Hanna-Barbera's "The Roman Holidays," which aired in 1972, tried to do for ancient Rome (circa 63 A.D.) what "The Flintstones" did for the caveman period. In place of the Flintstone family we have the Holidays: Father Augustus, or Gus (voiced by Dave Willock), his wife Laurie (Shirley Mitchell), teenage son Happius, more often called Happy (Stanley Livingston, best known as Chip Douglas on "My Three Sons") and younger daughter Precocia (Pamelyn Ferdin). They live in the Venus de Milo Arms apartment building with their pet lion Brutus, voiced by Hanna-Barbera regular Daws Butler. Another frequent character on the show is their landlord named Evictus, voiced by Dom DeLuise. As you might guess from his name, he often threatens to evict the Holidays from their apartment for the slightest infraction. Many other characters are given names ending in -us or -ia, as a play on the historical names of the period.
Similar to the world of "The Flintstones", "The Roman Holidays" jokingly adds some more modern (and American) elements to its world, such as televisions and appliances. Some machinery is operated with the help of animals (as they were in "The Flintstones"), such as the frequent use of record players with a bird resting its beak on the record instead of a pickup arm, and a car wash (well, more like a chariot wash) with elephants doing all the spraying. Books and newspapers come on scrolls. The culture also skews more than just a bit to the era in which the show was produced, the early 70s in this case with much of the late-60s hippie culture and bubblegum pop music still in vogue before disco had taken hold. The word "groovy" is said countless times throughout the show, including its theme song and Happy's girlfriend being named "Groovia". There's also a couple celebrity references: a pop star named David Cassius (a play on David Cassidy), who happens to looks exactly like Happy and the two end up switching roles in one episode, and Johnny Carsonius, whose TV show Gus appears on after he becomes slightly famous in another episode.
While "The Roman Holidays" was an interesting premise, it's easy to see why it didn't last very long and hasn't been seen much since its initial run- of its 13 episodes, none of them are really winners and a few are just awful. One has Gus having to stay up all night drawing blueprints for his construction job and deciding in the morning to stay home and nap rather than attend an important meeting with his client, so his wife Laurie puts on a fake mustache and goes in his place pretending to be him. When the client and boss then want to come by the Holidays' that night for dinner, Gus has to dress up pretending to be the wife. This one couldn't have ended soon enough. The other switcheroo episode where the aforementioned pop star David Cassius comes to town and convinces Happy to take his place for a while works much better, as it gives the music business a few well-deserved jabs including a pushy manager and lip-synching at a concert performance, with Happy being put on strings and manipulated like a marionette by the manager at one show after complaining he's too tired to go onstage. Another entertaining episode involves a chariot race, with champion racer "Ben-Him". (Get it?)
Far too many episodes rely on the premise of Evictus, the apartment manager who somehow wants to boot the Holidays out of their apartment. He really abuses his power in two episodes- one where he forces the Holidays to find a prom date for his daughter, and another where he and Gus are in the running for the "Father of the Year" award and threatens to throw the Holidays out if Gus wins. The Holidays also have to keep their pet lion Brutus in hiding as the apartment has a "no pets" policy. Daws Butler voices Brutus with the same effeminate voice he used with "Snagglepuss", except he doesn't speak any actual sentences. Instead, he speaks the words of the sounds he would normally make- when he roars, he literally says the word "roar" rather than make a roaring sound, and there are parts where he lays on the floor crying saying "sob sob!" This is a bit amusing at first but gets old rather quickly. In the last two episodes, Butler throws in a couple "evens", as Snagglepuss usually did.
Not helping matters is the limited animation. Hanna-Barbera were always famous for cutting corners, and many good examples of that are on display here. In many scenes where characters talk, hardly anything onscreen actually moves except the mouth of whoever's speaking. There are plenty of moments where characters travel through the streets, and the backgrounds are so limited that they go past the SAME buildings (including the Nero Sandwiches shop) and statues several times. While I'm sure the animation budget for a TV series wasn't the same as that of a Disney movie, it's still rather laughable. Still, some of the designs are interesting, such as the use of Roman numerals everywhere including currency and on the TV dials.
The sound track is filled with the usual Hanna-Barbera sound effects (with no laugh track, thankfully) and Hoyt Curtin's music is enjoyable, ranging from the same sitcom-like score used in "The Flintstones" to a bit of early-70s flavor with "wah-wah" guitars. Not really authentic to Ancient Rome, but it works. Of course, the main thing the viewer has to overlook is that the characters act and sound more American than Italian.
While Warner's regular DVD releases of other Hanna-Barbera shows had a lot of cleaning up done on them, not as much has been done with "The Roman Holidays." Picture quality is certainly adequate and most likely better than during the original network run, but nevertheless there is a bit of dot crawl in some episodes and some scenes look a bit blurry.
Sound is in Dolby Digital 2-channel "big fat mono", but stays in the center channel when using Pro-Logic. Like the picture, the audio isn't as pristine as Warner's usual DVD releases of Hanna-Barbera shows but it's still adequate, with some episodes having a more â€˜muddy' sound than others.
As this is a Warner Archive release, the discs are burned rather than pressed. Disc 1 is dual-layer (using the DVD+R format), while disc 2 is a single-layer DVD-R. The discs' labels appear closer to "real" DVDs however, with the same full-color picture as the front cover printed on both of them. Menus allow you to play one episode at a time or all in sequence, and chapters are included at the points where commercial breaks originally were, as well as at the opening and closing themes.
Again, it's easy to see why "The Roman Holidays" wasn't as successful as Hanna-Barbera's other shows, and why Warner saw fit to put this out on DVD-R through their Archive program rather than give it a regular release. Historically, it should be of interest to those who are into early 1970s America more than first-century Rome. Recommended for Hanna-Barbera completists, but for everyone else I can't rate this one higher than a Rent It.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.