Another week has passed, and it is time for the next film in our weekly series 52 Code Films. As in every other week in 2019, I watched an American Breen Era film (1934-1954) which I have never seen before. This was another step in my series of discovering new movies from the Golden Era of Hollywood. My review of this week’s film will be the last article in this series which I will publish during February.
This week’s film is Three Coins in the Fountain from 1954. We watched this movie on Tuesday evening, having bought it on DVD a couple of weeks ago while browsing the film collection at Barnes and Nobles. Having been made in the last year of the Breen Era, this is the latest film I have reviewed in this series so far. This Jean Negulesco picture stars Clifton Webb and Dorothy McGuire as the oldest of the three couples on which the story focuses.
A young American woman goes to Rome to work for a year, hoping to find romance in the Italian capital. She shares an apartment with two other American women, a younger one who is soon returning to America to get married and a middle-aged one who has worked for a well-known but reclusive author for fifteen years. The young heroine soon learns that her younger roommate, who is also her coworker, is not really engaged. She used impending marriage as an excuse for returning to the United States. Her only love interest is a handsome Italian coworker, whom she hasn’t gotten to know because of the company’s policy against employee fraternization. However, the two girls happen to run into the young man when they are wandering around Rome, and it leads to the potential sweethearts’ seeing each other. Meanwhile, the young heroine receives an invitation from a notoriously flirtatious Italian nobleman to go to Venice. With the help of her secretary roommate, she tricks him into bringing both of them to Venice. Although the cad is initially annoyed by the trick, the young woman is determined to win the handsome man’s heart. She researches and memorizes his favorite things so that she can pretend to like everything he likes. Her plan seems to be working, since the Casanova appears to be considering matrimony with her. However, her conscience bothers her as she realizes that he esteems her for her honesty, but she has deceived him. At the same time, the older secretary hopes that her young friends will find success in romance, since she fears that her own chances for wedded bliss have passed. The only man she has ever loved is her employer, whom she thinks is a confirmed bachelor who will never know her adoration of him. Will the three women find true love in Rome, or will they be doomed to spinsterhood?
The young American girl who goes to work in Rome is Maria Williams, played by Maggie McNamara. The young American woman who is planning to return to the United States is Anita Hutchins, played by Jean Peters. The older American woman who has been an important author’s secretary for years is Miss Frances, played by Dorothy McGuire. The reclusive author is John Frederick Shadwell, played by Clifton Webb. The playboy nobleman on whom Maria sets her sights is Prince Dino di Cessi, played by Louis Jourdan. The Italian employee whom Anita loves is Giorgio Bianchi, played by Rossano Brazzi.
This movie was directed by Jean Negulesco. It was produced by Sol C. Siegel. The screenplay was written by John Patrick from a novel by John H. Secondari. This film debuted the now-famous title song Three Coins in the Fountain, which was written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn; it was sung by Frank Sinatra during the credits. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It won Academy Awards for Best Color Cinematography for Milton R. Krasner and Best Song for the title song.
This is a poor Code film. For the most part, the movie is Code-compliant. However, one highly suggestive scene gives it its poor classification. Anita is going to America in a few days, but she is very sad because the boss fired Giorgio for seeing her. Now that he is unemployed, her beloved will be unable to continue his law studies. She locates his flat and apologizes to him. She wants to help him, but there’s nothing she can do. She offers to spend her last few days in Rome with him. The whole scene is charged with risqué tension and suggestion. They kiss passionately, and Anita ends up lying on her back across his bed. Giorgio seems to have some scruples about the situation, but they aren’t enough to prevent the scene from pursuing the looming implication. Ultimately, the scene fades out on a very passionate kiss between them, with no mention of marriage. Nothing more risqué than passionate kissing is shown, but plenty is implied. The next scene is between Maria and Dino, and we don’t see Anita and Giorgio for several scenes. I would estimate that at least fifteen minutes pass before we see Anita back at the ladies’ apartment. She explains that she has been staying with Giorgio’s family in the country, but the previous scene and her suspicious behavior tells us otherwise. No clarification is ever made that she was not having an illicit affair with Giorgio, so the audience naturally assumes that she was. The fact that the couple is not shown for quite some time after the suggestive scene makes the audience wonder about what they are doing during all that time. Ultimately, there is no denouncement of this impure relationship by either of the people involved in it or by any of their friends. This single scene casts an unacceptable air of looseness over the whole film. This implication was so unnecessary. More careful self-regulation would have ensured that all three relationships were romantic without being immoral.
This movie was not as entertaining as I expected it to be. From the description on the film’s case, I expected more of a romantic comedy. This film definitely lacked something. I have a feeling that it really lacked Americanism. I haven’t seen many European pictures, but I felt that this movie was very European. The director seemed more interested in the Italian scenery than the story’s action. The location footage was beautiful, but I would have liked to have gotten more involved with the characters. For the first thirty minutes of the film, there were almost no closeups. The camera stayed at approximately the same difference for most of the film, which was too far away to see much expression or to even clearly recognize some of the actors. There were more closeups later, but I thought that they were too few and too late. One thing that bothered me about the story was the fact that only two of the three leading ladies tossed coins in the fountain. Anita refused to toss her coin in the famous Roman fountain because she had no desire to return to Rome. Thus, the title and the theme song are inaccurate! The acting is good, but I would have liked a chance to get to know the characters better. As is often the case in films with three primary couples, I didn’t think each relationship had enough time to develop. I must say that the film improved as it progressed, but not enough.
I can’t personally recommend this film. I didn’t find it to be extremely entertaining. It was interesting, but I found it rather disturbing in some ways. As I stated above, it was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. I am not very surprised, since the Academy always has seemed to have a taste for something new and different. I personally can think of many better films from 1954. Although it focuses on three women, I estimate that men might enjoy this film more than women. That is at least true in my family. My mother, sister, and I didn’t really care for it, but my father liked it. I think that viewers can enjoy the lovely footage of Rome and other Italian scenery. Some of the best footage is during the opening sequence, during which the title song is played. There is some fine acting in this film from some excellent actors. The story has some interesting twists. However, there are also some unsatisfying loose ends. This is my least favorite of the new Code films I have seen so far this year, but one is bound to find a few films he doesn’t like from any era. If this movie sounds interesting to you, by all means seek it out. You may enjoy it, as my father did!
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This week, I watched one extra new Code film, Lullaby of Broadway from 1951, which I will review some other time.
Click the above image to buy this movie on a Doris Day DVD box collection at Amazon and support PEPS through the Amazon Affiliate program!
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