy Garland fans are still upset about

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