Roman Holiday 1953 Directed by William Wyler. When Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) of an unnamed country visits Rome, she wants to experience the city, not have every moment scheduled. The young woman evades her keepers and falls asleep on a park bench. She’s found by Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) of the “American News Service.” Concerned and not knowing who she is, he takes her home to his bed and sleeps elsewhere. Only when he gets to the office does Joe discover the identity of his much-searched-for house guest.
Ann – who says she’s Anya – initially refuses Joe’s invitation to show her Rome having some small adventures of her own, but then agrees. Photographer Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) is conscripted to follow at a distance snapping what are sure to be lucrative photos. At the end of a lovely day, however…
You can almost feel Hepburn’s naïve pleasure, Peck’s affection and regard. In her first major film role the actress won the Academy Award. Peck’s contract gave him solo star credit. Halfway through filming, he suggested Hepburn be elevated to equal billing—an unheard-of gesture in Hollywood. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Three Coins in the Fountain 1954 Directed by Jean Negulesco. A sightseeing tour of The Eternal City marries formulaic love stories that oddly work if you’re at all nostalgic for the period. Young secretary Maria Williams (Maggie McNamara) arrives to replace Anita Hutchins (Jean Peters) at The American Embassy in Rome. At “Villa Eden,” she’s introduced to Anita’s housemate Miss Francis, longtime secretary to American author John Frederick Shadwell (Clifton Webb). Perky Maria: “So, this is Rome. Where the pigeons eat caviar.” Anita: “And the secretaries eat alone.”
Maria is instantly attracted to playboy Prince Dino di Cessi (Louis Jourdan) though she’s warned off him in no uncertain terms, then cynically shepherded through overtures by her wiser friends. Anita takes a second look at office mate Giorgio Bianchi (Rossano Brazzi) when she thinks she has nothing to lose and spends a harvest day with his family. Miss Francis’ boss realizes what he has almost too late. Frank Sinatra goes uncredited singing the title song. Best Song and Cinematography Academy Awards. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Summertime 1955 Based on Arthur Laurents’ play The Time of The Cuckoo. Directed by David Lean who declared this the favorite of his films. If unfamiliar, treat yourself. Completely lovely and poignant. Ohio spinster Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) is fulfilling her lifelong dream to visit Venice. She’s adopted by savvy street urchin Mauro (Gaetano Autiero – wonderful) and tries unsuccessfully to befriend a young American couple at her pensione. Likely almost the same age, the hotel’s owner Signora Fiorini (Isa Miranda) lives with casual pleasure repressed Jane can hardly fathom.
An antique goblet in a shop window brings Jane in contact with Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi) who pursues her with sensitivity but also honesty to which she’s unaccustomed. Despite a dreadful misunderstanding, she lets down her guard experiencing love for perhaps the first and possibly the last time in her life. There are complications.
For the scene in which Jane falls back into the canal, Lean felt replacing Hepburn with a stunt double would be obvious. His “solution” was to pour in a disinfectant that caused the water to foam. That night, the actress’s eyes began to itch and water. She was diagnosed with a rare form of conjunctivitus that plagued her the rest of her life. When The Production Code Administration objected to depiction of consummated adultery, the film was edited to remove a scene. Rent on Amazon Prime. Do.
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone 1961 Based on the novel by Tennessee Williams. Directed by José Quintero. Acclaimed American actress Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh) decides to stay in Rome when her husband dies en route. She has trouble getting her footing and refuses invitations so long that people stop asking. One day, scheming Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya) introduces Karen to handsome Paolo (Warren Beatty), an egotistical, mercenary young man who’s one of her stable. At first Karen keeps her distance, then falls in love. Magda fans the fires.
Karen’s self-deception and Paolo’s taste for extravagant gifts keep them together until he gets bored and turns to a younger model. Feeling herself no longer desirable and at the end of options, she takes a dangerous step to alleviate an abyss of lonliness. Leigh is palpably fragile, Lenya, a socialized gorgon. Rent on Amazon Prime. A remake with Helen Mirren, Ann Bancroft and Olivier Martinez is good but lacks the brittle pathos of the first. Free with Amazon Prime.
Don’t Look Now 1973 Adapted from a short story by Daphne du Maurier. Directed by Nicholas Roeg. A thriller suffused with the psychology of grief and magnified by a supernatural plot. Christine and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) lose a young daughter to drowning. Bereft, they travel to Venice for John’s commission to restore an ancient church. Christine meets Heather (Hilary Mason), a blind psychic, and her sister Wendy (Clelia Metania). They conduct a séance ostensibly contacting the little girl, but also warning John of an impending accident if he stays in the city.
Christine believes, her husband is dismissive. The accident occurs. John begins to see a little girl in a red coat all over Venice. He also catches glimpses of his wife when she’s purportedly elsewhere. The sisters foretell more bad news. Gripping. Fragmented editing jumps from time to time leaving one in an unnerved state similar to the protagonists. Rent on Amazon Prime or Free with Showtime Trial.
Enchanted April 1992 Adapted from a novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim. Directed by Mike Newell. You’ll feel like you’ve been on vacation. Four British women, strangers at the start, agree to co-rent an Italian villa to get away from rainy, gray weather. Lottie Wilson (Josie Lawrence) and Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) are women in their forties struggling with unhappy marriages. Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) is older and judgmental. Beautiful Caroline Dester (Polly Walker) is a younger, much sought after socialite hoping to get away from the scene and decide what she wants.
The place has a beguiling effect on all of them. When the two husbands (Alfred Molina and Jim Broadbent) unexpectedly visit, they, too, are caught up. Also stopping by is the property’s empathetic owner, George Briggs (Michael Kitchen). Splendid cast. The film was shot at a villa where Von Arnin stayed in the 1920s. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Malena 2000 Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. 1940. On the verge of WWII, 12 year-old Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) becomes erotically obsessed with stunning Malena (Monica Bellucci) whose husband is a soldier in Africa. Men in the town lust after her, women are jealous and suspicious. The boy surreptitiously becomes her protector. When the town is bombed, she loses her father and is left penniless. The town turns its back on her and Malena is forced into prostitution. Nazis arrive. Renato’s fantasies continue. Seeing her with German soldiers, he faints.
Allied forces push out the Germans. Malena is dragged outside, shorn of her hair, and beaten by townswomen. She flees just before her wounded husband comes home. Renato intercedes. Year later… Slight in its depth of protagonist character, but rough and touching. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Under the Tuscan Sun 2020 Based on Frances Mayes’ 1966 memoir. Directed by Audrey Wells. Romantic respite. Excellent cast, romantic environment, unexpected characters, and you know it will all come out well. Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) loses her husband to a younger woman and then her house in the divorce. She’s urged by best friend, pregnant lesbian Patti (Sandra Oh) to use a ticket to Tuscany purchased beforehand. On an Italian tour bus stopped to let sheep pass, Frances catches a glimpse of a villa she saw advertised in town and impulsively gets off.
The place is falling apart but calls to her. Aided by sympathetic,appealing-but-married Martini (Vincent Riota) who continues to act as Lancelot, and real estate agent Katherine (Lindsay Duncan – marvelous), a joyful expatriate libertine, Frances buys the house. Piece by piece, it’s then restored by a ragtag group of Polish men. The new homeowner ingratiates herself to her initially aloof workers, especially young Pawel (Pawel Szajda) in love with a neighbor whose parents prove conservative/prejudiced.
Loneliness, mishap, romance, small victories, a visit from home, a baby, a wedding and roots follow. Katherine’s Felliniesque scene in a fountain, in fact her entire character, is delicious. The construction crew are captivatingly idiosyncratic. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top Bigstock photo: The famous Trevi Fountain illuminated at night in Rome, Italy