Release Date(s)1954 (April 16, 2019)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Very much a product of the mores and attitudes of the early 1950s, Three Coins in the Fountain follows three single American women working in Rome as secretaries. Despite their disparate ages, all have been assigned to live in the same luxurious apartment. Together, they toss coins into the Fountain of Trevi in hopes that their wishes to stay in Rome and find love will come true. The latest arrival, prim and proper young Maria (Maggie McNamara), soon sets her sights on Dino di Cessi (Louis Jourdan), an actual prince with a reputation for womanizing. Frances (Dorothy McGuire), the eldest, has worked for writer John Shadwell (Clifton Webb) for fifteen years and fallen in love with him despite knowing that his reclusive nature precludes their ever marrying. Anita (Jean Peters), about to return to America to supposedly get married, violates company rules against American employees’ fraternizing with Italian employees by accepting an invitation from her co-worker Giorgio (Rossano Brazzi) to visit his family’s farm for his sister’s wedding.
Beautifully showing off the splendors of Rome and Venice, the film is essentially a romantic drama/travelogue. It was released nine years after the end of World War II, when more Americans were beginning to visit Europe, and the Oscar-winning Technicolor location cinematography by Milton Krasner is one of the picture’s strong points. Widescreen CinemaScope provides one post-card view after another of Rome’s fountains, landmarks, and gardens before the title credits roll as Frank Sinatra sings the Sammy Cahn title song, setting the mood for the romance to follow.
Performances are natural, if not particularly memorable, with each actress provided with a nice portion of screen time. The women are supposed to be of different age groups, though Ms. McGuire and Ms. Peters appear to be contemporaries. Ms. McNamara is well cast as the youngest of the group. As in life, romantic pursuit has its ups and downs, until – as was typical of many films of the 1950s – a happy ending. Seen today, the movie has a nostalgic charm and, despite promulgating the current clichés about women, depicts the main characters as intelligent, independent, and self-supporting. But in the bygone tradition of Hollywood, they all seek a man to make their lives complete.
Director Jean Negulesco (How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return) balances the various stories and establishes the personalities of the men in the women’s lives. Generally, romantic films feature a single set of characters, so juggling three separate relationships in a picture with a standard running time is impressive. Screenwriter John Patrick adapted the novel by John H. Secondari.
The Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, is presented in the widescreen CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1. Visual quality is sharp throughout, with no noticeable imperfections in the print. The Technicolor palette is broad, ranging from the sun-drenched fountains of Rome to the outdoor festivities overlooking a picturesque valley and the elegant attire of the women at a high-class cocktail party. A scene of a runaway truck careening down a country road is interspersed with a close-up of Jean Peters in the bouncing truck against a process screen. Some of the compositions are reminiscent of the MGM James A. Fitzpatrick Traveltalks, and the CinemaScope lens really makes them look spectacular.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with excellent sound separation. In addition to CinemaScope, stereophonic sound was one of the film’s attempts to draw audiences back into theaters as TV was siphoning off viewers. With a wider screen, actors on the left are heard primarily through the left channel, actors on the right through the right channel. The sound of the runaway truck can be heard moving from left to right as it cascades down the mountain road. Sound mixing is first rate, allowing dialogue to be heard clearly.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include an audio commentary, isolated music track, a Fox Movietone newsreel excerpt, trailers, the Twilight Time catalogue, and an insert booklet.
Audio commentary with film historian Jeanine Basinger – Ms. Basinger says Three Coins in the Fountain was “one of the most popular movies of its day – 1954.” She comments on the four-minute sequence that opens the film, a series of scenes of picturesque Rome locations accompanied on the soundtrack by Frank Sinatra singing the Oscar-winning title song, which was written by Sammy Cahn, who was equally proficient at composing for the theater, movies, and pop charts. Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were a “hit-making machine in the late 50s,” turning out hit after hit during the emerging era of rock ’n’ roll. She describes anamorphic technique of CinemaScope. The first full-length movie to use this process was The Robe (1953). Three Coins in the Fountain was nominated for Best Picture and was one of Hollywood’s top grossers of the year. Brief career overviews of the main actors are provided. Dorothy McGuire went on to a long career in movies, appearing in such films as Friendly Persuasion and A Summer Place before turning to TV. Maggie McNamara made only a few more movie and TV appearances and committed suicide in 1978. Jean Peters gave up her career in 1957 to marry Howard Hughes. The movie reinforces gender stereotypes by showing how a woman (Maria) can manipulate a man (Dino) into thinking she’s perfect for him. Veteran actress Cathleen Nesbitt, suggesting a woman born into wealth, is perfectly cast as Dino’s mother. Ms. Basinger discusses the career of director Jean Negulesco, referring to him as a “house director” because he was under contract at 20th Century-Fox and directed musicals, murder mysteries, big-budget travelogue films, and star vehicles. He worked well with ensembles. “He knows how to balance” and use locations to make the script come alive, Basinger notes.
Isolated Music Track – The Victor Young score is heard with dialogue and sound effects muted as the film plays.
Fox Movietone newsreel – This brief excerpt from 1955 mentions the two Academy Awards won by Three Coins in the Fountain and shows Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando accepting their Oscars for Best Actress (The Country Girl) and Best Actor (On the Waterfront).
Trailers – Three trailers are included: a full-frame “teaser” trailer and two theatrical trailers, the first in widescreen CinemaScope and the second in full-frame format.
Twilight Time Catalogue – Twilight Time Blu-ray releases from 2011 through 2019 are listed in a click-through menu.
Booklet – The 8-page insert booklet contains a critical essay by Julie Kirgo, 5 color still photos from the film, and a color reproduction of the original poster.
– Dennis Seuling