Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday: THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN starring Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Louis Jourdan, Maggie McNamara, Rossano Brazzi and Jean Peters

I don't know why I turned to this romantic old chestnut to write about today but it popped into my head this morning and wouldn't let go. I must be in a mood.

Anyway, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's (our weekly host) blog, Sweet Freedom, to check out the reviews and links to other movie mavens who are blogging about Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films on this Tuesday. As I like to say, we are a very quirky bunch.

THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954) is a purely romantic American escape fantasy directed by Jean Negulesco, a talented guy who, more or less, specialized in these sorts of lushly presented movies. Shot on location in Rome - next to Paris, the center of the romantic universe - with some very talented and attractive actors, the film also gets a classic (if somewhat schlocky) song attached to it which never hurts. Even Clifton Webb, at his acerbic best, manages to look and behave quietly romantic in his own special way.

(I'm doing this post mostly from memory (with tiny prompts from IMdB and Wikipedia) since I haven't seen the movie in a while. But somehow I remember most of it most vividly. It's funny how the mind works sometimes.)

Maria Williams (the effervescent Maggie McNamara who always had an Audrey Hepburn vibe going on) arrives in Rome to work as a secretary at a large American government bureau. She is replacing Anita Hutchins (the voluptuously ripe on a vine, Jean Peters - can't help it, that's how I think of her) who is heading back home in the near future, disillusioned with the lack of romance in the Eternal City. She thinks she'll have better luck finding a husband in America since, apparently, wealthy Italian men just do not fall in love with secretaries.

The two women share a villa (!?) with a certain Miss Francis (the always intriguing Dorothy McGuire) who is the long-time secretary of ex-pat American author John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb). She, in her own quiet way, has been in love with her slightly dyspeptic boss for years. I love Clifton Webb in this film and I kind of fell in love with him myself. Though in the end there is a bittersweet surprise to add to this particular mix, I would have done exactly as the resourceful and steadfast Miss Francis did.

Jean Peters, Maggie McNamara, Dorothy McGuire - three girls in Rome looking for some love

The three women become friends (the Dorothy McGuire character is supposed to be an older spinster type popular in the 1950's, a woman who appears to have given up on romance) and in keeping with the Italian custom, each throws a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome - this is supposed to assure that each will return to Rome when and if they leave.

Okay, so what about the romance part. Well, here goes:

You already know that the strait-laced Miss Francis (we know she is strait-laced since she is referred to as 'Miss') is in love with her boss, the famous writer. Though he, dense about real-life emotion, is clueless.

Well, Maria Williams (Maggie McNamara) manages to meet Prince Dino di Cressi (Louis Jourdan), a wealthy Italian playboy at a party, and almost instantly falls madly in love. But she is a cautious girl, not as wise to the ways of international playboys as she might be, but wise enough to know she should tread carefully lest she have her heart trampled on. Louis Jourdan is full of the carefully charming insouciance of his class and has no plans to fall in love, most especially not with a spunky American. But he makes a play for her anyway, it's expected.

Audrey Hutchins (Jean Peters) has caught the eye of poor but honest Giorgio Bianchi (Rossano Brazzi), a swarthy, dark-eyed, soulful type who works as a translator in her department. But office protocol forbids fraternization between Americans and Italians. (?!) I'm not a fan of Brazzi except for his stint in SOUTH PACIFIC which sort of worked for him. Brazzi had a disconcerting way of looking unhappy which only made me want to slap him, but that's probably just me.

 He also had a huge and very earthy screen presence, and not always in a good way. At any rate, he and Jean Peters on screen together look as if they're just about to hop into bed and burn the sheets to a crisp. All the while, he, looking wounded and unhappy, of course. And why is this bad? It's not, it's just a bit over-much.

Anyway, the third love story is that of Miss Francis and her boss, John Frederick Shadwell aka Clifton Webb, whom she has adored from afar while working at his side for fifteen years. He has no clue and she dares not reveal her womanly emotions - it's enough for her to appear as the perfect secretary and office help-mate. Until one delightful evening when she has one drink too many and we get another view of the stait-laced Miss Francis. Much to her boss's surprise and chagrin.

In the end, just when everything looks downright dismal and un-workable, in steps John Frederick Shadwell (with the coaching of Miss Francis), who knows everyone who's anyone in Rome, to set things to rights.

Just a schmaltzy, happily ever after (more or less) love story of the kind they don't (can't) make anymore. It's also one of those films that if you walk into a room and it's playing on some channel or other, you can't help stopping and watching.

The film won two Academy Awards: one for the ubiquitous song and one for the wonderful cinematography.

Watch the THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN trailer here.

Listen to the song sung by The Four Aces, here.


  1. I think TCM showed this film recently though I'm not quite sure. The image of the three girls near the Trevi Fountain (I'd assume) looks all too familiar. The last I saw Louis Jourdan was in The V.I.P.s alongside Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Orson Welles, Rod Taylor, and Maggie Smith. I remember liking this film.

  2. A light film, with some goregous visuals to put one in the mood for a vacation. I was most taken with the McGuire/Webb storyline, but the other couples provide great contrast.

  3. This is one I haven't seen in a long time (and if you can imagine, only ever dubbed into Italian which becomes quite surreal at times of course). For me I get a slightly disjointed sense of nostalgia as it represents such a 'foreign' view of my home town, yet one that my mother (who is a Brit) would recognise probably from when she moved there in the early 60s. Great choice Yvette - I'll have to see it again.

  4. You just talked me into watching it.

  5. Oh my...you bring back memories of all those movies - this one included - that I saw in the 50's. What fun! Dee

  6. Prashant: This is a TCM standby, I think. :)

    If this is playing anywhere and I walk in, I sit down to watch. It's that kind of movie.

    Funny, I have THE V.I.P.'s on my queue. I mean to re-watch it one of these days.

  7. That's the storyline I liked best too, Jacqueline.

  8. Yes, Patti, we agree. How is it possible to be a wonderful schmaltzy film? It just is. :)

  9. Thanks, Sergio. I can only imagine this dubbed into Italian. As I mentioned this is one film I never mind watching when I have a chance. Dubbed or not dubbed. :)

  10. I hope you do, Ryan. It's a film you'll enjoy. I'm pretty sure.

  11. The fifties? Well, Dee, it's time to watch them again. :) We love the old films around here.

  12. I love this old movie! The very first thing I did when I visited Rome was to go over to Trevi Fountain and throw three coins in it! :)

    Have a happy Labor Day Weekend, Yvette!

  13. Thanks, Pat! I'll be going over to my daughter for barbecue just an excuse to gush over my granddaughter. :)

    You have a great weekend too, Pat. I am so envious of you having been to Rome. GAK!! Oh well, I won't hold it against you. HA!

  14. This is a great looking film, but the storyline is pretty thin. A lot of these folks are pretty clueless when it comes to romance.


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