Three Coins in the Fountain (Jean Negulesco, 1954)

This is my contribution to the CinemaScope blogathon, running from March 13 to 16, which is being organised by Classic Becky’s Brain Food and Wide Screen World – please visit and take a look at the other postings!

Three Coins in the Fountain 1I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra, so in his centenary year I couldn’t resist choosing Three Coins in the Fountain to write up for the blogathon. While Sinatra doesn’t appear – and isn’t even credited! – his singing of the great title song is probably the first thing that comes to mind for most people when thinking of this film. My mum tells me that everyone came out of the cinema singing it when the film was released in 1954.  The lyrics of the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn number don’t have a great deal to do with the plot, but it really doesn’t matter. This is a movie where you definitely wouldn’t want to miss the first few minutes, with the song swelling out over stunning footage of the Trevi  Fountain, followed by sweeping shots of Rome.

Of course, another reason for visiting this film this year is in tribute to French star Louis Jourdan, who died a few weeks ago aged 93. Sadly he doesn’t get a chance to sing here, as he did in Gigi a few years later, but he does play the piccolo – and gives an amusing performance as a conceited prince. There’s no explanation as to why an Italian prince has a French accent!

Louis Jourdan and Maggie McNamara

Louis Jourdan and Maggie McNamara

Jourdan might be one of the star names in the film’s cast list, along with Dorothy McGuire and Clifton Webb, but  name-above-the-title billing originally went to CinemaScope, judging by the trailer. Most of its three-and-a-half minutes are devoted to Italian scenery, with claims that only the latest widescreen format is big enough to do justice to the beauty of Rome and Venice. This was the first CinemaScope production made on location outside the US, and it presented technical challenges for director Negulesco and his crew – but the breathtaking, glossy Technicolor results were a triumph. It’s no surprise to learn that cinematographer Milton R. Krasner won an Oscar, along with Styne and Cahn. I’d be prepared to bet that Italian tourism was another winner.

The film is based on a novel, by John H. Secondari, but clearly also took inspiration from the previous year’s hit movie Roman Holiday (made in black and white).  Like that film, Three Coins also plays out bitter-sweet romance against a backdrop of the city’s historic landmarks – but this time there are three couples involved.  That opening scene at the Trevi fountain features three women, all American secretaries living in Rome, and the rest of the film follows their love lives. Actually, only two of them throw coins in the fountain in hope of returning to the Eternal City. Although all three  are seen enjoying their independent working lifestyle, marriage is clearly their main ambition – as in Negulesco’s previous film, How to Marry a Millionaire.

One of the trio, new arrival Maria (Maggie MacNamara) sets out to catch herself a rich prince, Dino (Jourdan) – spinning a web of deceit as she pretends to be a huge fan of everything he likes, from particular dishes to operatic numbers. Her scenes are the most lighthearted, and indeed at times almost farcical. MacNamara is charming in the role and at times reminded me a bit of Audrey Hepburn, while Jourdan manages to make Dino an attractive character despite being conceited.

Jean Peters and Rossano Brazzi

Jean Peters and Rossano Brazzi

The second secretary, Anita (Jean Peters) has already been in Rome for several years and is now planning to head home, apparently because she thinks she will stand more chance of finding a husband in the US. However, just days before she is due to depart,  she becomes involved with a colleague, Giorgio (Rossano Brazzi) – defying a strict office rule against work relationships. I especially enjoyed the scenes featuring this couple, since they spend a lot of time outside in the Italian countryside.

Meanwhile, the oldest of the three, Frances (Dorothy McGuire) has been carrying a torch for her boss, writer John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb) for 15 years. The question is whether he will ever return her feelings – or even notice them. Webb plays a sarcastic character here, similar to his role in the previous year’s Titanic, also directed by Negulesco. He also gets most of the film’s best one-liners.

Clifton Webb and Dorothy McGuire

Clifton Webb and Dorothy McGuire

Some reality does intrude into the film,  for instance with the money worries of Dino, as well as a dark plot twist which casts a shadow over one of the couples. But in general this is a sunny, feelgood movie, suffused with the dreamy flavour of that opening Sinatra song. One review at the imdb points out that this seems to be a version of Italy where the Second World War has never happened – we are told that Frances and Shadwell have been living here for 15 years, which would mean they were in Rome all through the fascist period. Clearly that’s not something we are supposed to worry about here – even if  the crumbling buildings do provide an occasional involuntary reminder of the conflict.

All in all, this isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a film I enjoyed – and that CinemaScope scenery, including some Venetian sequences, is stunning. I’m slightly saddened that I’ve only been able to see it on DVD, since it hasn’t had a Blu-ray release as yet. The picture quality isn’t great on the bare-bones UK release from Twentieth-Century Fox, but I understand that the US DVD is made from a restored print and also has some special features. Of course, the best place to see this one would be on the big screen and I’d love the chance to do that some day.

A rather different view of the fountain, with McGuire and Webb

A rather different view of the fountain, with McGuire and Webb

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24 thoughts on “Three Coins in the Fountain (Jean Negulesco, 1954)

  1. I saw THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN many, many years ago when I’d just discovered Jean Peters from NIAGARA. Seeing young Louis Jordan was a bit shocking to me.

    I remember summing it up about the same–it’s not great, but it’s a gorgeous looking film and very entertaining. And a great example of Cinemascope for the blogathon!

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    • Gorgeous looking is right, Andrew – it makes me want to head off to Rome and Venice right away! I’m not sure if I’ve seen ‘Niagara’ – if so, it was a long time ago. I must give it a look. Many thanks!

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  2. I would imagine that seeing Rome in widescreen and in color must have been breathtaking to audiences of the day.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon.

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    • Thanks to you for organising the blogathon, Rich. I’m sure it must have been amazing to see Rome in widescreen – there seems to have been a great appetite for seeing films set in exotic locations around this time.

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    • Sorry about that, Patricia, I’ve got the song on the brain too! I’ve just listened to the Four Aces version, not sure if I’d ever heard it before. I don’t think they are widely known in the UK, though I’ve just looked up some info about them and they did have a few hits here.

      I was interested to see that the Four Aces had the number one hit with this in the US… whereas Sinatra was number one for a month in the UK and their version only got to number 5 here! The Four Aces’ version is very good too, anyway, so thanks for mentioning it.

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  3. Excellent review of one of my personal favourite CinemaScope films. I own the American DVD release you spoke of and the picture quality is stunning (though a blu-ray release would still be greatly appreciated). I hope one day, like you, to see this underrated gem up on the big screen :) It’s not the best film ever made, but it’s certainly a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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    • Thanks for the kind comments and the info on the American DVD – definitely agree that a Blu-ray of this would be great, but a big-screen showing even greater!

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  4. When I first saw this film, I was so in love with the beauty of everything. I loved the stories, and of course the song, as you say, was just wonderful. How could it not be with Sinatra singing? I really enjoyed your post, and Rich and I are so glad you joined the blogathon!

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    • Thanks so much, Becky, and I’m really glad you organised the blogathon – it is proving fascinating to learn more about CinemaScope!

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  5. It’s a very engaging film and I do love the lush widescreen scenery as well as the title song. But it’s the charming premise that holds the most appeal for me. Heck, it even worked pretty well in the same decade’s remake THE PLEASURE SEEKERS.

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    • Thanks, Rick, I didn’t know about that remake – I see it was also directed by Negulesco but moved the story to Madrid. I’d like to see it!

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  6. Not sure how this one had passed me by – it looks like a treat. The first ‘classic’ movie I got into was probably Roman Holiday, and it started an obsession with all things Italian that continues to this day (well, any excuse to eat some pizza!) Love the 3-for-the-price-of-1 romance-story angle, Rome seems to bring that out in movie characters ;)

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    • If you like romances set in Italy, I’m sure you will really enjoy this one. I also love ‘Roman Holiday’ and need to watch it again – I can certainly see how it could start an obsession with Italy! Many thanks for the nice comment.

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  7. A superb review of one of my first classic movie experiences. I always felt it was an exceptional example of CinemaScope, with the gorgeous Italian scenery to fill up the vastness. Here, the scope is not misplaced. I would quite appreciate a Blu-Ray release, though….would be such fun to see the vibrant colors on a Blu-Ray.

    Jan

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    • Jan, it must have been great to have this as one of your first classic movies, and agreed on the use of CinemaScope here. Fingers crossed for a Blu-ray. Thank you!

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  8. From time to time I catch myself singing the theme song of this film for no reason whatsoever! It’s just such a lovely song, I can’t resist.
    I agree that the Technicolor / CinemaScope duo is the best attraction in this film, because Rome never looked better on screen. And, well, all scenes with sultry interiors also called my attention (especially when Louis Jourdan was in them!).
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Cheers!
    http://criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2015/03/meias-de-seda-silk-stockings-1957.html

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  9. “All in all, this isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a film I enjoyed – and that CinemaScope scenery, including some Venetian sequences, is stunning. I’m slightly saddened that I’ve only been able to see it on DVD, since it hasn’t had a Blu-ray release as yet. The picture quality isn’t great on the bare-bones UK release from Twentieth-Century Fox, but I understand that the US DVD is made from a restored print and also has some special features. Of course, the best place to see this one would be on the big screen and I’d love the chance to do that some day.”

    Judy, your summary judgment here matches my own. I concur that it isn’t master class, but still a delightful film. I also have the US DVD in the Fox Classics series, and it is quite good. Visually it is a treat, and as you mention at the outset it is remembered by many for the Sinatra song. In any case, yet another splendid and cinematically riveting review from you!

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    • Many thanks, Sam – sounds as if the US DVD is much better than the UK one, where the picture is a bit pale overall. But even so the film is definitely very enjoyable overall. Many thanks again!

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