Roman Holiday

  • Title:  Roman Holiday
  • Director:  William Wyler
  • Date:  1953
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I could do some of the things I’ve always wanted to do.”  –Ann
“Like what?” –Joe
“Oh, you can’t imagine.  I’d like to do just whatever I like, the whole day long.”  –Ann
“Things like having your hair cut, eating gelato?” –Joe
“Yes, and I’d like to sit in a sidewalk cafe, and look in shop windows, walk in the rain!  Have fun – and maybe even some excitement.” –Ann

“The news can wait until tomorrow.” — Ann

“She’s fair game, Joe, it’s always open season on princesses.” — Irving

Roman Holiday is Audrey Hepburn’s first film.  It could have also been easily called, ‘The Princess’s Day Off’, because that is what the film is really about.  Hepburn is Princess Ann, on a whirlwind tour of European capital cities.  Her schedule is booked by the second, and everything is planned to the last detail – even the words she’ll say when accepting or refusing gifts, giving good will speeches and addressing the press.  And young Ann is quite, quite sick of it.

Upon her arrival in Rome, Ann falls into hysterics and is given a drug to calm her down.  But, instead of sleeping, she sneaks out to have some fun.  Ann collapses on a bench, completely limp and out of it. She’s discovered by Joe (Peck), a reporter, who doesn’t recognize her.  He sees her as a drunk young lady in trouble.  He tries to get her into a cab, but she’s so out of  it, she doesn’t remember her own address.

So he takes her home to his apartment.  He lends her pajamas, and offers his couch (she takes his bed). No impropriety occurs, and the next day, Joe goes off to his job at the American News Service.  There he discovers the big news is that the Princess Ann has taken ill, and cancelled all her appointments – and Joe recognizes the girl in the papers as the girl in his apartment.

He talks to his boss, and promises an exclusive and personal interview with Princess Ann.  His boss offers $1000.00 for the story.  When he adds that he can provide candid pictures as well, the price jumps to $5000.

Joe returns to his apartment and finds a recovering Ann.  He lets her have a bath and change again, gives her some money, and sees her off.  Then he calls his friend, Irving (Albert), a photographer, and promises him a cut of the deal.  Irving agrees to find out what the story is, and will meet Joe later. Meanwhile Joe, follows Ann, without letting her know.  He bumps into her, and promises her a holiday, then takes her to a sidewalk cafe, where Irving meets them.

Ann and Joe, with Irving in tow, tour the tourist spots of Rome, and Ann has the time of her life just being normal. He even takes her to a dance on a barge in the river. There, Ann, dances with the barber who cut her hair and invited her to the dance.  But her country has called in their secret service to look for Ann, and they find her on the barge.  A fight breaks out but Joe, Ann, and Irving all manage to escape.  Finally, Ann decides she must go back to her duties and after a couple of nice hugs with Joe, has him drop her off within walking distance of her hotel.

Joe decides he can’t impose on Ann’s privacy, or embarrass her, and tells his editor there’s no story.  He tells Irving he can sell the pictures if he wants, though he wishes him not to do so.

The next morning, Ann, again in the beautiful white gown of a princess, has her press conference.  She coldly gives her practiced answers.  Except once – when asked her favorite city on the tour, Ann replies, Rome.
She sees both Joe and Irving at the press conference.  During the receiving line, she shows nearly no emotion, using the same kind responds with them as with the rest of the ladies and gentlemen of the press.  Irving, hands her an envelope of the pictures, saying they are commemorative pictures of Rome.  Ann leaves the press conference.  All in attendance have left – and Joe is left, alone, walking out of the hotel.

Roman Holiday is a fun picture, though a bit slow.  Audrey Hepburn is really good, expressing both emotion and lack of emotion, as she alternately experiences every day things for the first time, or does her princess act for the press.  Peck is a man who’s caught – he feels something for Ann (though in my opinion he’s much too old for her) but knows they are from different worlds.  In a way, the film is about isolation, Ann’s behind the walls of a palace, and Joe’s in the middle of a bustling city.  Though Joe has a friend in Irving, and his poker buddies seen at the beginning of the film.  It’s enjoyable to watch.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5
Next film:  Royal Wedding

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Robin Hood Men in Tights

  • Title:  Robin Hood Men in Tights
  • Director:  Mel Brooks
  • Date:  1993
  • Studio:  Columbia / Tri-Star
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Cary Elwes, Richard Lewis, Amy Yasbeck, Tracey Ullman, Megan Cavanagh
  • Cameo Cast:  Patrick Stewart, Dom DeLuise, Dick Van Patten, Mel Brooks
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R2, PAL

“Let me introduce you to my best friend, Will Scarlett.” — Little John
“Scarlett is my middle name. My full name is Will Scarlett o’Hara. … We’re from Georgia.” — Will

“And why should the people listen to you?” — Prince John
“Because, unlike some Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.”  — Robin

“We’re men, we’re men in tights. Tight, tights!
Always on guard, defending the people’s rights.
When you’re in a fix, just call for the men in tights.”  — “Men in Tights”, song and dance number (Cast)

Robin Hood:  Men in Tights came out as a parody of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves, but actually also parodies the classic 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. There are also some references to the ITV series, Robin of  Sherwood (aka Robin Hood – the one starring Michael Praed and Jason Connery). But with a new Robin Hood film in theaters (Starring Russell Crowe, and directed by Ridley Scott) and a new Robin Hood TV series (starring Jonas Armstrong and Richard Armitage) – this parody actually almost seems to work better now than when it was originally released. Some references no longer really work, but Cary Elwes is the perfect Robin Hood.

In this version of the tale, Robin is captured in the Holy Land during the Crusades, and thrown in a dungeon. There he meets Asneeze, who help him get free. The two led a revolt freeing all the prisoners. Thankful to be freed, Robin promises to look up and help Asneeze’s son, Achoo, when he arrives in England. In England, Robin finds his family’s castle being repossessed and the local villages being burned. He vows to rescue England from tyranny. Soon he’s put together a merry band:  Achoo, Blinkin (Robin’s family’s blind servent), Little John, and Will Scarlett. In a parody of Flynn’s Robin Hood, Elwes’ Robin brings a wild boar (rather than deer) to Prince John’s feast. He sees Marion, and they fall for each other. After a fight with Prince John’s men, Robin, rescued by his men, returns to the forest and begins training the villagers. Also, in a scene straight from The Adventures of Robin Hood, John decides to lure Robin into a trap with an archery contest. As in the Flynn film, Robin arrives at the archery contest, dressed as an old man. But it is John’s archer who splits Robin’s arrow. Shocked, Robin checks the script to see — and discovers he gets another shot. He uses a patriot target-seeking arrow, and blows up the another arrow. Robin is captured and John threatens to hang Robin, if Marion doesn’t marry him. She’s about to do it, when Achoo saves the day, shooting Robin loose from the hangman’s noose. King Richard (Patrick Stewart) arrives and knights Robin. Robin and Marion are “quickly married” by Rabbi Tuckman (Mel Brooks), and start their new life. Robin appoints Achoo the new sheriff of Rottingham. At first the villagers protest, “A black sheriff?” But Achoo responds, “Why not – it worked in Blazing Saddles,” — why do I get the feeling Brooks was waiting the entire film to use that line?

Elwes has a pencil mustache, like Flynn’s from The Adventures of  Robin Hood, and the costumes are also vintage the 1938 movie. Several scenes from the 1938 film are also parodied, notably Robin bringing the deer/boar into the Prince’s feast, and the archery contest scene. Also, Robin has a habit of starting long speeches – which quickly bore his audience. In one, he starts, sounding like Flynn, and ends, sounding like Churchill.

From Robin of  Sherwood – we get the opening sequence of the flaming arrows being shot from English longbows (in silhouette). Also, the character of Achoo, seems to be drawn from Nazzar, though he’s a lot more chatty.

But, Robin’s jibe that, “at least I can speak with an English accent,” is aimed straight at Kevin Cosner – who’s really awful accent (and inability to do one) was a major problem in Prince of Thieves. Unfortunately, though Elwes does an English accent perfectly — most of the rest of the cast is American and sounds it. The worst is Richard Lewis, who just does a bad job as Prince John.  (What is it with Prince John, anyway?  Nobody seems to get him right!  I swear, Doctor Who had the best Prince John I’ve seen in the story “The King’s Demons”).  But yeah, Robin Hood should definitely not sound like he comes from Iowa, and that was the trouble with Cosner’s film.

However, though funny in parts, and filled with some excellent honest-to-goodness sword-fighting scenes, this isn’t the classic Mel Brooks of The Producers, Blazing Saddles, or Young Frankenstein. I did like that it drew on all the Robin Hoods to date, and, again, with two new Robin Hoods out there, it’s worth watching again, but overall a bit disappointing for Mel Brooks.

There is a lot of excellent music in the film — the Robin Hood Rap is fun, the title number of We’re Men, We’re Men in Tights, is hilarious, and even Marion’s Theme is quite sweet.

Yes, I do have an R2 version of  this film. I couldn’t find an US/ R1 / NTSC version anywhere when I bought it. However, you can now find the film as part of the boxed set of Brooks’ films.

Recommendation:  It’s OK, but not stellar.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Roman Holiday

Roberta

  • Title:  Roberta
  • Director:  William A. Seiter
  • Date:  1935
  • Studio:  RKO
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Music:  Jerome Kern
  • Book and Lyrics:  Otto Horbach
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“But underneath, she’s a pearl.”  — John
“And a pearl, so I’m told, is the result of a chronic irritation on an oyster.” — Huck

“John, every day you act worse – but today you’re acting like tomorrow.” — Huck

Roberta is another RKO musical where Fred and Ginger play second fiddle, this time to Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. And to make things worse – Irene Dunne sings, four numbers, two that aren’t even in English. And she can’t sing. Dunne has this awful, trying to sound soprano, warbling sort of voice that’s about as irritating as nails on a chalkboard. And unlike Follow the Fleet, which also has the problem of regulating Fred and Ginger to supporting cast behind Randolph Scott, Roberta has no comedy elements hardly at all. The plot revolves around a fashion house matriarch, Scott’s Aunt, who dies, and a question is raised as to who will inherit her fashion house and continue to make it a success.

Fred Astaire, as Huckleberry (or Huck), is an Indiana band leader, as well as singer and dancer. He and his band, the Wabash Indianiaians, head to France for a gig. When they arrive, the owner of the club claims he wanted “Red Indians” and refuses to hire them. Wondering what to do, they head to Paris, hoping to find someone who can get them a gig. John (Scott), a member of the band, and friend of Huck’s, has an Aunt, Mimi, who runs the Roberta fashion house. They head there and John and Mimi have a happy reunion. John also meets, Stephanie, Mimi’s assistant, who he’s quite taken with. Mimi is about to help them out. Meanwhile, the band, including Huck, is waiting downstairs. Getting restless they begin to play signals to get John’s attention. As they are playing, Huck sees Ginger on a balcony. Their eyes meet.

However, rather than follow the plot of Fred immediately falling for Ginger and trying to woo her — when he gets upstairs to find out why John is taking so long, he finds Ginger putting on a accent and claiming to be a European countess. Once they are alone, however, it turns out that the two know each other, they grew up together, and “Countess Scharwenka” is Ginger’s stage name. Huck asks her to get his band a gig. She does.

Soon, as I said, Mimi dies, leaving her salon to John — even though he knows nothing about fashion or design. John approaches Stephanie (Dunne) and tries to give her the business, but she refuses. The two end-up as partners. They have issues, but eventually put on a musical fashion show together. By the end of the film, John’s proposed to Stephanie (after a few misunderstandings, as in all romances), and Huck and Liz (Rogers) are also together.

Musical Numbers

  • Let’s Begin – Fred (singing) and his band (music).  Fred has a soft shoe number with the company.
  • I’ll Be Hard to Handle – Ginger singing.  Fred & Ginger — tap, ballroom.
  • I Won’t Dance — Fred (singing).  Fred – solo tap.
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — Irene Dunne singing (no dance).
  • Lovely to Look At —  Irene Dunne singing (no dance).
  • Lovely to Look At — Fred singing to Ginger.
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — (Music only)  Fred and Ginger,  ballroom dance.
  • Reprise — Fred and Ginger, partner tap.

As stated above, Irene Dunne also has two non-English songs, possibly lullabies, that she sings to Mimi to help her fall asleep for her afternoon nap.

Fred and Ginger’s ballroom number, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, is wonderful. It’s slowly paced, beautiful, and eloquent. Ginger shows an incredible sense of balance throughout the dance. It’s also, conceptually, unusual for a ballroom number, especially a Fred and Ginger number, in that for most of the dance, both the opening and the closing, they aren’t touching each other. They are mirroring, and dancing ballroom moves, but without actually holding hands — which means Ginger had to have had an incredible sense of balance — not depending on her partner’s strength to hold her up. The middle of the dance does have Fred holding Ginger’s hand to spin her, as well as moving into a more traditional ballroom hold, but it’s an incredible dance to watch. Plus it is choreographed perfectly to the music.

The reprise is nearly the opposite of the main dance — it’s very fast paced partner tap. Fred and Ginger fly through their moves. Ginger’s moving so fast she actually has to hold the skirt of her very long, silky, black gown (the same one from the “Smoke gets in your Eyes” number) up as she dances, though she does hold it in such a way as to not reveal her knees. After their dance, it’s Liz (Ginger) who says to Huck (Fred), “So, you were going to propose, right?  I accept.” Basically, proposing to him!

Not one of the best Fred and Ginger films by a long shot, but the “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” dance and the reprise tap dance are both worth waiting for.

Recommendation:  If you want the complete Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collection, see this, otherwise look to one of their better films.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Robin Hood:  Men in Tights

The Ref

  • Title:  The Ref
  • Director:  Ted Demme
  • Date:  1994
  • Studio:  Touchstone
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Christine Barenski
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Great, I hijack my f…ing parents!” — Gus (Leary)

“From now on the only person who gets to yell is me, Why? Because I have a gun, OK? People with guns can do whatever they want. Married people without guns, for instance, you — Do not get to YELL! Why? No guns! No guns, no yelling.” — Gus

“Eat, don’t annoy me, it’s Christmas.”  — Connie

“I’m in hell. Connecticut is the fifth ring of hell!”  — Gus

The Ref opens with a series of shots of Christmas in a Connecticut suburb. Everything looks perfect, there’s even snow and children looking into shop window displays. But then we meet Caroline and Lloyd Cheshire, who are seeing a marriage counselor. Their squabbling and put downs of each other are so bad they annoy their marriage counselor. We also see a cat burglar who is trying to break into a safe in one of the huge homes in the small town/suburb. The break-in goes wrong — first he’s sprayed with cat urine, then he sets off the alarm, and the cops are alerted.

Gus, as we later learn, is stranded without an getaway car, since his partner was frightened by the alarms and ran off, so he takes a woman hostage in a convenience store, looking for a ride. He, and the Cheshires never expected what would result.

Like all good screwball comedies, from a simple plot – a criminal trying to escape, events just snowball and the film is extremely funny. Most of the film takes place in the Cheshires’ house, with a few cutaways to the incompetent police manhunt for the criminal. (For example, the police chief, who is competent, finds a surveillance videotape of Gus from the robbery. He shows it to his men once, but is interrupted by a phone call. When he returns, they’ve recorded a James Stewart movie over the surveillance footage.) The Cheshires, with their bickering, arguing, and put downs, drive Gus nuts. When their extended family arrive for Christmas dinner – the family politics get even worse. Yet, in the midst of the chaos – Gus’ presence allows everyone to get things off their chest. When Lloyd, who seems to be the calmest one in the group, finally explodes – it’s great. And the honesty, not to mention Gus’ prodding, might have, oddly enough, saved their marriage. One can see Caroline and Gus giving up their “safe and comfortable” life, moving to California, and opening another restaurant (closing their restaurant several years earlier had started a series of events that was now bringing them to brink of divorce). Meanwhile, their son, a budding criminal himself, may have been scared straight by Gus – who honestly tells him he doesn’t want that type of  life.

The film is laugh out loud funny. The characters seem very real, if a little over the top. The sarcastic dialogue is underscored by the sarcastic and ironic nature of the entire film:  this little Connecticut suburb may look perfect, but everyone is hiding secrets, everyone is nasty and mean, and no one treats anyone else with any respect whatsoever. There is a lot of swearing and bad language, and some adult concepts as well. However, the film is brilliant. Denis Leary is incredibly funny, and brings out the best of everyone around him. I have seen The Ref more than twice, usually with many years between seeing it, and every time the film surprises me with it’s fresh humor. Also, The Ref has some heart to it, that’s extremely unexpected. Caroline and Lloyd are already in marriage counseling – yet Gus, as raw as he may be, is a better marriage counselor for the couple than Dr. Wong, the counselor they see at the beginning of the film. Gus also manages to get everyone in the family to honestly confront the issues they have with each other, rather than quietly ignoring them and pretending to be nice. This truly is a brilliant comedy!

Recommendation:  See it! (Not for young children)
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Roberta