Love and scooters in the eternal city

Audrey Hephburn and Gregory Peck star in the mod classic “Roman Holiday.”

Gabriel Shapiro

Rome, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. “Roman Holiday” was too beautiful in the first place, and it just got more gorgeous.

The film that is making its way around the arthouse circuit is a brand new 35mm print. It is the result of a slow and painstaking process of cleaning up and enhancing the surviving “dupe” negatives and then printing new reels of film from the improved versions.

This process is routinely done when a movie goes to video, but to print new film reels is more expensive and not often done. The new reels allow the film to be shown in cinemas again. It looks and sounds better than it did when it was first released in 1953.

Restoring “Roman Holiday” was an especially challenging project because of the unusually poor quality of the existing negatives, none of which were originals. Each frame was scanned into a computer at a very high 2,000-line resolution, which is about four times the resolution of regular television.

Technology might have given the film a facelift, but the real attraction never needed any alterations.

In her first major role, a 24-year-old Hepburn is nothing short of absolutely breathtaking as the young princess Ann, who, for all her wealth and fame, is trapped by the diplomatic society in which she lives. Shuttling between official functions, state dinners and stuffy receptions, the princess is lonely in a constant crowd and reluctantly performs perfunctory pleasantries.

Finally, after another unfulfilling evening ends in preparation for what will be an inevitably hectic yet similarly unfulfilling day, stress gets the best of the otherwise dutiful royal, sending her into a long-suppressed tantrum. After being given a sedative and left apparently sleeping, the princess gathers her wits just long enough to slip out of the castle and onto the streets of Rome.

Enter Gregory Peck as Joe Bradley, a dashing American reporter with questionable scruples. After rescuing the princess who he has mistaken for a helpless drunk, Joe unwittingly provides her the opportunity to become Anya Smith; anonymous, hungry for experience and gloriously free.

The chance to escape her duties and just live life for a while, combined with the princess’ naivety and Joe’s plans to land an exclusive story, provides a fertile basis for the series of small adventures and the sorts of little discoveries most of us make in the course of growing up – but experiences the princess has been sheltered from.

“Roman Holiday” is a delightfully light romantic comedy, and if you’re a fan of the idea that movies are a great escape, this will be your king of film. It has all the ingredients of Hollywood’s magical fluff: gorgeous stars, fantastic sets and the kind of romance that makes holding hands and smooching in the theater feel fun and innocent, as opposed to semi-grodie exhibitionism.

Hepburn won an Academy Award for this picture, her first and only win, though she would be nominated four more times.