The 1950’s offered the world a collection of films that, to this day, stand up against the years and manage to continue to claim their spot as some of the greatest movies of all time. William Wyler and Billy Wilder are two directors who brought to life some of these films and are featured in Paramount’s re-release of some of their beloved films. “Roman Holiday”, “Sabrina” and “Sunset Boulevard” are released as part of Paramount’s centennial collection, and what better group of films could one hope for from such a magnificent era in movie history.
William Wyler’s film, “Roman Holiday” is one of my favorite films not only of the fifties, but of all time. “Roman Holiday” is at the same time simple and deeply complex, funny and sad, charming and at times a reminder that not all fairytales have happy endings designed for storybook bedtimes. Audrey Hepburn, in her first film role, plays Princess Ann, who longs to escape her life of routine and customs. One night she manages to escape to the streets of Rome, where she’s currently touring for publicity. Out on the town, she’s carefree and wildly entertained by everything that’s not of her world. Before long, a sleeping sedative she took before leaving her quarters makes her drowsy and she falls asleep on a bench in the middle of Rome. American Reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) stumbles upon the young woman, but doesn’t recognize her as royalty. Unable to find out where she lives, he takes her home with him for the night. Meanwhile, the princess is discovered missing from her room and word is sent out that she is ill, so not to cause alarm.
The next morning, Joe sees a picture of Princess Ann and realizes just who is asleep in his apartment and makes a bet with his editor (who gives him a hard time for slacking off and threatens to fire him) to get an exclusive interview with the princess. Joe teams up with his friend, photographer Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) who agrees to help document Joe as he takes the unassuming princess around Rome. Princess Ann, who calls herself Anya out of fear of being discovered, says goodbye to Joe and takes off on her own. On her way back to her dutiful life as a princess, Ann (or Anya) decides to get her hair cut. Before long, Anya is transformed from a naďve princess to a young woman eager to learn more about the world. But it’s not just the haircut that changes her, it’s her experiences she encounters along the way.
Joe catches up with Anya and together they experience the many sites Rome has to offer. That evening, after a lovely day together filled with wild rides, laughter, truths and an endless array of experiences, Princess Ann is finally tracked down, but before she is taken back to her life as a princess, she and Joe escape. Joe and Anya’s romance isn’t describable here, as it’s more than words between two characters or even the images on the screen; it’s something so subtle yet unquestionably powerful that only watching the film could ever provide an accurate account of their love. When Anya has to say goodbye to Joe without ever telling him who she really is (though of course he knows) and return to her life as a princess, it’s hard to watch, but the ending to “Roman Holiday” is all the more difficult to bare. Despite its bittersweet ending, “Roman Holiday” has one of the finest endings I can think of to date.
“Roman Holiday” is a classic by definition due in part to such terrific performances from Hepburn and Peck who could carry any film flawlessly, and in part to Wyler’s direction that steered the film away from back lots and took it on location to Rome itself, and of course due to the marvelous script that shall stand up to the test of time. There may never be another Audrey Hepburn or “Roman Holiday”, but thankfully this film can be watched again and again as a reminder of what once was.
“Sabrina” was originally a play on Broadway called “Sabrina Fair”. Billy Wilder directs a star studded cast in his take on the Cinderella-like story of a young chauffeurs daughter who goes to Paris an awkward young girl and comes back a charming, elegant woman. Audrey Hepburn is Sabrina Fairchild, who lives with her father Thomas Fairchild (John Williams) above the garage where she spends her days daydreaming of one day marrying David Larrabee (William Holden), who happens to be the youngest son of her dad’s employer. Sabrina watches David go through his usual playboy routine with women he invites to his parents lavish parties, all the while hoping that one day she would be one of the women he danced with.
Fearful his daughter’s head is stuck too far in the clouds, Thomas Fairchild decides to send Sabrina to Paris to get her away from David, and hopefully redirect her thoughts elsewhere. In Paris, Sabrina initially can’t stop thinking about David, but before long she begins to forget him and find herself a changed person by the time she’s ready to return home to her father.
When Sabrina returns she’s more sophisticated, cultured and stunning (though it must be said that Audrey Hepburn didn’t look bad before she went to Paris, but the point of her transformation is still obvious with her new hairdo and her stylish clothes). David sees Sabrina at the train station and not realizing who she is, offers to take her home…which is of course his home. They ride together, flirting along the way, and he invites her to one of his parents parties. Before long, Sabrina is smitten with David all over again, but this time she believes she has a chance to win his heart. The only problem: David is engaged to a woman with a very affluent family whose about to make a deal with the Larrabee’s.
David’s brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) who is more business minded, decides to take it upon himself to distract Sabrina and keep her away from David, for fear of the deal falling through. Sabrina’s time between David and Linus is handled wonderfully as we witness this young woman come to realize who she really cares for and loves. Humphrey Bogart is an unexpected choice as Linus (and apparently Cary Grant was supposed to play the part of Linus, which I would have been curious to see), but I never thought Bogart was necessarily a bad choice. The cast are incredible and not without chemistry, and bring their very different characters to life marvelously. As always, Billy Wilder’s direction is spot on as he knows exactly how to tell a story and capture a stunning shot.
“Sabrina” is a fantastic little film and certainly continues to be worth a second and third look. With an incredible cast and wonderful direction, the 2-disc Centennial Edition is a perfect gift or edition to your DVD library as its filled with bonus features that any fan would love.
“Sunset Boulevard” is another one of Billy Wilder’s masterpieces, but unlike “Sabrina”, “Some Like it Hot” and “The Apartment”, “Sunset Boulevard” is not light, but dark in the most fascinating way. Told from the perspective of Joe Gillis (William Holden), a recently deceased man, “Sunset Boulevard” has everything a great film should: developed characters, depth, story, second chances, failures, and especially that left over something that haunts you long after the picture faded out and the lights came up.
Joe Gillis is a failed screenwriter who can’t seem to catch any sort of break, that is until he stumbles upon an old estate where former silent film star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) lives. Norma hires Joe to write her a script that will re-launch her stagnant career. Joe moves in with Norma and quickly becomes part of her secluded world where she can watch over him, a world that he quickly begins to become absorbed in. Despite her absence from films, Norma is convinced she is still a star and deserves to be. Before long, Joe is dependant on Norma and can’t seem to break free from her. As time goes on Joe, becomes anxious to finish the script for Norma and move away from her and begin his career again apart from her.
Still trying to write scripts apart from the one for Norma, Joe sends his script to Paramount where Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) picks it apart. Joe begins to see Betty more and is drawn to her life and simplicities that accompany it and vary so drastically from the life he shares with Norma. Betty and Joe’s romance begins the end, and leads us back to where “Sunset Boulevard” started with Joe, recently deceased, looking back.
Gloria Swanson is remarkable as Norma Desmond and captures her marvelously. Encapsulating the essence of a silent film star (she was originally a silent film star, after all) with drawn out expressions and movements, and perfect line delivery, Swanson gives a performance that never fails to impress and involve. Holden also delivers a great performance as Joe Gillis, the screenwriter torn between the messy, complicated relationship with Norma and the world outside her dramatic existence.
Holden is subtle when he needs to be and sets the tone perfectly when reciting Billy Wilder’s, Charles Brackett’s, and D.M. Marshman Jr.’s brilliant narration for the film. It’s easy to see why “Sunset Boulevard” was nominated for so many academy awards including Best Picture (it lost to “All About Eve”). This is a haunting film about Hollywood and not once does it let you down. With appearances from Cecil B. DeMille and Erich Von Stroheim, “Sunset Boulevard” is like a glimpse inside something both complicated and intoxicating that it’s impossible not to watch and enjoy.
VIDEO: All three are presented in full-frame by Paramount. All three of the films appeared mostly fresh and clean, with minimal wear. Sharpness and detail on all three were satisfactory, and no edge enhancement or other concerns were spotted.
SOUND: All three are presented in Mono. While audio on the films can sound somewhat flat and thin, given the age of the three films, audio quality does somewhat exceed expectations.
EXTRAS: Roman Holiday Special Features
“Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years”
A look at the life of Audrey Hepburn, focusing on her time spent working with Paramount Studios. Historians, authors, actors gather to discuss her life as an actress and her previous desire to be a ballerina. Audrey Hepburn’s status as a fashion icon is addressed here, as is her role as a stage address and footage of Audrey’s academy award win for “Roman Holiday.” Hepburn’s story is unquestionably interesting and Audrey herself is even more appealing the more you discover the many layers of her character off screen. This is a wonderful documentary feature with lots of insider information, details regarding Audrey’s on and off-screen life, footage and photographs to help bring further life to Audrey Hepburn’s time during “The Paramount Years” and even some afterwards.
Audrey Hepburn’s son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, opens this lovely documentary by sharing what it was like having Audrey as his mother. Audrey’s companion, Robert Wolders and her son, Sean talk about Audrey’s life beginning in her childhood, specifically the impact the war had on her life. They go on to discuss her life as an actress and Audrey’s genuine surprise that she became an actress, especially considering she had no training. The documentary follows her from the war, to becoming an actress, to becoming a movie star, a fashion icon. They reveal that Audrey didn’t see herself as beautiful, which only enhances her beauty. This really is a lovely documentary that lets two men from Audrey’s life share memories and truths of her inner beauty, that only enhances ones initial thoughts about the icon we know and love so well. “Remember Audrey” focuses on Audrey’s work as an ambassador for UNICEF and her modesty as an actress and as a human being. A lovely documentary.
“Rome with a Princess”
Following the story of “Roman Holiday”, this feature focuses on the landmarks and hidden gems of Rome. This feature ties in the scenes from “Roman Holiday” nicely with the photographs and footage Rome’s breathtaking landscape . This is a wonderful look at a marvelous city rich in history and art. “Rome with a Princess” is great for those interested in learning more about Rome and seeing how much of Rome William Wyler captured in his film.
“Dalton Trumbo: From A-list to Blacklist”
A fascinating look at “Roman Holiday” screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted in the 1950’s. Several historians, authors, and actors are interviewed and open up about Dalton Trumbo and his work as a writer in Hollywood’s past. Some actors included here are: Allan Rich and Marsha Hunt, two blacklisted actors in the 50’s. They discuss how politics began to effect Hollywood, beginning with subpoenas for writers, directors and actors to “account for their political activities and beliefs”, accusing Hollywood of being communist, and if not communist than pro-communism. The feature goes back and forth between Trumbo’s refusal to cooperate by naming names, landing him in jail, to further discussion of the events that occurred in Hollywood that effected so many who were listed. The interviews in this feature are powerful and emotional, as the effected actors and wives of blacklisted actors, recall the events and Dalton Trumbo’s refusal to answer whether he was or was not a communist (while being told he couldn’t read a prepared statement) based on his right under the first amendment. With interesting interviews, archive footage, and first hand accounts, this feature is definitely worth a look.
“Restoring Roman Holiday”
A look at the process of restoring the film. Phil Murphy (Paramount Pictures Senior Vice President Operations) and Barry Allen (Paramount Pictures Exec. Director of Broadcast Services and Film Preservation) open this documentary by providing the difference between restoration and preservation, which helps put into perspective the detail that went into restoring “Roman Holiday”. Paramount Pictures Head of DVD Mastering, Ron Smith also goes on to address the topic of restoration. The whole idea being that the restored version should look like the film when first released, as it was intended to look at the time. There’s some original footage included here along with the restored version. The process of restoration and techniques used to restore films are shared here, including digitals role in the process. Several people who work on the project of restoring films discuss the process here and offer interesting insight to a process that leaves us with a much more clear and lasting picture to watch over and over again.
“Behind the Gates: Costumes”
Here you get a glimpse into old Hollywood costume design. Paramount archivist, Randall Thropp talk about the clothing used and made for specific films and even shows some pieces worn by Hollywood elites of the past and present, including a pair of earrings he found in a box of broken jewelry. This is a glimpse inside a world filled with clothes worn in some of the greatest films of all time, and should be interesting to fans of films and fashion. Thropp discusses designer, Edith Heads role at paramount as well.
“Paramount in the 50’s”
A look at films Paramount released in the fifties, offered in a sort-of timeline. Here, glimpses of several Paramount classics are featured with footage from the films, academy award results, and a look at the actors who graced the screen during the time period.
Three trailers for “Roman Holiday” are included here. “Original Theatrical Teaser Trailer”, “Original Theatrical Trailer”, and “Theatrical Re-Release Trailer”.
Includes photographs from the production of “Roman Holiday”, of the actual film, the publicity for the film and from the premiere. A nice collection of photographs and worth a look for fans of the film and the era.
Sabrina Special Features
“Audrey Hepburn: Fashion Icon”
This is a more fast-paced look at Audrey Hepburn’s role as a fashion icon, and how she stood out amongst the more curvaceous stars of the time, including Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth. Fashion Designers, Cynthia Rowley, Eduardo Lucero, and Isaac Mizrahi, as well as Professor of fashion history, Eddie Bledsoe discuss the impact Audrey had on the fashion world. They look at how she broke the Hollywood mold, how she didn’t see herself as perfect, and how her body-type became something fashion designers wanted to work with. They focus on her style in the movie and the costume designers that worked with her and brought her to life, as well as Audrey’s style off screen. They do sort-of get off topic by focusing more on styles today, but do manage to incorporate how Audrey Hepburn influenced the work of current designers. While not as interesting as some of the features from the “Roman Holiday: Centennial Edition,” it’s worth a glance for those interested in fashion.
A look at the gold coast of Long Island of the past, and the lives, parties, estates and society that took place there. This feature focuses on the location that inspired “Sabrina’s World” as well as the affluent families that called it home. With photographs of grand estates, interviews about the parties that took place, and discussion of the change that has taken place, this is an underwhelming feature, but interesting enough.
A look at the character actors who played supporting roles in films like “Sabrina”. The major studios had these character actors under contract and relied on their familiar faces to help add to the film and support their leading actors. This is a great look at the actors who made appearance after appearance in some of Hollywood’s most beloved films, but whose names aren’t remembered quite like those of the stars of their time. “Supporting Sabrina” takes a look the many films these character actor’s had, as well as some of their more well known parts. The actors selected for this feature are definitely familiar faces, and it’s nice to see them get some long overdue recognition.
“William Holden: The Paramount Years”
This feature focuses on William Holden’s time spent working with Paramount Studios. Historians, authors, actors discuss Holden’s approach to his roles, as well his life off-screen. Holden’s career as “one of Paramount’s biggest movie stars” is followed, starting with his childhood in Pasadena, California where he was discovered by a paramount talent scout at nineteen, to his role as conservationist. After being discovered in Pasadena, Holden became part of the “golden circle”, a group of young actors at Paramount who were being groomed to be big stars. The feature follows his career closely and offers interesting interviews that help paint a picture of such a well known actor. This is an interesting look at one of Hollywood’s leading men whose career rebooted when Billy Wilder put him in “Sunset Boulevard” and who won an academy award for his role in “Stalag 17” (also a film by Billy Wilder). Worth a look.
“Audrey Hepburn: In Her Own Words”
A look at “Sabrina” and how the film came together from securing the actors, to the direction by Billy Wilder (who makes a hint at one of his upcoming films, “The Seven Year Itch” in the film). Focusing on Hepburn’s role as the title character and the actors (supporting and otherwise) that helped make the film a success, this is a short featurette that gives a general background look at the makings of a classic. There’s also some footage included here of Audrey Hepburn talking about her role in the play, “Ondine” with husband Mel Ferrer.
“Behind the Gates: Cameras”
Director of Photography, Mark Mervis and Camera Department Head at Paramount Pictures, Marianne Franco talk about the inventory of cameras at Paramount and the reason so many were necessary at the time. They focus on the types of cameras used throughout Paramount’s film history, including the camera used for filming “Wings” in 1927. This is a fascinating look at how far technology has come, and it’s nice to see that the cameras are still intact.
“Paramount in the 50’s”
** See review under “Roman Holiday Special Features”
Includes photographs from the production of “Sabrina”, of the actual film, the publicity for the film and from the premiere. A nice collection of photographs and worth a look for fans of the film and the era.
Sunset Boulevard Special Features
“Commentary with Ed Sikov (author of “On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder”)”
Less like the kind of commentaries you usually here on more current films, Ed Sikov’s commentary feels well rehearsed and researched, much like he’s reading from a book or notes. While that may sound dry, it’s actually probably better here since Ed wasn’t personally involved in the film, but he is knowledgeable about the film and the people surrounding the picture. This is a commentary that’s full of facts and tidbits regarding the making of the film, the actors involved, Billy Wilder and script changes. This is a great commentary for fans and people generally interested in the film, as it offers the kind of information you’d find in a making-of documentary or book. There are some moments where Sikov doesn’t speak, but it doesn’t take away from the commentary and probably adds to it by keeping it from becoming too much information all at once.
“Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning”
Starting by focusing on Billy Wilder’s career in films, we get a look at a legend in Hollywood who wrote and directed such films as “Sabrina”, “Stalag 17”, “Some Like it Hot”, “The Apartment” and of course “Sunset Boulevard” to name very few. William Holden and Gloria Swanson are also focused on here, as well as other people who played a huge role in the making of “Sunset Boulevard” including Erich von Stroheim and Cecil B. DeMille. Historian, authors, actors come together to talk about this classic film and the route it took to being made and ultimately becoming the legendary film it is today.
“The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard by Joseph Wambaugh”
Author Joseph Wambaugh gives his take on “Sunset Boulevard” by talking about his first encounter with the film and the connection “Sunset Boulevard” has to film noir and the differences as well. He offers opinions about the characters and some of the scenes in the film, as well as his take on the film as a author and as a former LAPD detective. He goes on to note certain touches in the film that make it so memorable, the little touches that make “Sunset Boulevard” continue to remain a classic favorite of so many. This is an interesting perspective that was a nice addition between mini-documentaries about the film.
“Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic”
A look at how Sunset Boulevard became a classic, with interviews regarding the likeability and strength of the film, as well as archive footage of Gloria Swanson discussing people’s reaction to the picture. Discussion of why the picture lost best picture to “All About Eve” takes place here, from actors points of view as well as author Ed Sikov’s who also mentions some reviews it got after its release.
“Two Sides of Ms. Swanson”
Gloria Swanson’s granddaughter, Brooke Anderson recalls spending time with her grandmother in wonderful detail. Anderson talks about her Grandmother’s life in the twenties and what it was like having a grandmother who was different from other children’s grandparents. Linda Harrison, one of Gloria Swanson’s co-stars talks about the side of working with her and experience knowing her as an adult. This is a wonderful look at Gloria Swanson the actress and Gloria Swanson the woman who happened to be an actress.
“Stories of Sunset Boulevard”
Just as the title implies, these are stories of “Sunset Boulevard”, including tricky camera shots, screenings and script changes, stories of actor’s preparing for their role, working with Billy Wilder, as well as other tidbits from the experience making “Sunset Boulevard”. While not uninteresting, this seems more like interviews that didn’t make it to the other features, and were thus compiled here.
“Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden”
A charming look William Holden and his life as an actor. With interviews from those who knew him, we get a better understanding of the man behind the playboy characters he was known for playing. With information about his beginning in Pasadena to his thoughts on being an actor , this is a good look at an actor who helped make “Sunset Boulevard” as great as it could have been and was.
“Recording Sunset Boulevard”
A look at the music behind “Sunset Boulevard” and the recording process of making the soundtrack in recent history. When recording the score for “Sunset Boulevard”, they talk about getting to record a cue that wasn’t ever put in the film due to script changes. This is an interesting look at recording Franz Waxman’s score to put out on CD, including creating new, noir cover art.
“The City of Sunset Boulevard”
A look at the locations used in “Sunset Boulevard”. With maps to show the way, this is actually quite an interesting feature that shows a lot of the locations in the film and discusses why they were used, if they were real, and who the land belonged to. Some of the locations were used in other films which is noted throughout this feature, and that too is always nice to know and look for when watching those films in the future.
“Morgue Prologue Script Pages”
Here you get a chance to look at two versions of the original script for “Sunset Boulevard”. Original, uncut shots are available here to look at, but there’s no sound included since the sound wasn’t found. Both versions of the script are easy to read and skim through. This is a nice piece of archive for “Sunset Boulevard” and definitely recommended for fans.
“Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard”
Franz Waxman’s score is talked about here in great depth, and a discussion of how important his score was to the film takes place. This is a great look at the music behind the film, as it helps paint a grander picture of this classic story and the many layers that makes it so.
“Behind the Gates: The Lot”
Producer A.C. Lyles talks about the changes in cinematic history from silent films to sound, from black and white to color, and more so. Talking about films started out in New York, this historical look at where films began (starting with the nickelodeon era, where people put a nickel in to watch some pictures) and the changes that occurred throughout the years including moving from New York to California where movies really took off and started the Paramount Lot. This is nice, short historical look at how a studio came to be where it is today.
“Hollywood Location Map”
A black and white map appears with five starred locations for you to chose from: Schwab’s Drug Store, Joe Gillis’ Apartment, Norma Desmond’s Car, Paramount Picture, and Getty Mansion. Each link takes you to a very short informative and historical piece on each location/item (which includes footage from the film).
“Edith Head: The Paramount Years”
A look at costume designer Edith Head who designed costumes from some of Paramount’s films including: “Roman Holiday”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Country Girl”, “Funny Face”, “House Boat” and “White Christmas” to name a few. This informative extra feature follows Edith Head’s long and award winning career with Paramount. This is a great look at a woman who had a huge impact on the fashion worn in films, with lots of pictures and interviews, as well as interesting tidbits about her relationships with the people she dressed and how she became the person she was at Paramount.
“Paramount in the 50’s”
** See above review with “Roman Holiday Special Features”
“Original Theatrical Trailer”
Pictures from the production, publicity and still from the film “Sunset Boulevard”
A preview for “It’s a Wonderful Life: 2 Disc Collector’s Set” is also included here.
Final Thoughts: Paramount delivers with these "Centennial Collection" editions, providing terrific Special Editions - with quite a few informative extras on each title - for all three classic features. Recommended.