The films in this series are about Americans in Europe in the 1950s, but the Europe on view is not a real or recognizable place. It’s a dreamland, what the historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch calls a “neurotic, hallucinatory fantasy world.” A psychological and cultural response of vanquished nations to the experience of defeat in world war, this dreamland dynamic applies to the victorious imagination as well, as the films in this series demonstrate.
In these films, the primary fantasy on view is one of “pastoralization.” In 1943, at the height of the war, Henry Morgenthau Jr., FDR’s treasury secretary, put forward a proposal for eventual reconstruction, now known as the Morgenthau Plan, that called for the “increased, if not total, pastoralization” of Germany. Purification through pastoralization was a form of denazification and an article of the new faith: faith in democracy. This may not have been a viable foreign policy (it gave way to the Marshall Plan), but it was an awesome and elastic concept that exerted a powerful pull on the postwar American imagination. In American visual culture of the late 1940s and 50s, European nations (not just Germany) were routinely divested of their claims on modernity and technology and returned to pastoral or picturesque states—deindustrialized, demilitarized, scenic landscapes in which a new class of triumphant American tourist and traveler, middle-class and often Midwestern, could indulge in love among the ruins.
This fantasy is especially pronounced in this series’ films about France, which have a storybook quality. In Daddy Long Legs, when the huge American Cadillac carrying a State Department delegation gets stuck in a ditch in the French countryside, Fred Astaire, playing a New World dandy and millionaire bachelor, comes upon an orphanage named "Jean d’Arc" that looks as if its been torn from the pages of a Charles Perrault fairy tale: turreted, crumbling, overgrown with wild weeds, and decorated with fading fleur-de-lys wallpaper. The orphanage is France and all the French are orphans. Charmed by an eighteen-year-old girl named Julie Andre (a nod to Rousseau’s Julie, or the New Heloise), he decides to anonymously sponsor her education at an all-girls New England college, where she will be reeducated in the precepts of American ideals.
In “Bonjour, Paris!”, the musical centerpiece of Funny Face, Paris is a fashion fantasyland where political and religious monuments are drained of their former ideological power and turned into scenic motifs. The Eiffel Tower, originally built for the 1889 Paris Exposition, no longer registers as a monument to the republican ideals of the French Third Republic or French mastery of industry, but now serves, at the song's climax, as a panoramic viewing platform for "The Great American Tourist" ("I'm strictly tourist, but I couldn't care less.") The cheerful troupes of dancing bellhops who welcome the film’s three main characters ("light up the Louvre museum, jazz up the Latin Quarter") are representative of the redemptive pastoral power of American democracy exported abroad in the Marshall Plan.
This political allegory was amplified by new widescreen technologies that literally stretched the possibilities of the medium, not just in these films, but also in Boy on a Dolphin and Three Coins in the Fountain, which take place in Athens and Rome. Funny Face was filmed in VistaVision; Daddy Long Legs, Boy on a Dolphin and Three Coins in the Fountain in Cinemascope. These widescreen technologies provided immersive experiences for American moviegoers, situating them in enchanted foreign landscapes (“entertainment enchantment...enhanced by DeLuxe color"), while simultaneously allowing them to exercise a kind of imperialistic vision—the Cinemascope lens was the eye of American Enterprise, democratizing everything that fell within the vista view: monuments, entire nations, history, humanity itself.
“Heritage can be a shackle to art,” the American secretary Maria instructs an Italian prince in Three Coins in the Fountain. In these films, the Cinemascope lens liberates art from tradition. In Daddy Long Legs, French art is literally set in motion, transformed into a “performing art” in a series of magical ballets (director Jean Negulesco described the film as "happy magic"). European civilization as symbolized by its art, which was defiled by the Nazis, will be purified under the chaste stewardship of the United States—that's the point of the orphan narrative in Daddy Long Legs, as well as the “Villa Eden” in Three Coins in the Fountain where the American secretaries live.
Ruins: In A Foreign Affair, Berlin is a lair of seductive moral ruin and rehabilitation, while in Boy on a Dolphin, a moral battle over the mantle of civilization is waged amid the ruins on the Athenian Acropolis. In Terminal Station, Roman Holiday, Summertime, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and Three Coins in the Fountain, Rome and Venice are ruin-strewn landscapes of mysterious holiday noir and dark erotic escape.
These are Jamesian narratives for the postwar world, in which American naiveté comes into contact (if not exactly conflict) with European decadence and ennui. In the films set in Italy, the political allegory takes a back seat to narratives about subjectivity. American women unfulfilled by notions of stability and respectability, yearning for a deeper, richer, more creative kind of experience, and searching for meaning in a world of expanded horizons, voyage to Italy in order to live for the first time, to learn how to see and to feel to have their illusions about themselves shattered. As in the Jamesian novel, in Terminal Station, Summertime and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone—which were written by Truman Capote, Arthur Laurents and Tennessee Williams, respectively—gay male subjectivity and sexual desire are transposed onto “fancy” women.
Some themes to keep in mind: first, the theme of seeing. Characters in these films are constantly depicted in the act of looking, often through photographic devices. In Funny Face, New York is the new world capital of modernity and technology, vis-à-vis Paris, as represented by the vast apparatuses of mechanical reproduction seen in the opening sequences. In Daddy Long Legs, in the film’s climatic ballet sequence, Fred Astaire watches Leslie Caron perform through a pair of binoculars, his own private Cinemascope lens. In Roman Holiday, Gregory Peck’s comic attempt to photograph his romance with Audrey Hepburn becomes a central plot point; he even attempts to wrest a Brownie camera from the neck of a young girl, one of a number of dark moments in an otherwise light tale. In Summertime, we see Katherine Hepburn looking at Venice through her movie camera, and then we see what she’s seeing. These films dramatize the incessant photographic reproduction of the world and circulation of images as leitmotifs of the postwar condition, but they also visualize, in a new way, the ecstasy of seeing and of looking at the world.
Arrivals and departures: In Terminal Station, Summertime and Three Coins in the Fountain, the main characters arrive by train. In Gentleman Prefer Blondes, it’s an ocean liner. In A Foreign Affair and Funny Face, it’s by airplane. Modes of transport in these films are metaphors for the larger experience itself, as the characters are transported to new psychological and cultural planes and levels of existence. The sudden freeze-frame of the train at the start of Terminal Station suggests an arrested consciousness, whereas the slow-moving trains in the opening and closing scenes of Summertime suggest expectation, evolution, and the nature of memory—of all the films, Summertime is the most attentive to memory—the images director David Lean gives us are memory images, perhaps as Hepburn’s character will remember the city once she returns home.
Finally, the theme of belief: In these films, cynicism and irony are either absent or banished. In A Foreign Affair, Marlene Dietrich’s cosmopolitan cynicism is crushed by Jean Arthur’s belief in American goodness. In Funny Face, the French “Empathacalists” are revealed to be cynical frauds, no match for the Quality Magazine editors and “enlighteners.” In Boy on a Dolphin, the selfish and cynical treasure hunter is no match for the American archaeologist, who staunchly defends faith in “good government” as rooted in the proper care and maintenance of Greek antiquities. But belief is registered best, I think, again in Summertime, where Hepburn’s faith in beauty, in love, and in the world itself is reaffirmed by her encounter with Venice and her discovery of her true self.
The United States may emerge in these films as the heir and guardian of the whole body of Western Civilization in the aftermath of the Second World War, but what is ultimately celebrated is the wonder—and innocence—of individual subjective experience. – Jeffrey Lieber, Visiting Assistant Professor, History of Art + Architecture, HarvardSpecial thanks: Carmen Accaputo—Cineteca di Bologna.
Directed by Vittorio De Sica. With Jennifer Jones, Montgomery Clift, Gino Cervi
Italy/US 1954, 35mm, b/w, 89 min. English, Italian, French & German with English subtitles
Jennifer Jones stars as a rich Philadelphia housewife ending her affair with an Italian lover, played by Montgomery Clift, while waiting for the train to Paris in Rome’s Termini Station. De Sica combines Hollywood melodrama (the sweeping score, the soft-lit close-ups) with Neo-Realist touches (the Italian non-actors who populate the station). Draped in fur and dressed in a tailored Dior suit, Jones anxiously drifts through the station in a state of existential crisis while the weary Italians deal with a hundred small daily struggles around her. Her Roman romance has shattered whatever illusions she had about marriage and motherhood. She hastily buys a doll for her daughter at a gift shop, but just as quickly abandons it on an empty seat; the film is filled with these brutal, yet subtle, asides. Her struggle to make a decision to either go home to her family or stay in Rome becomes a study in compassion. Jones was married to producer David Selznick, who did not get along with De Sica. Selznick recut the finished film, removing the Neo-Realist touches and important establishing shots, and released it under the title Indiscretion of an American Wife. De Sica wasn’t happy with either version, but his original cut, presented here, is both experimental and moving. Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna
Directed by Howard Hawks. With Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn
US 1953, 35mm, color, 91 min
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are sensational as blonde sexpot Loreli Lee and brunette bombshell Dorothy Shaw, two showgirls traveling to France aboard the Isle de Paris amid romantic scheming and legal intrigue. From the opening scene, Hawks pushes the possibilities of the medium with lurid Technicolor combinations that express the vibrant optimism and materialism of the early 1950s. Watch the way Monroe moves in the “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” musical sequence—a fevered dream serving as a corrective to the factory repetition of Warhol’s now-ubiquitous silkscreen images. Russell’s poolside number is high camp, with Muscle Beach men in nude bathing suits performing calisthenics while she plaintively sings “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” This is the film that made Monroe a star, but Hawks, like Howard Hughes, clearly relished photographing Russell’s dynamic body. Paris is a dingy stage set; the attraction here is the appearance of these perfected star bodies, which find a parallel in the flawless precision of the jewels Monroe desires. Print courtesy of Criterion Pictures
Directed by William Wyler. With Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert
US 1953, 35mm, b/w, 119 min
The legend surrounding this film is so big it’s a pleasure to discover that its scale is actually quite small. Making her Hollywood debut, Audrey Hepburn plays Princess Ann, heir to the throne of an unnamed European monarchy. Oppressed by her official duties on a state visit to Rome, she flees the palace and has a fling with an American journalist, played by Gregory Peck. Despite the majestic setting, not much happens: in the best scene, she wanders into a hair salon across from the Trevi Fountain and gets a chic Italian cut. Credited to Ian McLellan Hunter but written by Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted at the time, it is tempting to notice political undercurrents. As Stanley Kauffman notes, within its story is “masquerades and doubling,” but it could also be a simple allegory about freedom and the joys of self-discovery. Hepburn won the Oscar for this film and it cemented her screen persona: charming, gamine princess/waif.
Directed by José Quintero. With Vivien Leigh, Warren Beatty, Lotte Lenya
US 1961, 35mm, color, 104 min
Adapted from a novel by Tennessee Williams, Vivien Leigh stars as Karen Stone, an aging stage actress. After a failed comeback and her husband’s sudden death, she voyages to Italy, rents the top floor of a Roman Palazzo and has a sordid affair with a gigolo (a wildly miscast Warren Beatty). This is not the Rome of pastoral erotic escape on view in Summertime and Three Coins in the Fountain—it is a landscape of moral decrepitude populated by grifters eager to exploit her taste for suffering and tragedy. Giving in to a masochistic desire that leads to her humiliation and debasement, while clinging to the accouterments of a refined, respectable lady, Karen Stone gives the greatest performance of her unheralded career. The tension between these two states reaches a climax in the final scene, when, bathed in dying light on a penthouse terrace filled with ancient sculpture fragments (symbols of time's wreckage and broken dreams), Leigh reveals the true depths of the character’s loneliness and longing.
Directed by David Lean. With Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi, Isa Miranda
US 1955, 35mm, color, 100 min
David Lean’s lush adaptation of Arthur Laurents’ play The Time of the Cuckoo is a love letter to Venice. It is also Katherine Hepburn’s best film of the 1950s. Hepburn’s Jane Hudson describes herself as a “fancy secretary” and an “independent type” from Akron, Ohio. Her regal beauty and patrician bearing suggest she is single by choice. She has been waiting for something her circumstances could not provide, “a wonderful, mystical, magical, miracle,” as she describes it—in other words, a revelatory experience. After saving for a lifetime, she comes to Europe “to find what she’s been missing all her life.” And she finds it not in her passing romance with Rossano Brazzi, but in the beauty of the landscape. Lean’s genius for landscapes is on full view here, especially in the scenes on the island of Burano, where he captures the golden panorama of the mercurial Venetian sky. From the opening scene on, Hudson is shown looking at the city through her movie camera; we see her looking, then we see what she’s seeing. It’s a film about the ecstasy in the act of looking and discovering. “I don’t want to forget any of it. Not a single moment,” Hepburn says toward the end, as the bells toll and the pigeons in the Piazza take flight. How do you hold onto an experience, take it deep down, so that it transforms you? Print courtesy of Janus Films.
Directed by Jean Negulesco. With Alan Ladd, Clifton Webb, Sophia Loren
US 1957, 35mm, color, 111 min
Sophia Loren made her Hollywood debut as a Greek sponge diver who discovers an ancient statute of a boy on a dolphin at the bottom of the Aegean Sea. The ensuing battle over the fate of the statue, waged by a corrupt treasure hunter (played with wily aplomb by Clifton Webb) and an American archaeologist working in the interests of the Greek state (played by Alan Ladd), becomes an allegory of cultural guardianship and national stewardship in the post-WWII world. A conflicted Loren, caught between the two men and the ideals they represent, symbolizes the instability of Greece following her liberation from Nazi occupation and simmering civil war between communist and anti-communist forces. Filmed in Cinemascope on location in Athens and Hydra, the great pleasures here—aside from the truly engaging intrigue—are the wonderful scenes of Ladd and Loren striding through the ruins on the Acropolis, the vitality and physicality of Loren’s performance, and, especially, Hugo Friedhofer’s Oscar-nominated score, which evokes the enchantment of the ancient Greek landscape and mystery of the sea. Print courtesy 20th Century Fox.
Directed by Jean Negulesco. With Fred Astaire, Leslie Caron, Terry Moore
US 1955, 35mm, color, 126 min
Sent by the State Department on an unnamed economic mission to France, Fred Astaire’s millionaire bachelor Jervis Pendleton III falls for Julie, a young woman in a French orphanage played by Leslie Caron, and decides to anonymously sponsor her education at an elite New England college. Written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, the film is a whimsical but pointed allegory of post-WWII foreign relations. In musical daydream sequences, Jarvis and Julie perform a delicate dance of cultural diplomacy. In one of Julie’s daydreams, Jarvis, alone in an opera box and looking through binoculars, watches her dance through the history of French art. She morphs from Degas schoolgirl to Toulouse Lautrec femme fatale to blue-period Picasso, revealing her confusion, and thus France’s confusion, about who and what she is meant to be in the postwar world. She is alienated from her own cultural tradition, which he will rescue and help to preserve. The history of French art becomes the postwar American world of the “performing arts.” All the musical numbers are similarly heady and voyeuristic. In the final scene, in a revisionist spin on beauty (French civilization) and the beast (American power), he proposes marriage as they waltz among the paintings and sculptures in his Manhattan mansion-museum. These characters are so filled with ecstasy by their own good fortune that they continually and spontaneously break into song and dance. “The Sluefoot,” Astaire and Caron’s big band pas de deux, will leave you giddy for days. Print courtesy 20th Century Fox.
Directed by Stanley Donen. With Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson
US 1957, 35mm, color, 103 min
Audrey Hepburn plays Jo Stockton, a tomboyish Greenwich Village bookstore clerk enamored with the French pseudo-philosophy of "Empathicalism" (aka Existentialism). After being discovered by photographer Dick Avery and Maggie Prescott, the editor-in-chief of Quality Magazine, she is whisked to Paris, divested of her intellectual ambitions and transformed into the walking embodiment of the “Quality Woman.” The film gleefully sends up almost every 1950s cliché. By the final scene, Jo literally floats away on a river raft into the gauzy distance of a magazine wonderland wearing a Givenchy wedding dress and embracing her photographer, played by Fred Astaire. Kay Thompson, in her only starring role as editrix Prescott, exhorts the women of America, “no, make it the women everywhere,” to “Think Pink!” Astaire shines in a toreador jazz dance that’s among his best work on screen. But the three of them are glorious in the film’s central musical number, "Bonjour, Paris!" a hymn to the "Great American Tourist." Amid picture-postcard views of the Arc de Triumphe, Notre Dame and les Invalides, Thompson and Hepburn sing wonderingly, "Is it real? Am I here?" No! This Paris is a figment of the postwar American imagination made possible by the technological powers of VistaVision.
Directed by Billy Wilder. With Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund
US 1948, 35mm, b/w, 115 min
Wilder replays the beginning of Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will—Hitler’s arrival into Nuremberg—as parody. A squabbling American congressional delegation descends from the clouds into Berlin and tours the ruined city. Led by Jean Arthur’s plain-faced Iowa congresswoman (“Phoebe Frost”), they’ve been sent to check on de-Nazification efforts, but she’s scandalized by the excessive fraternization between American GIs and Germans. The film dramatizes the allure of the immoral and the power of the perverse, personified by Marlene Dietrich playing a Nazi nightclub singer. In glinting gowns and elaborate maquillage, she seduces with melancholy songs about “Illusions” and the cynical nature of the “Black Market.” There’s a hint of lesbianism as the seemingly incorruptible Frost falls as much under the spell of Dietrich’s Nazi goddess as the dimwitted but good-hearted GIs. This sexual subversion is at its peak when Dietrich slithers through the Loereli nightclub and stops in front of Arthur to tauntingly sing, “come and see my little music box today.” Democracy wins in the end, but not before everyone and everything is turned on their heads. It’s worth noting that in later interviews Wilder, with great admiration, revealed that Dietrich directed the film’s two nightclub numbers. She was the master of her own visage. Print courtesy Universal Pictures.
Directed by Jean Negulesco. With Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters
US 1954, 35mm, color, 101 min
Cinematographer Milton Kraser won his only Academy Award for this film, and you can see why. The first film in Cinemascope to be shot entirely on location, it brought ancient and modern Rome home to American audiences in sweeping panoramic views and gorgeous Technicolor. It is almost programmatic in its documentation of monuments, such as the fountains of Rome seen in the opening sequence, as well as outlying sites such as the Via Appia Antica and the Villa d’Este at Tivoli. It’s the 1950s American equivalent of Piranesi’s Le Antichità Romane and Vedute di Roma, produced in the 1750s and ‘60s mainly for British “Grand Tourists.” The tourists here are three American secretaries: Miss Frances (Dorothy McGuire) works for a famous but jaded American writer (Clifton Webb), while Anita and Maria (Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara) work for the US Distribution Agency in Rome, which occupies a Fascist-era building. There’s no mention of the war, but its clear that they’re all part of the postwar “pastoral bureaucracy” of American power. They live like princesses in the “Villa Eden,” which is set up high on a hill overlooking the city. Each woman has her own frustrated love affair. The actress who shines here, with her heavy New York accent, is Maggie McNamara, a discovery of Otto Preminger who made only a handful of films in her short, sad career. Her character uses American secretarial know-how to seduce an Italian aristocrat, played by a dashing Louis Jourdan. Although clear-eyed and pragmatic, she’s burned in the end—a prick that points to the darker currents running beneath the lush green and rich ochre surfaces of the Eternal City. Print courtesy 20th Century Fox.