Judge Lacey Worrell throws a coin in the Trevi fountain and wishes for more classic movie releases like this one.
"Which one will the fountain bless?"
Three Coins in the Fountain is a lighthearted look at love in 1950s Italy. Shot on location, this recently re-released film offers plenty to adore.
Facts of the Case
Three Coins in the Fountain follows the adventures of three working women looking for love in the fabled city of Rome. It begins with Maria's arrival in Rome and her introduction to the glamorous flat she will share with two other women, Miss Frances (Dorothy McGuire, Old Yeller) and Anita (Jean Peters, A Blueprint for Murder). Maria is at once indoctrinated to the ups and downs of living abroad, from a pinch she receives from an amorous stranger to drinking wine in fine restaurants and trips around the breathtaking countryside.
Frances has lived in Italy for years and pines for her older boss (Clifton Webb, Laura), who appears not to notice her. She is also tasked with being a mother figure to her two roommates. Anita, who shuns the idea of love in favor of returning to the United States, nonetheless falls for a dashing coworker, Giorgio (Rossano Brazzi, South Pacific), whose interest threatens Anita's job. Naïve Maria (Maggie McNamara, The Moon is Blue) puts on airs to impress a nobleman (Louis Jourdan, Gigi). She researches his favorite things and emulates his every desire, down to playing the piccolo, which piques his interest. When he finds out her deception, however, it remains to be seen whether it will turn him away forever.
The various romances cause plenty of tension between the women and their suitors, and between one another as well. It is up to a final meeting at the fabled Fountain of Trevi to reunite the friends and lovers for good.
Just try to resist the opening scenes of this film, which showcase the lavish fountains of sunny Rome while Frank Sinatra croons the theme song. It's enough to make even the most cynical want to fall in love. I love films shot during the 1950s, when the female leads always put on white gloves before leaving home, and the very dramatic kissing always involved the thrusting of shoulders, a tight grip on each other's upper arms, and the mashing together of closed lips. Then there are the plaintive wails of the violins that play variations on the central theme whenever the film veers into dramatic territory. At one point Miss Frances even warns Maria not to fly to Venice with her paramour for fear of staining her "reputation," something modern female characters don't have to worry about.
There is not much substance to the film beyond its romantic premise, which gives it a lighthearted feel. This DVD is perfect for an evening in; there are no lessons to be learned or speeches to be made…it is simply an airy confection that perfectly embodies the time period in which it was made. The acting is stellar as well. The picture is vibrant and colorful, and there are many lingering shots of the beautiful scenery. At times the sound echoes, but this is not necessarily a bad thing; it is akin to the comfort of listening to the scratchiness of an old 45-rpm record…the little imperfections add to the charm.
The special features are fabulous, considering the fact that this is an older film; the commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger is especially welcome to give added insight into the setting and to put the film in proper perspective. The charming, lengthy trailer that touts the latest in "stereophonic" sound emphasizes the setting as much as the story in proclaiming the film's appeal. Three Coins in the Fountain received well-deserved Academy Awards in the categories of Original Song and Cinematography, and among the extra features is footage of the awards ceremony. The film was also nominated for Best Picture.
Finally, this is an opportunity to laud the extensive, impressive career of the often overlooked Dorothy McGuire. McGuire was an incredibly talented actress who, although not as in-your-face glamorous as the other actresses of her day, conveyed in each of her roles a quiet dignity and strength. Although Three Coins in the Fountain is perhaps not the best showcase for her considerable talents, her work in the melodramatic A Summer Place, as a stern Quaker trying to keep her mischievous husband in line in Friendly Persuasion, and especially in the unique and engrossing The Enchanted Cottage, more than does her justice.
Sadly, all three leading ladies are now deceased. McGuire died in 2001, Peters in 2000, and McNamara died relatively young in 1978. None were strangers to the small screen, either. Jean Peters appeared in a 1988 episode of the popular 1980s drama Murder, She Wrote, McNamara guest starred on episodes of classic series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Twilight Zone, and Dorothy McGuire wasn't above appearing on campy Aaron Spelling shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.
Fox's recent release of classic films onto DVD is a bonus for fans tired of waiting for their favorites to run on classic film channels. Three Coins in the Fountain is no exception.
Throw a coin in the fountain and take this lovely trip down memory lane.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Film Historian Jeanine Basinger
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