Oscar Vault Monday – Three Coins In The Fountain, 1954 (dir. Jean Negulesco)
I simply adore this movie. It is Old Hollywood charm at its best. But it also slyly dances around certain taboo subjects (promiscuity, etc.) in quite a remarkable way, though not quite as blatantly as Otto Preminger’s 1953 film The Moon Is Blue (also starring Maggie McNamara). Three Coins In The Fountain contains some truly breathtaking color cinematography by Milton R. Krasner of Italy – and in Cinemascope, too! I would just love to see this film on the big screen. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning two: Best Color Cinematography (won), Best Original Song (won) and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Cain Mutiny, The Country Girl, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and winner On The Waterfront.
Speaking of Best Original Song, which was written by Jule Styne and Sammy Chan and sung by Frank Sinatra, I just have to share it with you. Luckily for you, some nice person put the opening montage of the film on YouTube. Enjoy.
I also wanted to highlight the titular fountain; Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world. The tradition is that if a tourist throws a coin in the fountain they will return to Rome someday. Apparently since the release of the film a new version of the tradition arose; two coins will ensure a new romance, three a marriage. It is estimated that 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain every day. This money is used to subsidize a supermarket in Rome for the poor.
I also love this film because of its three female leads: Jean Peters, Maggie McNamara and Dorothy McGuire. I’ll talk about them individually in a second; I just wanted to share a picture of all three of them. They are so wonderful together and with their respective male counterparts. Although these three ladies aren’t exactly “legends” of Old Hollywood now, they were very popular at the time and I can’t recommend their work enough.
Jean Peters, who plays unhappy secretary Anita Hitchins, is so wonderful in this film. She’s the perfect combination of wit, sarcasm and romanticism. Anita is heading home in the hopes of meeting a husband, something she was unable to do in Rome. Well, or so she says. Really, she is secretly in love with a co-worker (but dating locals in forbidden!) Eventually, she does get to spend time with her secret love, Georgio, and the chemistry between her and Italian actor Rossano Brazzi is the greatest in the whole film. In real life Peters was married to Howard Hughes from 1957-1971 and is often considered the only woman he ever truly loved. I definitely recommend her work in Viva Zapata!, Niagara, Pickup On South Street and A Blueprint For Murder.
Maggie McNamara is probably best known for her breakthrough role in Otto Preminger’s The Moon In Blue (which I mentioned earlier; she received a Best Actress nomination for her performance in that film), but she is also great in this film. She plays Maria Williams, who has just come to Rome to replace Peters’ Anita. On her first day on the job she meets Prince Dino di Cessi (played by French Actor Louis Jourdan), and begins to take notes on his likes and dislikes in order to catch him. Needless to say, that doesn’t end as well as she’d planned . . . or does it? McNamara only made four films total, the other two being 1955’s Prince of Players and 1963’s The Cardinal, as well as a handful of television roles. In the sixties McNamara left the public view and began to work as a typist before committing suicide via sleeping pills in 1971. Regardless of her checkered and ultimately tragic life, McNamara remains immortal thanks to her two most famous films.
Dorothy McGuire is flawless as Miss Frances, secretary to the hermit-like writer John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb), who is secretly in love with her employer (of course!) and has been for the past fifteen years. Although her career spanned nearly fifty years, McGuire is probably best known for her role as Katie Nolan in Elia Kazan’s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. McGuire was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement, opposite Gregory Peck. Although she did not win, the film won Best Picture.
Which brings us to the men. Clifton Webb is a hoot as curmudgeonly expatriate writer John Frederick Shadwell, who hasn’t been back to America in fifteen years – and whom many, including McNamara’s Maria, think is dead. His laconic line delivery is so perfect and his moments of true tenderness with McGuire are so lovely. Webb was nominated for three Academy Awards in the 1940s, two for Best Supporting Actor: Laura (1945) and The Razor’s Edge (1947) and once for Best Actor: Sitting Pretty (1949).
Although he is French, Louis Jourdan is perfectly cast as the extremely charming Prince Dino di Cessi, a womanizer who meets his match in McNamara’s Maria. He is almost always smiling in this film and it is difficult not to swoon every time he comes on screen. Jourdan’s career spanned just over fifty years, though he was never nominated for an Academy Award. I supposed I should recommend Gigi, which won Best Picture in 1958, but I don’t like that film. Instead, I will recommend to you 1948’s Letter From An Unknown Woman, in which Jourdan is so beautiful it should be illegal. On a side note, apparently Jourdan – who turned 90 this last June – has been married to his wife Berthe Frédérique since 1944. That’s adorable.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about Italian actor Rossano Brazzi, whose performance as romantic interpreter and law student Georgio Bianchi is probably my favorite in the whole film. Brazzi – the only Italian in the whole cast – is so wonderfully tender and at times insanely passionate; the love scenes between him and Jean Peters are practically electric. I also recommend David Lean’s 1955 film Summertime, which takes place in Venice, wherein Brazzi stars opposite Katharine Hepburn.
Posted on September 5, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged 1954, Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Negulesco, Jean Peters, Louis Jourdan, Maggie McNamara, Oscar Vault Monday, Rossano Brazzi, Three Coins In The Fountain. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.