It was a fairy tale about a princess on a journey. Doing her duty, kind of like Diana (but, since she was played by Audrey Hepburn, even classier,) she came to Rome, after Athens, London and Paris, to conclude her mission.
But she was young and beautiful and sick of receptions and parades. And so, in the middle of the night, she snuck out the embassy window and ventured across the Piazza di Spagna and into the Roman night.
If you know this movie at all, you remember with sweet nostalgia the way you felt the first time you saw it. The princess asleep near the Trevi Fountain on the Roman equivalent of a park bench is awakened, like Sleeping Beauty, by reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck. ( If the film has a flaw, it's that we know some of what will happen once we see him there. He's a good guy and that's who he plays. He is Atticus Finch, after all.)
The film was released in 1953, right in the middle of the 1950's. Written by Dalton Trumbo, "Roman Holiday" was credited to a "front" named Ian McLellan Hunter, because Trumbo, blacklisted as a member of the Hollywood Ten, wasn't permitted to write for movies any longer. It's one of the darkest chapters in Hollywood history, very much a part of the image of the decade and a sad facet of a beloved film that won three Oscars and introduced the world to Audrey Hepburn.
There's something else though. The people in this film behave well. There are things that they want, desperately, but there are principals at stake, and they honor them. When Peck meets Hepburn, he doesn't recognize her but lets her crash at his apartment. Once he figures out who she is, he knows this "runaway" could be the story of his life. Even so, after a brief, idyllic tour of the city, (SPOILER ALERT) she honors her responsibilities and returns to her royal duties, and of course, he never writes the story. It was very much an artifact of the "Greatest Generation" ideals, manifested with such courage during WWII and very much the flip side of the jaundiced (and just as accurate) Mad Men view of the 50's. Duty and honor trump romance and ambition.
Once again, I'm struck with admiration for the people of these times. Yes the 50's did terrible damage and made it difficult to be eccentric or rebellious or even creative. But films like this one, or Now Voyager and similar films of the 40's, sentimental as they may be, remind us of what else these people were. They'd lived through the Depression and the war and they had an elevated sense of responsibility. As we watch much of our government (and some of the rest of us) disintegrate into partisanship and self-interest, it makes a lot more sense than it did when we rose up against it all in the 1960's. Doesn't it?