Three Coins in the Fountain Review

Words like frothy and confection spring to mind even before any of the characters of ‘Three Coins’ have spoken. The film begins with an odd 4-minute montage of some of Rome’s most favoured tourist troughs, a hefty dose of fountain-porn that provides enough spurting jets and gushing columns for a lifetime, while Sinatra warbles through the title song (a curiously listless Styne/Cahn concoction, even in his hands). Yet this odd prologue is instructive, in that’s it’s a good indication of the formless pulp to follow.

Frances (McGuire) has been living in Rome for 15 years, acting as secretary to a legendary American writer, Clifton Shadwell (Webb). Her friend Anita (Peters) works at the U.S Distribution Agency with handsome local translator Georgio, (Brazzi), with whom she’s forbidden to have a relationship thanks to company policy. The arrival of their younger mutual acquaintance Anita (McNamara), and her involvement with a rakish Prince (Jordan) initiates a spell of romance in the lives of all three women, after a visit to the famous Trevi fountain. Only two of them speak aloud their wish to return, but secretly in their hearts, all of them wish for love!

Like a Mills and Boon novel inhabited by a set of Stepford triplets, ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ is really a rather poor – and even vaguely creepy – piece of work. Hollywood can do this ‘Girls Looking For Love/Foreign Romance’ shtick very well on occasion – ‘Roman Holiday’ and ‘How To Marry A Millionaire’ are the first to spring to mind – but without the benefit of a Dalton Trumbo at the typewriter or an Audrey Hepburn in front of the camera, the shallowness of the conceit quickly becomes clear. The success of this type of film relies almost entirely on charm and this is a commodity in which ‘Three Coins’ is sadly deficient: the three leads lack chemistry, the dialogue lacks any wit and the romance lacks… romance. In fact, it’s terrible! The characters manoeuvre around the gorgeous locations like mannequins, the contrived plot trundles predictably along its rails and events crawl towards their ruthlessly cheery conclusion. Even the film’s Oscars – for Cinematography and Best Song – are hard to fathom, presumably reflecting the fine locations and the presence of ‘Ol Blue Eyes respectively, rather than any especially stunning work on behalf of Milton Krasner or Styne and Cahn. It was also nominated for Best Picture! Certainly it can’t be faulted for its sets or production values and the DVD can’t be faulted for its quality, but when even Louis Jordan can’t inject a note of sophisticated amusement into proceedings, you know you’re in trouble. Worse, Hollywood hasn’t lost its taste for this kind of shiny, sub-moronic Euro fluff, as the appalling ‘Le Divorce’ and the exquisitely painful ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ proves.

Generally quite good, if not at the same level of jaw-dropping perfection as ‘My Darling Clementine’ or ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ from the same series. Colours are clear and bright, the image steady and there’s no obvious nicks or scratches.

The DD 4.0 soundtrack presents a mixed blessing. The songs and musical score came across very well, full and rich. The dialogue moved all over the soundstage, however, which threw me somewhat as I’m used to dialogue coming, generally speaking, from the centre channel. Most disconcertingly, some of the dialogue had clearly been overdubbed and much of it had a processed sound, a hollowness and emptiness (both adjectives that could be applied to the film itself).

Special Features
Fox has done a typically good job here, offering a Commentary, Teaser Trailer, two Theatrical Trailers, a Restoration Comparison, Fox Movietone News and Trailers for four other titles in the Studio Classics series. Film historian Jeanine Basinger provides an authoritative and comprehensive commentary, a bit heavy on the facts and dates – and rather uncritical of the film for my money – but nevertheless full of background information about the film and its cast and crew. All of the trailers promote the film’s Stereo sound,‘Scope visuals and “open vistas of magnificence”, fitting, since so much of the film comes off as empty travelogue. The Restoration Comparison describes how the film and video restoration took place and demonstrates how much better the film looks now. The Movietone News shows highlights of the 27th Annual Academy Awards and shows some very brief footage of ‘Three Coins’ picking up one of its two Oscars (as well as Brando getting his for ‘On The Waterfront’)

A Cinemascope shocker, sterile, humourless, vapid and false, this is a genuine waste of time, though it must be noted that, technically speaking, the high standards of the Fox Studio Classic Series have been maintained on the DVD.

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