Offhand, we can’t think of many examples of a single moment in a single scene of a single movie living photographically across generations after the movie’s initial release.
Certainly, Marilyn Monroe’s still amazing skirt-billowing moment in Billy Wilder’s 1955 romantic comedy The Seven Year Itch qualifies. It raises libidos nearly 60 years later.
And let’s not forget Rita Hayworth’s many moments (pick one!) in 1946’s film noir Gilda. And then there’s Lana Turner’s initial, short shorts encounter with John Garfield in the same year’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.
But high on the list has to be Swedish-born Holly wood actress Anita Ekberg’s famous early morning frolic in Rome’s Fountain of Trevi in Federico Fellini’s 1960 stalwart, La Dolce Vita. Ekberg, who died in Italy at age 83 on Jan. 11, was quite a looker in her time.
Her time spent in Hollywood, however, was largely forgettable. After her requisite early years as a pin-up model, she thrust herself on the world as Miss Sweden in 1950. Inevitably, she then migrated to Hollywood. (Bob Hope famously quipped that Ekberg’s parents should have been awarded a Nobel Prize for architecture.)
After making her debut in 1953’s Abbot and Costello Go To Mars, Ekberg graduated to bigger and more prestigious productions: 1956’s War and Peace and Blood Alley, William Wellman’s 1955 adventure starring John Wayne. She dipped her toes into film noir in Columbia’s Pickup Alley costarring Victor Mature and Trevor Howard.
In 1956, she made the cover of Life magazine, a very big deal at the time.
Most of Ekberg’s 63 movie and tv credits were made in Europe, usually in Italy. In La Dolce Vita, she plays sultry temptress, Silvia, who seduces her transfixed male companion (Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni) into partaking with her of the Trevi waters after a night of Roman revelry. Ekberg’s exquisitely sensual delight in the fountain’s waters made for an unforgettable screen moment.
As it happens, the plot of Elsa & Fred, an unjustly overlooked comedy released last year, embraces exactly this Ekberg moment. Shirley MacLaine plays Elsa, a fanciful octogenarian wooing her cantankerous neighbor (Christopher Plummer). To intrigue her would-be geriatric beau, Elsa claims to have recreated the Fountain of Trevi scene in her youth, kitten and all. (There’s a poster of Ekberg in her apartment foyer.)
Without giving away the ending of Elsa & Fred, we can say that both wind up in the finale in Rome, yes, at the Fountain of Trevi. (By the way, the film is most enjoyable; the excellent performances from two veteran pros is a bonus.)
As for Ekberg, her watery few minutes in the Fountain of Trevi instantly made (her) a cinema icon, intoned British newspaper, The Guardian.