Jewish World Review May 5, 2006 / 7 Iyar 5766
The demise of noble, self-sacrifice
The other night my family and I watched the classic movie "Roman Holiday," featuring the most astonishing film actress of all time, or so I'm convinced, Audrey Hepburn, along with Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert. (Remember him? "Green Acres is the Place to be ... ")
Anyway, this was the film that garnered 10 academy award nominations, brought Audrey fully into our lives, and gave her a Best Actress Oscar.
I suppose everyone knows the story by now: A rebellious and beautiful young princess visiting Rome slips away from the "castle" for 24 hours, meets American reporter Gregory Peck — who finally catches on to who she is but pretends ignorance for his own ends — and has a full day of fun and adventure entirely, um, unbefitting a princess shall we say.
Eddie Albert serves as the erstwhile photographer secretly chronicling it all — cigarettes, champagne, police station, motorcycle ride, dance brawl, you name it.
As I marveled once again at the film, as I do with every Audrey movie, I wondered if this story could be made today. Not because so many of its themes aren't relevant — think Princess Di — but because I fear the ending just would not be satisfying to Hollywood decision makers or America's elite.
The movie is 53 years old, so I'm not giving anything away: Audrey — Princess Ann — hears through the radio about the despair her absence is causing her countrypeople, and she finally decides to return to her "castle" and her responsibilities. Gregory Peck — "Joe Bradley" — and his counterpart, Eddie Albert, decide not to reveal the princess's escapades, giving up scads of cash they could have made.
Why? Because Joe and the princess fall in love, of course — and yet they both decide to do the "right" thing, which also means they can never have each other. The princess loved being an ordinary person in Rome for a day, but now she must do her duty and return to her people. In fact, a newly confident Princess Ann makes clear to her close circle of courtiers that duty is the only reason she has returned! It's not all about her, or her feelings, or her supposed "happiness" — it's responsibility to others. And that means she can't apparently have a relationship with an American newspaperman. Nor can we envision Gregory Peck living as the "Princess' Consort" in some exotic country, anyway.
He forgoes the money and fame revealing her "follies" would bring him because he also decides to do what is right and wholesome. Moreover, he knows he cannot have the woman he loves, and he accepts that with all the pain it brings. It's not "all about him" in the end, either.
We may argue with the social dictates of the day as presented in the film — we may rightly think those dictates are pretty darn silly — but the point is that the characters at issue here were called to a sense of duty, to a sense of other, and they answered that call, even though it meant their own "happiness" would go unanswered. Most important, the characters are portrayed in the movie as noble for doing so. Their brief love affair remains a secret.
In early 1950s America, that sensibility made sense. Even to Hollywood. And so the ending was satisfying.
I just don't know if that would be the case today. Wouldn't there almost certainly have to be a way for the princess and the pauper, as it were, to spend their lives together no matter if it devastated the lives of others — I mean it's all about what THEY want, right?
There are movies made today where there is sacrifice — think "Armageddon." Of course, there they were all going to blow-up anyway if one didn't sacrifice for the many. But a film where a quiet sense of duty, of calling, of responsibility keeps lovers apart forever — and we're supposed to feel that that is noble and right and good, even if sad? I don't know.
After all, even in the blockbuster tearjerker "Titanic" the star-crossed lovers got together in eternity.
It seems to me that quiet self-sacrifice is still the common lot and pursuit of so many noble Americans, it's just no longer honored in our elite culture. Pursuing our own happiness, even at the expense of others, is.
So, I hope I'm wrong, but I just have to think that a remake of "Roman Holiday" would be rewritten to bring the pair together in the end.
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