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Three Coins in the Fountain Movie Review

Director: Jean Negulesco

Starring: Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters, Louis Jourdan, Rossano Brazzi, Maggie McNamara, Howard St. John, Kathryn Givney, Cathleen Nesbitt

Oscar Wins: Best Cinematography (Color), Best Song ("Three Coins in the Fountain")

Other Nominations: Best Picture

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…when the coin hits the water in the hopes of a lover that’s this moooovie…

Hahahah. OK sorry I just had to indulge myself. 😊

In this 1950s love letter to Italy, three American women make a wish for romance and love while working abroad in Rome. Frances (Dorothy McGuire), the eldest of the three, has been in Rome for 15 years, serving as secretary to novelist, John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb). Her roommate, Anita (Jean Peters), is a government secretary, but is planning to return to America to settle down and find a husband. Maria (Maggie McNamara) is the newbie, hired to replace Anita once she leaves. The three women get along swimmingly, living together in a large lavish apartment and walking the streets of Italy in swanky fashionable dresses.

While showing Maria around the streets of Rome, the girls stop at The Fountain of Trevi and decide to throw a coin in the fountain, hoping to find love and romance in Italy (despite the title, only Frances and Maria throw coins in the fountain, as Anita is planning to leave for America).

And so, our comic melodrama begins. Frances, who has been in an unrequited love affair with her boss for years, finally gets up the courage to tell him how she feels. Shadwell, who is such a limp fish of a human being that most people think he’s actually DEAD, laughs her off – that is until an untimely health scare has him proposing literally 5 seconds later, if for no other reason than to make sure there’s someone who can return his dead-ass body back to America. How romantic.

Maria sets her innocent eyes on Dino de Cessi (Louis Jourdan), an actual Italian prince with a reputation for womanizing. Knowing he would never fall for her if he got to know the real her, Maria becomes a crazy catfishing stalker, interviewing his friends and family, following him into restaurants and bars, and recording all his favorite things so she can literally become the object of his affections.

Anita, who did not throw a coin in the fountain, is perhaps the luckiest in her conquests, as she finally lets herself succumb to the budding romance that’s been brewing between her and her fellow co-worker, Giorgio (Rossano Brazzi). Though Giorgio is poor and has little to offer her, she sees right through that and risks everything to be with the man she loves. There’s even a scene where Anita literally throws herself at Giorgio, but he, ever the good CHRISTIAN gentleman, shuts that shizz down (or so it’s implied).

While these characters are certainly lacking in any type of depth, that’s not to say they weren’t entertaining stereotypes. I enjoyed Jean Peters performance and liked her kind of Joan Holloway-type swagger and sass. Louis Jourdan played the mother-loving Italian boy perfectly and Maggie McNamara, despite her actions, was a cute little button of an actress. But the real star of this movie, the crème de la crème, was Rome itself.

Shot using a widescreen camera, Three Coins in the Fountain brought the true beauty of Rome to American audiences (tourism to Italy actually spiked after this movie was released). However, the Rome shown here is clearly a superficial tourist fantasy. The streets are basically empty of pedestrians and traffic, three American women are able to afford fashionable clothes and a Monica Gellar-style apartment on a secretary’s salary, and every touristy fountain, statue, and locale is basically void of humanity. It also ignored many of the realities of living in a foreign city, like the fact that (GASP!) not everyone speaks English.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, Three Coins in the Fountain took home two – Best Cinematography (obviously) and Best Song, for the title track performed by an uncredited Frank Sinatra. And if you’ve never heard of this song before, you’ll know it by the end of the film because it’s basically flogged to death, reprised every which way to Sunday and used in pretty much every scene in the film.

When all’s said and done, Three Coins in the Fountain was a bit of a wash. The magnificence of the scenery was much more impressive than the rambling storyline which, despite being categorically ‘a woman’s film’, is not very nice to women. While it may have made an impact with 1950s audiences, it lacks the ability to age with time.


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