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Hollywood’s romance with Rome

There’s a legend surrounding Rome’s Trevi Fountain -- toss a coin into the water and you’re ensured another visit to the Eternal City. Movie producers must have been throwing coins into the Trevi for years because Hollywood keeps returning to Rome to shoot comedies and dramas dealing with love and romance.

The new Disney romantic comedy “When in Rome,” starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel, is just the latest film to use the Eternal City as its backdrop. In fact, there have been so many films set in Rome that there are two others with the same name: 1952’s “When in Rome” is a quirky buddy film about a young priest (Van Johnson) visiting Rome who befriends a con man (Paul Douglas); and 2002’s made-for-video comedy stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as twins who find love and adventure while in a summer intern program.

Here’s a look at a few Hollywood films set in Roma:

“Roman Holiday”: This 1953 classic is sheer perfection. In her first starring role, Audrey Hepburn plays a bored European princess on a tour who escapes from her guardians in Rome and travels around the city incognito until a handsome American reporter ( Gregory Peck) recognizes her. The two end up falling in love. Hepburn received a best actress Oscar for her endearing performance. William Wyler directed. “Roman Holiday” was the first American production to be shot entirely in Rome.

“Three Coins in the Fountain”: Disney’s “When in Rome” is actually a very loose remake of this 1954 Academy Award best picture nominee. This glossy romance revolves around three American women -- Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara -- employed at the American embassy who try to find love in Rome. Of course, they hope throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain will help them find their one and only. Louis Jourdan, Rossano Brazzi and Clifton Webb are the men they snag. The title tune, performed in the film by Frank Sinatra, won the best song Oscar.

“The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone”: Based on Tennessee Williams’ novel, this melodrama revolves around an aging actress ( Vivien Leigh) whose husband suffers a fatal attack on the plane on their way to Rome for a holiday. She decides to stay in Rome and rents a luxurious apartment. She is befriended by a shady countess ( Lotte Lenya) who introduces the widow to a handsome young Italian gigolo ( Warren Beatty). Being a Williams tale, it’s safe to say their love is not here to stay.

“Indiscretion of an American Wife”: Love is also a battlefield in this flawed but compelling 1954 drama that was filmed in the actual Stazione Termini in Rome. Jennifer Jones plays a married American woman who is trying to end her tumultuous relationship with her Italian lover ( Montgomery Clift). The film was produced by Jones’ husband David O. Selznick and directed by Italian neorealist master Vittorio De Sica, who spoke no English at the time.

“Seven Hills of Rome”: The penultimate acting role of 1950s singing sensation Mario Lanza, this 1958 musical romance finds the beefy actor playing an Italian American TV star with a jet-setting fiancée (Peggie Castle) who travels to Rome to find her. Lanza performs the hit “Arrivederci Roma” and “Questo o Quella” from “Rigoletto.”

“Rome Adventure”: Delmar Daves directed this 1962 potboiler starring Suzanne Pleshette as a New England school librarian who finds herself in hot water when she gives a student a restricted book on love. She quits her job and moves to Rome where she gets a job in a bookstore. She finds digs in a boarding house where she becomes enchanted with an American architectural student ( Troy Donahue). When the student’s wealthy girlfriend ( Angie Dickinson) moves back to the states, the two begin to date. Rossano Brazzi plays the sophisticated Italian who wants to teach the librarian the ways of love. The film features the 1961 hit song, “Al di là.” Two years later, Pleshette and Donahue were briefly married.

“Gidget Goes to Rome”: Even the surfing “girl midget” finds love in the Eternal City in this featherweight 1963 romantic comedy. Cindy Carol plays the 17-year-old Gidget who persuades her parents to allow her to go to Rome with a group of friends, including her steady Moondoggie (James Darren), as well as a dotty chaperon. But it doesn’t take long for a beautiful Italian guide to make a play for Moondoggie.

susan.king@latimes.com


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