Ah Rome, there’s something about that timeless city that brings romance to the heart. For Maria (Maggie McNamara), Anita (Jean Peters) and Frances (Dorothy McGuire), love cannot come so easily. Maria has just arrived to be the secretary replacing Anita at the USDA, where there is an office rule against any of the secretaries dating. Frances is the secretary to John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb), a successful American novelist. Being a secretary seems to become a stigma reaching further than the office. Perhaps an American secretary woman is just missing some sort of Italian class, but it is never fully explained.
To introduce Maria to Rome, the trio first shows her the famed Trevi Fountain. Maria and Frances each throw a coin in, wishing to stay in Rome for a long while, but Anita holds back since she is headed back to the states soon, telling everyone she is to be married. The truth is, Anita has no fiance, she just wants a chance to find love back home. In the office, Maria sees the obvious attraction between Anita and Georgio (Rossano Brazzi) and urges Anita to pursue him. But that love is forbidden, which makes it all the more delicious.
At an office cocktail party, Maria meets Prince Dino di Cessi (Louis Jourdan), and the other girls warn her that he’s a playboy. Suddenly there’s a struggle for Maria to keep a respectful reputation or to seek love and happiness with a real prince. As Maria lets Dino take her to Venice in his private plane and other high class adventures, she realizes she may not be sophisticated enough for him. So she goes around asking what sort of interests Dino has, everything from his taste in wine, to art and she pretends to be knowledgeable of all his enjoyments. She pretends to be learning the piccolo. With Dino thinking they have so much in common, Maria is quickly and dishonestly winning his heart.
For Frances, her heart has grown fond of John for the past fifteen year she’s worked for him, but John has trouble picking up on emotions that don’t come from a page. He’s a smart but mysterious man who does not realize the strain he can put on her heart. When he sees Frances all broken up about Anita leaving Georgio and Maria about to lose her prince, John starts to understand the romance that has been building between them and sets out to make everything right.
What this film excels in is capturing the beauty of Italy on film. The new wide-screen invention of CinemaScope was put to wonderful use, showing panoramic aerial views of both Rome and Venice. We are taken down to the canals of Venice on a gondola ride, under bridges and looking down secret corridors. During a picnic scene with Anita and Georgio, we’re shown beautiful green hills with a quaint village below. And of course, all the picturesque landmarks of Rome are put to good use throughout the film. Three Coins in the Fountain won the award for best cinematography in a color film.
I would suggest this film for a girls-night-in. The story is light, cute, fun and charged with girl-talk. It’s all about getting the guy and having your girlfriends for support. And enjoying the sights of Italy. Might I suggest grapes, hummus, wine and/or Greek yogurt as snacks?
“Meeting mama in Italy is the first step to the alter.”