Claiming for fame as the first motion picture filmed in CinemaScope outside the United States, also manifestly cashing in on the exotic fad of Rome instigated by William Wyler’s ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), Jean Begulesco’s THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN faithfully takes its eye-pleasing duty to its heart, whose wide-screen camera insatiably pans and lingers across the most prestigious beauty spots in Rome and its environs (Villa d’Este in Tivoli featured prominently in the opening theme song, under Frank Sinatra’s crooning rendition), to both salve and tantalize its sedentary spectators, while its treble central romances can only take a backseat and stuck in the rut of pleasant tediousness.
Three American secretaries living in Rome, Miss Frances (McGuire) is a spinster in her 30s (a staggering case of ageism?!), who has been a devoted secretary to the estimated expatriate American writer John Frederick Shadwell (Webb) for 15 years, for whom she has been carrying a torch ever since, only he is a congenital bachelor and scarcely susses her feelings; next is Anita Hutchins (Peters), who decides to go back to the States using a sham marriage as the pretext, and the truth is that she cannot find an ideal husband in Rome (the only socially pertinent remark in the entire movie, because as a secretary, rich bachelors is off-limits for her, and ordinary local guys are too poor for her star-spangled standard), only wrong-footed by the romantic offense from her co-worker, Giorgio Bianchi (Brazzi), a local translator, who puts his job on the line in violating the company’s “no-dating” rule; finally a wide-eyed Maria Williams (McNamara) is the blow-in, who arrives as Anita’s successor, and catches the eyes of the notorious skirt-chaser Prince Dino di Cessi (Jourdan), “Cessi” in Italian means pigsty or loo, one might divine this pejorative moniker is an intentional sideswipe, and as a matter of fact, Dino’s overt sexism attitude during a jaunt to Venice with Maria, and Miss Frances as a conspiratorial gooseberry, is fairly unsavory.
All these pairs will hit their individually and patly designed bumps on the road before attaining the preordained happiness (and for all eligible secretaries, marriage is their invariable holy grail) in the famous Trevi Fountain, but the movie also wisely boosts their instant, if blithe communion of sisterhood, even a fallout doesn’t need to fester into petty grudge. For its players, acting chops seem to be unnecessary with regard to the thread-bare plot, but a fastidious, amusingly condescending Webb and a self-possessed McGuire, at least manage to extrude some touching impression of inner depth out of their characters’ cardboard configuration.
All in all, THREE COINS IN A FOUNTAIN fleets insouciantly but lively against a gorgeous backdrop that is too bewitching to quibble, when in Rome... just go with it.
referential entries: William Wyler’s ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953, 8.7/10); David Lean’s SUMMERTIME (1955, 6.6/10).