Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette), an assistant librarian at a New England school, is being reprimanded for recommending a book called Lovers Must Learn to a student. Standing up for herself and the book, she ultimately chooses to resign and jets off to Rome, to meet people who truly understand the meaning of love.
On the boat over from New York, Pru meets Albert Stillwell (Hampton Fancher) — who has been asked to keep an eye on her by her mother — and Roberto Orlandi (Rossano Brazzi), a handsome man from Rome.
After arriving in Italy, Albert and Pru check into their boarding house, where they meet American architect Don Porter (Troy Donahue). At first, Don is somewhat annoyed by Pru, who listens to her Italian lessons too loudly. But eventually, a friendship grows. Could it turn into love, or will Pru instead find romance with Albert or Roberto?
Rome Adventure was directed by Delmer Daves, who also adapted the screenplay from a 1932 novel.
I watched Rome Adventure on Valentine’s Day, hoping for a bit of romantic fluff. What I got instead was a fairly slow and quiet romantic drama, with a few turns toward melodrama as it moves along. It isn’t quite an “adventure,” nor a well-written or well-plotted film, but it is immensely watchable.
Sure, its message is messy by modern standards. It dumps its opening scene’s premise of fighting against literary censorship and devolves into a love triangle between a “bad girl” and a “good girl.” Then there’s Roberto, who spends far too much time giving speeches about the differences between men and women, and the proper roles of each.
But, there are positive aspects, too. The cinematography is gorgeous, showcasing sights from throughout Italy, not only Rome. The beautiful scenery and tour guide-style narration as Pru visits the sites (on her own and with Don) lend a sort of travelogue feel to the film.
I found Pru to be surprisingly relatable, despite the fact that the film implausibly revolves around her jet-setting to Europe to find romance after unsuccessfully fighting the censorship of an “obscene” romantic book and quitting her job. She’s a hopeless romantic but also a doubtful one, unsure that she’s capable of recognizing the “right one.” Her journey may not quite be common, what with the high cost of plane rides and hotels, but her motivations and dreams are familiar.
There’s also the character of Daisy, who I love (portrayed by Constance Ford). Can we go back in time and get a whole film about Daisy’s bookshop-founding years and romantic adventures? She runs a bookshop. With a dog. In Italy! In other words, she’s living my dream life, and deserves to have her own story more thoroughly told.
Aside from the messiness of the script, Rome Adventure fails in other ways. Though there’s nice chemistry between Pru and Don, much of the dialogue seems wooden, especially from Troy Donahue. A great cast can elevate sub-par material, but that doesn’t happen here, despite Pleshette’s best efforts.
I can’t say I’d necessarily recommend Rome Adventure if you’re looking for a great, swoon-worthy romance to tune in for… but if you just want to sit back and zone out while watching beautiful scenes of midcentury Italy, or want to become envious of Daisy’s life as I did, it’s good for that.