Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

Sixty-seven years ago today, the film Three Coins in the Fountain premiered. It is one of those great films from the 1950s filmed in Italy, part of the “Hollywood in Tiber” era. If you want to see a beautiful view of mid-century Rome, watch this movie.

Title: Three Coins in the Fountain
Directed by: Jean Negulesco
Produced by: Sol C. Siegel
Written by: John Patrick
Based on: Coins in the Fountain by John H. Secondari
Starring: Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters, Louis Jourdan, Rossano Brazzi, and Maggie McNamara
Music by: Victor Young
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Edited by: William Reynolds
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release date: May 20, 1954 (USA)
Running time: 102 minutes
Budget: $1.7 million

Young American secretary Maria Williams arrives in Rome and is greeted by Anita Hutchins, the woman whom she is replacing at the United States Distribution Agency. They drive to the Villa Eden, which Anita shares with Miss Frances, the longtime secretary of the American author John Frederick Shadwell, an expatriate living in Rome. On their way into town, the three women stop at the famous Trevi Fountain. Frances and Anita tell Maria that according to legend, if she throws a coin in the fountain and makes a wish to return to Rome, she will. Maria and Frances throw in their coins, but Anita, who is planning to return to the United States to marry, declines.

Anita takes Maria to the agency and introduces her to Giorgio Bianchi, a translator with whom she works. Maria senses that Anita and Giorgio are attracted to each other, though Anita states that the agency forbids its American and Italian employees to fraternize. Later that evening at a party, Maria is attracted by the handsome Prince Dino di Cessi, despite being warned by Frances and Anita about his being a notorious womanizer. His girlfriends become known as “Venice girls” after he takes them to Venice for romantic trysts. Dino charms Maria, telling her to ignore what she’s heard about him.

After the party, Anita and Maria walk home and Anita admits that she has no fiancé waiting back in the United States. She’s leaving because she believes she has a better chance of finding a husband in America; wealthy Italian men are not interested in mere secretaries, and the men who are interested are too poor. As they walk, Maria is pinched by a man who pesters her until she is rescued by Giorgio, who then asks Anita to go with him the next day to his family’s country farm to attend a celebration. Anita reluctantly agrees.

The next morning, Giorgio picks Anita up in his cousin’s dilapidated truck. On their way out of town, they are spotted by her boss, Burgoyne. On Giorgio’s family farm, Giorgio tells Anita that he hopes to become a lawyer, despite his poverty. Anita then climbs into the truck and is almost killed when it rolls down the hill. After Giorgio rescues her, the breathless couple give in to their attraction and they kiss. Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Dino calls for Maria and asks if she will accompany him to Venice. Desiring to see Venice but not wanting to lose Dino’s respect, Maria arranges for Frances to chaperone them – to Dino’s disappointment.

At the agency on Monday, Burgoyne questions Maria about Anita’s weekend with Giorgio and although she maintains that Anita did nothing wrong, Burgoyne assumes Anita is having an affair with Giorgio. The following day he fires Giorgio. When Anita finds out, she blames Maria for betraying her confidence and insists on moving out of their apartment. She visits Giorgio, worried that she might have ruined his chances of becoming a lawyer. Giorgio has no regrets.

Meanwhile, Maria sets out to attract Dino’s affections. She learns about the modern art he loves, his favorite food and wine, and pretends to learn the piccolo (his favorite instrument). Maria even lies about her background, telling Dino she is three-quarters Italian. Beguiled by how much he apparently has in common with Maria, Dino introduces her to his mother, the Principessa, who expresses her approval. Later, Dino confides in Maria that she is the only girl whom he has ever completely trusted. Troubled by her deception, Maria confesses her subterfuge, even showing Dino her notebook listing his interests. He angrily takes her home.

Frances meets Anita, who admits that she and Giorgio are in love but will not marry because he is too poor. Frances returns home to comfort the guilt-stricken Maria, who is also determined to leave Rome because Dino has not contacted her since her admission. Frances tells her she is glad she is no longer young and susceptible to romance. The next morning, however, Frances suddenly announces to Shadwell that she is returning to the United States, explaining that she does not want to end up as an old maid in a foreign country. Shadwell, unaware that Frances has been deeply in love with him for fifteen years, offers her a marriage of convenience based on mutual respect. Eager to be with him under any circumstances, Frances accepts.

The next day, Shadwell learns that he is terminally ill and has less than a year to live unless he goes to America for experimental treatment. Shadwell returns to his villa and coldly breaks off his engagement to Frances. After Shadwell leaves, Frances learns from his doctor the truth about Shadwell’s condition, and then follows him to a café, where she proceeds to match him drink for drink while bickering about whether he should pursue treatment. Completely drunk, Frances climbs into a nearby fountain and sobs about her life. After Shadwell takes her back to the villa and tucks her in, he goes to see Dino at the di Cessi palace. Shadwell tells Dino he is leaving for the United States where he will marry Frances. He uses reverse psychology to provoke Dino into realizing that he loves Maria.

After Anita and Maria are packed and ready to leave, Frances telephones and asks to meet them at the Trevi Fountain. When they arrive, Maria and Anita are disappointed to see the fountain emptied for cleaning. When they are joined by Frances, however, the water springs up again and the women are thrilled by its beauty. Dino and Giorgio then arrive, and as the men embrace their girlfriends, Frances is joined by Shadwell, and they happily admire the fountain, which has proved lucky to them all.

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