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!
I’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!
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.
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.
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.