Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

Three Coins in the Fountain begins with stunning shots of Rome – sweeping vistas of elaborate gardens, intimate corners of centuries-old palazzos, and the titular Trevi Fountain, believed to grant the wishes of those who visit it.

All the beauty of Rome, however, isn’t a compelling enough reason to stay unless you’ve got a man. Three Coins in the Fountain is a bizarre, laughably out-of-touch story about three American women living together in Rome as secretaries – two for an American consulate, one for an English writer. Their worldly career paths are all for naught until they tie the knot!

The youngest (and real catalyst of the story), Maria Williams, has just arrived in Rome. She moves into an apartment with the two other secretaries, Anita Hutchins and Miss Frances. Upon her arrival, the trio rush to the Trevi Fountain to make wishes – for Maria and Miss Frances, to stay in Rome one more year; Anita makes no wish, as she plans to leave to America to get married.

Maria crosses paths with the handsome prince Dino, an eligible bachelor of questionable repute (known for his exploits with “Venice Girls”). Despite the warning signs, she is smitten by him and decides to frequent his local haunts, take notes on his likes & dislikes, and pretend to share his interests to win him over. Good plan, right?

Anita Hutchins has already turned in her notice, under the guise that she is returning to America to get married. In reality, however, there is no fiancee waiting for her and she just needed a reason to say she’s leaving. Romance finds her though, in the form of an Italian colleague at her work – Georgio, played by Rossano Brazzi whom you may recognize from David Lean’s Summertime. Romantic pursuits between Americans and Italians are frowned upon in her office, however, and Anita’s employer even offers to pay for her to see a doctor in case she’s in a jam. (!) To make matters worse, Georgio is poor and can barely support even himself.

Miss Frances, the the slightly older mother hen of the nest, has been secretary for the writer John Frederick Shadwell for 15 years. She seems content enough with her life, until one of Shadwell’s servants gives her a baby kitten – commenting having cats is a nice way to keep from being lonely. This is the last straw (apparently) and she quickly finds herself engaged to Shadwell; only for him to retract the offer the very next day. Naturally, she follows him around the rest of the day, eventually confronting him at a bar where he’s about to get drunk. Her response is to order the same amount of drinks and to get drunk as well. He guides her as she stumbles back, drunkly, to his apartment in the middle of the afternoon. (What is this movie?)

Three Coins in the Fountain reminds me of Where the Boys Are – all-American girls, displaced from home, looking for husbands. Times have certainly changed since 1954, but it is bizarre, even for the time, how backwards some plot elements are. Perhaps it is a testament to the power of Trevi Fountain, and how far people will go to make their wish a reality.

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