Three Coins in the Fountain is totally silly and banal film about totally silly people with totally banal problems. This was my opinion when I first saw it as a pre-teen (although my acquaintance with the word ‘banal’ came later), and it remained more or less my opinion when I watched it again last week. What’s changed I suppose, is my tolerance for silliness and banality.
As a tween I liked romance, but was worldly enough to be a little ashamed of it. For instance, I definitely had more than one conversation in that period pointing out that Austen’s novels “are so much more than that.” My grandfather’s wife lent me her favorite book sometime in my middle school years, which I started only to realize it was pure Danielle Steele and priggishly put down immediately. I was, in short, a total snob, and not predisposed to look kindly on fluff like TCITF.
Three Coins is basically How To Marry A Millionaire set in Rome and without the mercenary angle. It follows three marriage-minded secretaries living in an insanely awesome apartment in the insanely gorgeous Rome of 1954. Having reached the age of [redacted], and having worked as a secretary, paid my own rent, and found my life far less filled with Roman vacations than I previously dreamt, these virtues go a long way towards rescuing the rest of the film.
Yes, all the women are solely focused on matrimony, and yes, the guys could probably be replaced with cardboard cut-outs labeled “sexy titled rich guy,” “sexy idealistic poor guy,” and “egghead senior citizen who’s alright for the on-the-shelf 35 year old.” Yes, everyone’s problems are resolved when Clifton Webb resignedly waves his magic wand (except for his cancer…but somehow nobody seems to be worried about that?) But hey, I want to live in Rome and have an awesome apartment and make out with Rossano Brazzi under an olive tree so fuck off.
I can’t really sum up my feelings towards this movie in any other way than to say that I went to Las Vegas two weeks ago and begged my friends to go for a ride in a fake gondola at the Venetian with me. This movie is a fake gondola at the Venetian. It’s silly fluff for silly American women who’ve never been to Italy except maybe on their honeymoons or during a semester abroad during college. It doesn’t take a 12-year-old who’s read the complete works of Jane Austen to tell you any of that either. But if you unexpectedly find that you’ve grown up to be a silly American woman who doesn’t travel internationally and hasn’t written even a terrible romance novel in her 28 years on this earth, it’s not so bad.
"Every girl should have her prince!" shouts a drunk Dorothy McGuire late in the film. Three Coins in the Fountain is the type of movie that gives it to them. Maybe you have to lose a prince or kill a dream before it’ll resonate with you, and maybe not—but I don’t mind it half so much as I once did.