Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

When I heard the news today of the passing of Louis Jourdan, one of the first of his movies I thought of was THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954).

It's been perhaps a dozen years since I last saw it, and I immediately knew it would be the perfect film to close out the weekend while paying tribute to a wonderful actor.

In the years since I last saw the movie we've acquired a much bigger TV, and it was a real treat to enjoy the movie's gorgeous CinemaScope Italian vistas on a large television! The Fox Studio Classics DVD is a really fine print of a beautiful movie.

The film opens with an overture of sorts, with Frank Sinatra singing the classic Cahn-Styne title song while the audience is given a tour of Rome, and particularly its fountains, by cinematographer Milton R. Krasner. I remember the first time I saw the movie, I was a bit confused, as I kept expecting the titles to start, which doesn't happen till after the song is finished. In recent years MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011) successfully emulated the idea, with a wonderfully scored, beautifully photographed tour of Paris.

Over the years 20th Century-Fox made countless movies with the theme of three women looking for husbands, and here we are again with three beautiful women in Rome, secretaries played by Jean Peters, Maggie MacNamara, and Dorothy McGuire.

Peters falls in love with a poor translator (Rossano Brazzi) who works at the U.S. agency where she's employed, but American employees are forbidden to date "local" coworkers. MacNamara plots to capture a handsome prince (Jourdan), studying his habits and pretending to like all of the same things. And McGuire has been carrying a torch for her crochety boss (Clifton Webb), a writer, for 15 years.

It's quite a pleasant story, though it has its flaws; for instance, the couple I wanted to see the most of, Brazzi and Peters, were given the least screen time. This might have been because they have the least conflict; it also feels as though they had a scene or two left on the cutting-room floor, between the point where she goes to see him when he loses his job and the scene where she's crying because he's dumped her.

MacNamara puts a spin on the same chirpy type of character she played the previous year in THE MOON IS BLUE (1953); she talks less, but the extent of her deceipt of her dream prince is a bit troubling. She admirably owns up to it, realizing she can't have him under false pretenses, but once that's settled, one wishes there were a scene or two showing things they really do have in common! The movie runs 102 minutes, but with three stories going on it could have stood to be a few minutes longer.

The third and final flaw is it's way too obvious at times when stand-ins are at the various locations in long shots, such as on the trip to Venice, with inserts of the lead actors filmed against back projections. That said, it's refreshing that, other than the back projections, everything shown is real -- no CGI!

Putting aside the movie's imperfections, this is such a lovely "feel good" movie! There are plenty of scenes the actors themselves filmed in Italy (which makes one wonder why they didn't do all the location scenes without the fakery). The most exquisite sequence is when Brazzi takes Peters to his family's celebration on the farm -- the wide green vistas seem as though they might have inspired some of the look of Fox's THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) a decade later. The two films even have the same costumer, Dorothy Jeakins.

Aside from the location shooting in Italy, the interiors are fantastic, especially the girls' apartment, a marvel of art design and set decoration. I don't think I fully appreciated the great '50s look the last time I saw the movie, and it's pure eye candy.

And speaking of eye candy, a movie that has both Jourdan and Brazzi? Every aspect of this film is handsome.

The final scene, with wishes filled as the title song swells, brought a tear to my eye. How could it not? It's a perfect slice of Hollywood in Rome, and it was a lovely way to remember six wonderful actors, including the last of the group to pass away, Louis Jourdan.

THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN was directed by Jean Negulesco.

In addition to the DVD, THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN is available to rent for streaming from Amazon Instant Video, and it had a release on VHS.


Blogger Bill O said...

Might sound odd, but I think having the precredits scenes in this are a way of "teaching" the audience to take in the new wide screen. The first Cinemascope. How To Marry A Millionaire, opens with a precredit Fox orchestra playing, while the camera slowly movies from one end of the screen to the other. By following it, the audience is trained to absorb the full frame, rather than seeing just the center, as was normal in the old square format.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Could be, Bill! Plus in the cast of THREE COINS it must have been very enjoyable for audiences of the time simply to enjoy those gorgeous vistas in a whole new way.

Best wishes,

11:16 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

For sure. But Zanuck wanted to make sure audiences didn't reject his new process as they did 3-D. In those early days, it was a new experience. There were technical problems with Cinemascope that made it difficult to move the camera in a scene with actors without some distortion. Caused faces to look like they had the mumps. But no problem with travelog-like shots.

12:49 AM  

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