×

Why Restoring 1953’s ‘Roman Holiday’ Was No Day at the Beach for Paramount’s Preservation Team

Roman Holiday Restoration
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures senior VP of archives Andrea Kalas and her team have been bringing the studio’s vast back catalog into the digital age. Titles such as “King Creole” (1958), starring Elvis Presley; Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” (1955), with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, were among the films restored and released.

Sept. 15 sees the release of William Wyler’s 1953 classic “Roman Holiday” in 4K on Blu-ray as part of the studio’s Paramount Presents line. The film stars Hepburn as a princess and Gregory Peck as an American reporter who fall in love — and features the lustrous black-and-white cinematography of Henri Alekan and Franz Planer, nominated for an Oscar for their work. 

“I’m so glad Wyler took this film to Rome,” Kalas says of the production, which was one of the first American movies shot entirely in Italy, setting up at Cinecittà studios and nearby locations. Not only did the film celebrate Rome as the city was reopening after World War II but the location was among the picture’s stars. 

At the time, the controlled setting of a soundstage was pretty much all Hollywood crews knew. Wyler’s idea of a location shoot was literally a foreign concept. But the same offshore magic that enlivened Edith Head’s Oscar-winning costume designs and Hal Pereira and Walter H. Tyler’s nominated art direction worked against the preservation, according to Kalas. The original negative suffered extensive damage, and the use of unfamiliar labs contributed to the damage. 

“It could be [the] standards or the [way they handled] printing of dailies,” she says. “We have a fine grain from the negative where we can see some of the damage, but we had to go back frame by frame and restore some of the bad splicing and scratching.”

This isn’t the first time Paramount has reworked “Roman Holiday,” but the tools to digitally restore films were never quite far enough advanced to complete the job. Now, the process allows the original grain of the film to be honored while removing the noise. “You can make sure you’re not taking anything out that you don’t want to,” Kalas says.

Colorist Mike Underwood was among Technicolor’s team that worked with Pro-tek Facilities to restore the picture; archivist Liz Kirksey of Paramount’s digital post service worked with the audio experts at Skywalker Sound and Deluxe to clean up the sound. Notably, the film does not have an upmix (a process that transforms two audio channels into five). Since no multitrack source material was available, the film features the original mono sound.

The Blu-ray release sees one more full restoration: Dalton Trumbo wrote the Oscar-winning story and co-wrote the nominated screenplay, but he was blacklisted when the awards were handed out. In 1992, the Academy’s Board of Governors voted to credit Trumbo for the story. The Writers Guild restored his name to the screenwriting credits in 2011. The current discs give credit where it’s due.