Movie: Three Coins in a Fountain (1954) Stars include Jean Peters, Dorothy McGuire, Maggie MacNamara, Clifton Webb, Rossano Brazzi and Louis Jourdan
If you want a look at a foreign culture, the original Three Coins in a Fountain movie will do it for you. Yes, there is a lot about Italian culture, but you also see another way of life that will be foreign to you–the culture of 1950’s America when women were girls, men wore suit jackets even at home, and the object of life was to get married.
When you see a movie for the 2nd time more than fifty years later (OUCH!) reality tinkers with your memory. This ultimate travel movie was filmed just one year after the debut of Cinemascope with stereophonic sound, which was really amazing stuff back then. ( The trailer sells the film technique instead of the film). The use of Cinemascope presents panoramic shots of Rome, Venice and the Dolomite Mountains countryside that could serve as a marketing tool for the Italian Tourism agency now as well as then.
For instance, the introductory sequence consists of a four-minute tour of Rome with Frank Sinatra singing the Oscar-winning Sammy song, Three Coins in a Fountain in the background, more like a low-key music video than any movie you’ll see today.
I only wish that when we visited Rome, the fountains and parks had been so empty. In those lovely scene-setting scenes around Rome, there are almost NO people!
We had to wait eons to get close to the Fountain of Trevi so we could toss our coins.
And I wouldn’t mind an exchange rate that allowed me to live in a villa, either! But, this is fantasy Rome, not the one we walked through.
One lengthy segment takes place in Venice. Plotwise there is no concrete reason for the actors to be in Venice–and in fact, I suspect the actors were in a studio somewhere. All of their swooping-over-Venice-in-a-plane and floating-down-the-canal scenes are courtesy of rear projections. There is no reason to believe they came within 175 kilometers of the city of canals.
Rear projection can be annoying to present-day audiences who are used to seeing live action shots, but rise above your annoyance, and you’ll get an excellent visit to Rome and Venice floating by in the background. Rural mountain scenery featured in one sequence, places actors in a more realistic outdoor dining scene in front of a real scene in the Dolomites whose beauty takes you breath away.
When I wasn’t being annoyed by rear projection in car travel shots, I found myself surprisingly aware of camera angles and editing in interior scenes. I’m no expert, so those details usually go right over my head, but when techniques have changed so radically, they become quite obvious. The director shot nearly all the interior scenes proscenium style–as though the camera has been plopped down in front of a stage. The actors face front, the camera stays static, there are no cuts from one person to another.
The benefit is you get a huge hunk of background to help set the scene, and the acting carries the scene rather than random edits providing the drama. The downside is that few of us carry on conversations facing a “fourth wall” instead of each other.
I became so aware of this, that I was amazed when one scene with Clifton Webb and Louis Jordan played more like the movies we are used to. As in shooting over the back of one character as the other one talked. or having actors move away and toward the camera rather than just parallel to the “fourth wall”.
Someone with more technical knowledge of movie making than I have may drop in to explain the constant use of rear projection and the lack of camera interaction with characters in Cinemascope.
But despite the technical oddities, the acting was excellent, the three women were interesting and pretty, Jourdan and Brazzi were plain gorgeous, and Clifton Webb was quirky and charming. I found that the film still packs a bit of emotional wallop and as the ultimate travel movie definitely makes me want to return to Rome “presto!”
I watched the restored DVD version of the movie, rented from Netflix. The commentary told me a lot about the actors and production people, but not about the making of the film, unfortunately. Photos here all belong to Ken and me and we would appreciate your asking permission if you choose to use. I want to thank Jane Boursaw, of Reel Life With Jane. Her comment that a vastly inferior girls in a foreign place movie this summer reminded her of movies like 3 Coins in a Fountain. Jane is right about most things cinematic, but in this case, the resemblance is superficial at most. Appreciate the nudge, though.