Coins of an S.O.B.'s Realm

Coins of an S.O.B.'s Realm

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Mar 24th 2019

Darryl F. Zanuck, the production chief at Twentieth Century Fox for decades, was known for his experience-honed and largely successful picture-making instincts. He was tough, protective and a risk-taker. To director Jean Negulesco, who made 22 pictures for the studio from 1948 to 1970 (including two Twilight Time releases, the sold-out The Rains of Ranchipur (1955) and the still-available The Best of Everything from 1959), succinctly wrote in his 1984 memoir Things I Did and Things I Think I Did: “Darryl F. Zanuck was an S.O.B. He was a great S.O.B., but he was OUR S.O.B., and I loved him.” As Negulesco would also point out, the mogul wasn’t infallible. The Johnny Belinda (1948) Oscar® nominee recounts in his colorful autobiography a couple of telling anecdotes about Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), the film project assigned him after his initial foray into Cinemascope, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), rang box-office bells. 

This romantic drama outfitted with a potent principal cast of charismatic gentlemen (Clifton Webb, Louis Jourdan and Rossano Brazzi) and ladies (Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara) had huge potential but elicited a certain wariness from Zanuck. A prolific painter whose works were exhibited and collected, Negulesco recalled: “I gloried in the possibilities this story had. Rome itself could be the star – Rome and Venice and the Italian countryside – and the Italian spirit of noisy joy-of-living, and Neapolitan songs and amore. All painted in vivid Italian colors for masses of people who had dreamed of seeing Rome, or perhaps had had a brief holiday there without really seeing the Rome they dreamed of. The producer, Sol Siegel, and I agreed that this story had to be shot in Italy with the principal actors. ‘Do the long shots with doubles in Rome. Film the story with the principals in the studio, with process keys’ was D.F.Z’s decree. Sol Siegel burrowed beneath the tycoon’s throne and asked Sid Rogell, head of studio production, to make a cost study of my schedule – 35 pages of script filming with principals in Rome – compared with building sets and shooting the same pages in Hollywood. Rogell laid the results, a matter of cold economics, on Darryl’s desk. Shooting in Rome would cost only one third the price of an all-Hollywood film. Money talked. Darryl sent us to Rome.” 

The production went on its merry way, was completed, and a rough cut shown to audiences of studio insiders as well as teenage moviegoers, all to favorable reactions. But Messrs. Negulesco and Siegel had one last obstacle. Negulesco wrote: “The night we showed the picture to D.F.Z. and Spyros Skouras – Twentieth Century Fox president – cockily I said to Darryl, ‘I think we have a winner!’ He looked long at me. No smile. Chewing on his cigar, he sat down. At the end, when the lights went up, after a long silence, Darryl abruptly got up and left the room. Not a word was spoken. Next day we were summoned by D.F.Z. to his private projection room. The cutter sat to his right. Usually he nudged the cutter at places where he wanted changes. That night the nudging covered all scenes and every reel. At the end he explained to the cutter the changes he wanted. Finally he said to us, ‘It’s a sick baby. It needs hard work,’ and he left the room. We saw the new version. A butchered job. A long short with nothing of the magic we thought we had achieved. A letter went to him: ‘Dear Darryl: This morning we saw the new cut of Three Coins. We are aware that you are one of the greatest cutters in the industry. But if you decide to release Three Coins as it is now, we insist that our names will not appear in the credit titles. Sol Siegel, Jean Negulesco.’ That evening he asked us to dine with him. ‘For God’s sake, boys, let me see the new version before you blow your tops’ was his welcome. During the projection of the new butchered version there were no grunts or any whispered comments. When the lights came up, again a silence, this time shorter. Then Darryl turned to the cutter: ‘Put it back as it was and ship it.’ New York exhibitors went overboard in glowing accolades, with the certainty of smash business ahead. This didn’t stop Skouras from sending Darryl the following telex: ‘Dear Darryl: Everybody here wild about Three Coins in the Fountain. I want to congratulate you on the almost unbelievable cutting job that you did. Spyros.’ In a moment of humorous loyalty, Darryl sent me a copy of Spyros Skouras’ message with a note: ‘See what kind of idiots you have to work for?’” 

Despite any behind-the-scenes idiotic lapses in judgment, the film became a popular hit, an eventual Best Picture Academy Award® nominee and the winner of Oscars® in the two other categories in which it was nominated, Best Color Cinematography (Milton Krasner) and Best Song (the title tune by composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn, performed on the soundtrack by, and a hit single for, Frank Sinatra). Unfolding its ultra-wide 2.55:1 splendors onto TT hi-def Blu-ray in a beautiful 4K restoration transfer, Three Coins in the Fountain is also adorned by an Isolated Music Track of Victor Young’s lovely score and a detailed Audio Commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger. Coins will be well spent when it debuts April 16. Preorders open April 3.