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Monday, September 17, 2012

THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954)

Studios have been churning out 3 Girls On A (Man)Hunt stories almost since they started making movies . . . and tv series. But 20th/Fox was particularly loyal to the form, especially once they introduced CinemaScope with its 2.55:1 picture ratio tailor-made for triptychs. This pop hit, the second of four in the genre from helmer Jean Negulesco, is mostly recalled for its title song* & for some ultra-smooth location shooting (the first half reel is a mini-travelogue of Rome), but the actual storyline now looks just a bit creepy. Jean Peters, Dorothy McGuire & Maggie McNamara hold to convention, working as secretaries & hoping for proposals, while the likely candidates (Rossano Brazzi, Clifton Webb & Louis Jordan), are alternately teased & tricked into submission. Peters & Brazzi, at least, seem well-matched, but it’s painful to watch lovely McGuire settling for ‘companionate marriage,’ and even worse to suffer through the designing stratagems of McNamara who baits her beau and informs on her gal pal at work. McGuire’s situation, at least, holds period interest for the closet-case sexual-politics of Webb’s dilettante expatriate, but how were audiences meant to respond to McNamara’s despicable behavior? And this reaction isn't all hindsight. Shrill & brittle in THE MOON IS BLUE, her debut pic from the previous year, she was finished by THE PRINCE OF PLAYERS which followed this one.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Hard to fathom how Styne & Cahn’s cutesy title song beat Arlen & Gershwin’s THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY for Mr Oscar®. Ira’s intro lyric alone should have sealed the deal. (The night is bitter/The stars have lost their glitter/The winds grow colder/Suddenly, you're older/And all because of the man that got away.)

DOUBLE-BILL: While Negulesco’s HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE/’53 has more name recognition (and Marilyn Monroe, delightful as a vain, rather than a dumb, blonde), his later 3 Gal Pal pics, WOMAN’S WORLD/’54 and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING/’59, are grand ‘guilty pleasures.’

READ ALL ABOUT IT: You’d never guess the extent of director Jean Negulesco’s rigorous art training or his visual sophistication after watching Webb, Jordan & McNamara discuss modern art at a museum in Rome. But see for yourself (and read how Darryl F. Zanuck tried to wreck this film), in his charming, if frustratingly selective, auto-bio, THINGS I DID . . . AND THINGS I THINK I DID.

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