The Spanish Steps and the Movies

Fresh from my last post, I’m clearly in a movie mood. There are many movies set in the Eternal City, and several have scenes right around the corner from us, on the Spanish Steps. The most famous may be Roman Holiday (1953), in which Audrey Hepburn meets up with Gregory Peck on the Spanish Steps, where she enjoys a gelato (don’t do that today — you may get a ticket!) Here are a few other movies that have scenes on the Spanish Steps…

The Talented Mr. Ripley, from
The Talented Mr. Ripley, image from

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) – The title character, played by Matt Damon, has a scene on the Spanish Steps where he meets Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett), a wealthy heiress he met when first arriving in Italy.  He then gets money from the American Express office at the foot of the Spanish Steps and later visits a cafe there where he meets two other people.  The problem is, he’s not who he says he is, but he’ll kill to keep that secret…  While an American Express office is actually located at the foot of the Spanish Steps (and has been for many years), the cafe is not.  It was actually a fantastic and hectic creation of the production:  apparently, the crew was given a mere 24 hours to transform the Piazza di Spagna buildings (including constructing the fictitious Café Dinella), shoot the scene, and return the Piazza to its original state.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much Italian movie poster, from
The Girl Who Knew Too Much Italian movie poster, image from

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (in Italian, La ragazza che sapeva troppo) (1963) – is a prime example of the giallo film genre (giallo means yellow, which refers to the color of the cheap paperback crime/thriller novels that started the genre, similar to film noir).  This movie was directed by Mario Bava (you may recognize the name from my last post — he directed the second movie I worked in), and starred John Saxon, who you’d recognize from over 200 horror and action films, in particular spaghetti westerns.  The story follows a young woman named Nora who witnesses a murder in Rome, right on the Spanish Steps.  The problem is, she’s been hit on the head, there’s no corpse, and therefore no one believes her.  More murders follow, tied to a serial murderer known as the “Alphabet Killer.” There’s a surprise ending, and Nora finds love with a doctor.  I happen to really like the style of the film, although the identity of the murderer is a bit far fetched.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, from
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, image from

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) – Vivien Leigh portrays the title character, an actress nearing 50 whose career is rapidly slipping away.  Taking a trip to Rome, her husband dies on the plane ride over.  Perhaps reacting to this trauma, Mrs. Stone begins an affair with a young Italian gigolo, played by a young and gorgeous Warren Beatty.  Throughout the movie, Mrs. Stone lives in a lavish apartment halfway up the Spanish Steps on the right.  A strange man — today we would call him a stalker — keeps standing on the Spanish Steps and watching her.  When her relationship with her young lover collapses, Mrs. Stone throws the keys of her apartment down to the stranger, who races to see her.  While we don’t see how it ends, it can’t be good.  Based on the novel by Tennessee Williams, this is a wonderfully moody film, in which the Spanish Steps clearly reflects the main character — beautiful, stately, but clearly no longer young.

I’ll explore more movies set in Rome in a future post — there’s a lot of them to talk about!