THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN

(20TH CENTURY FOX HOME VIDEO)

LA DOLCE VITA

(KOCH LORBER FILMS)

So frequently is it seen and alluded to that Rome's famous Trevi Fountain virtually becomes a leading character in 20th Century Fox's lush, lustrous and completely irresistible 1954 early CinemaScope romantic bouquet THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, which won two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography and Best Song) and was nominated for Best Picture even though its plot, (if one can call it that) about three American women (Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara) who decide it's time to end their single status in romantic Italy and whimsically toss coins into Rome's spectacular fountain for luck in romance ,was a thin and gossamer concoction as fragile yet sweet as cotton candy.

One of the two secrets of FOUNTAIN'S massive success becomes immediately apparent in an absolutely stunning pre-credit sequence of more than four minutes duration, in which the (then new) CinemaScope cameras traverse the length and breadth of a deliriously idealized city of Rome to strains of the Oscar-winning title song sung so beautifully by the then recently invigorated Frank Sinatra. (To fully appreciate the beguilingly luscious Oscar-winning wide screen location photography that enriches every frame of this film you really should view this on the largest possible screen.) Indeed, with the possible exception of David Lean's full screen SUMMERTIME, no cinema cameras have caressed the nooks and crannies of an Italian city with such warmth and incandescence.

The other secret of the film's success rests with the charm and earnestness with which its glamorous cast imbues the workmanlike though uninspired screenplay with. The ladies are each, in their own distinctive ways, warm and winning, and Rossano Brazzi (the leading man in the afore-mentioned SUMMERTIME) miraculously manages to inject believability into his role as the improbably noble love-sick Italian swain of the delectable Peters, while Louis Jourdan's stint as the rakish but similarly idealistic Italian Count is only marginally hampered by the fact that he is in fact a (gasp!) Frenchman, a fact which Jourdan makes no effort to obscure. (Unfortunately, however, FOUNTAIN would be the first film where the uniquely caustic wit of the great Clifton Webb would be shunted aside to accomodate the wide screen process, and he would be similarly wasted in all of his subsequent CinemaScope films, with the possible exception of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS.

Every single one of 20th Century Fox's previous Studio Classics widescreen transfers has been, without exception, perfection personified, but this anamorphic transfer takes the cake, besting even my previously favorite transfer of their similarly romantic LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING. This anamorphic restoration exhibits a 2.55:1 picture that is an eye-poppingly accurate replication of what the first-run CinemaScope image must have looked like, and the color, which is listed as Technicolor on the print itself, but Color by DeLuxe on my six sheet poster as well as on all the trailers included on this disc, is of a spotless and unparallelled richness. While the English 4.0 Dolby Surround track doesn't convey the dialogue-directional qualities that highlighted these early CinemaScope extravaganzas with the exaggerated accuracy that was so spectacular in Fox's exemplary HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE dvd, there is very little to grouse about, as the sound track is strong and confidently conveyed. 

Romantics will savor every moment of this deliriously sumptuous, if admittedly lightweight concoction, which transforms the reality of Rome into a fancifully inaccurate, but completely irresistible fantasyland.

 Same city, and, in fact, same fountain, but what a difference six years and the jaundiced eye of Federico Fellini can make! While the Trevi Fountain, and indeed the city of Rome itself, represented the hope and breathless anticipation of eternal romantic love in THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, 1960's LA DOLCE VITA goes to great (174 minute) lengths to expose a richly detailed panorama of Rome's decadence and sophisticated immorality, as it tells its story of of a tabloid reporter, played with the subtle insight typical of the masterful Marcello Mastroianni, who is seduced by the indulgences of the "Sweet Life." Here the Trevi Fountain becomes forever immortalized as a symbol of a hedonistic lifestyle epitomized by Swedish-American sexpot Anita Ekberg's frolic in the fountain, an image so iconic that it became the primary artwork for the film's campaign.

So enormous was the entirely justifiable worldwide critical and box-office success of LA DOLCE VITA that it allowed Fellini to conceive and direct a series of increasingly grotesque and empty exercises in self-indulgence for the remainder of his life, a fact that doesn't diminish the uncommon power of this amazingly compelling and addictive masterwork one iota.

Koch Lorber Films steps into Criterion territory with this absolutely sublime anamorphic 16 x 9 black and white widescreen restoration which is further enhanced by a reprocessed 5.1 surround track that, while not very directional, skillfully conveys the langorous and bewitching delicacy of Nino Rota's score, which contributes so much to this thought-provoking and powerful masterpiece.

--DICK DINMAN

    

 

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