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February 22, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | February 22, 2008 |

Pop culture item consumed: Roman Holiday, a wonderful Gregory Peck film featuring Audrey Hepburn as a sheltered princess who escapes her minders and spends a carefree weekend with newspaperman Peck, coincidentally assigned to do a story about her.

Beverage consumed: Sambuca, a strong, pungent elderberry liqueur flavored with essence of anise, which imparts a licorice flavor. Sambuca is fun by the thimbleful after a satisfying Italian meal but not for the faint of heart as a main attraction. While it is definitely more appropriate to drink Campari in this situation, Campari is roundly loathed in the socalled household.

Summary of action: At the end of March, Boozehound Cinephile makes his bi-annual pilgrimage to Italy — ten days in Rome, followed by five in Paris — to worship the greatest national collection of cultural treasures in the world, not to mention rich chianti and refreshing pinot gris, stunningly beautiful local fauna (i.e., knockout Italian babes itching to wear their tiny spring clothes), and the manly stylings of Ermenigildo Zegna. Mrs. socalled is the perfect traveling companion for many reasons, but especially because of her nerd-like obsession with vocabulary. Coupled with my generally foggy grasp of vocabulary but absolutely fearless pronunciation — it’s all about confidence, people — we are functionally illiterate in Italy as well as France, kind of like a Baltimore dockworker in the U.S.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the missus returned from our local book merchant with a pile of travel books for Rome (she’s never been!), and we nestled into our pillows in front of the bedroom TV for an early start to Happy Hour with Roman Holiday on the trusty TiVo. This film is a perfectly silly but delightful 1950s movie about things of which most Americans in the 50s knew almost nothing: royalty, overseas touring, and good taste. Unlike many “location” films, Roman Holiday does a fantastic job of capturing a sense and feel of place. Shot on location in Rome, the film follows Peck and Hepburn as they fall in love over the course of a weekend, and it’s a fun way to see not only some famous parts of Rome, but some of the neighborhoods as well.

eck, this sambuca is just awful. Blech. [/Pauses film, rummages through wine cabinet] Ah, Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino — a strong, dry Sangiovese; I’ve been saving this for something fun. It’s from central Tuscany, not Rome, but what can I tell you — my liquor supply is bountiful, but I don’t have room for a vintner’s sampling map of Italy.

The plot of Roman Holiday is pretty straightforward: After the princess takes a sedative and climbs out her bedroom window, she winds up asleep on a bench, then rescued by Peck and taken to his apartment to sleep it off. After she wakes, not wanting to return to her princess life just yet, Hepburn accompanies Peck around the city for the titular Roman holiday. Peck, having recognized the princess, secretly compiles a news story about her escape, even as he comes to love the princess and her naïve but perceptive view of a world that is strange to her.

Peck’s character lives in a small apartment on the picturesque Via Margutta, near the Spanish Steps, a beautiful and elegant area of Rome. Much of the film was shot nearby, including the famous sequence with Hepburn’s princess driving a scooter through the streets while Peck hangs on for dear life. We’re also treated to various scenes of the twosome interacting near the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, and Castel San Angelo, a cylindrical fortress used by, among others, various popes. In one charming scene, Peck and Hepburn visit the Bocca della Verita (“Mouth of Truth”), with Peck explaining to Hepburn the Roman legend that if one tells a lie while one’s hand is in the mouth, the hand will be bitten off. (“I believe in a loving Jesus and that fags will roast in hell. Ouch!”) The stars’ interplay, especially Hepburn’s childlike acceptance of the legend, helps with the wonderful chemistry between them that pervades the film and makes it so enjoyable.

Roman Holiday always makes me sentimental, as Rome was the site of my honeymoon with Beelzebub my first wife. As Peck and Hepburn tour the city, I wistfully recognize various locales where I could have abandoned that narsty harpy and hopped a plane back to the U.S. under an assumed name. This was just after Gulf War I; I could have checked through Customs as Osama bin Laden and probably received a Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s no accident that I haven’t been back in 15 years, choosing the northern part of the country as an ersatz second home.

A couple of side notes: Cary Grant was originally slated to play the Gregory Peck role; he backed out because he felt too old to play a love interest for Hepburn, an issue that arose again a few years later in Charade and was resolved by changing the script to have Hepburn pursue Grant — I wish my life could be re-scripted in such ways. Grant is tops, but I love Peck, not least for To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite films. Hepburn displays her usual unique charisma, in one of her first film roles. There are so many actresses of her day that I place above her in skill and beauty: Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly … but Audrey had a presence that is hardly matched in film history, and to its credit, this film showcases her radiant warmth. Legend has it that, part-way through filming, Peck gave up his solo, above-the-title credit to have Hepburn co-credited. That’s like Zeus saying, “You know what, let’s give this forest-nymph a place on Mount Olympus.” But I digress.

Before I check out, a couple of questions:

1) What are some good theaters to see sub-titled English language films in Rome and Paris? I have columns to write folks.

2) Does anyone live in Rome or Paris and want to try to meet up for a stiff belt while I’m there? (No promises, but I’ll try to fit you in while the missus is at the fashion museum or whatever. Paddy, I’m already assuming you maintain a flat in Rome that we’ll use for casual sex while I’m in Paris and you’re in Chicago.)

All responses c/o [email protected] Or you can e-mail me at the address I used to torment idiot Patriot fans about their petition to re-play the Super Bowl, [email protected] No, I’m not kidding about either of those things. Good times!

How well the pairing held up: The sambuca … not so much. Who drinks this stuff other than as a gimmicky post-meal pick-me-up? The brunello, on the other hand, was perfect for this movie. Not only did it impart the flavor of Italy, it left us in a standing-up posture suitable for stumbling through North Beach to find some pasta and another good bottle of Italian red. (We succeeded.)

Tastes like: Well. Sambuca tastes like licorice mixed with methamphetamine and K-Y jelly (not that I would know what K-Y jelly tastes like, I’m giving you my “shut-the-fuck-up” look, Peter Sarsgaard), with a dash of jet fuel for good measure; I can’t even remember why we have any. Sambuca, not K-Y. The brunello, on the other hand, was heavenly. While it’s dry, it has that sangiovese body and oomph and stands up well for drinking on its own. It can be paired with almost anything, and when we got hungry toward the end of the film, we drank it with gourmet croutons.

Overall rating: Twelve out of sixteen stars.

NOTE: I’ll be traveling today and unable to hob-nob in the comments. I know you’re crushed. Please share any thoughts, suggestions, or complaints about the column (although if you’re going to say “dumb column, Ted,” or “I’m glad trees aren’t wasted on this crap,” please consider that I can only take so much competition on the mad-clever snark front, Oscar Wilde). I love This Island Pajiba and its denizens, even those of you following Locke instead of Jack, so speak up! I’m looking at you, ShinyKate. Shiny!

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

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