Suzanne Pleshette plays Prudence Bell, a teacher at a conservative girls' school, who is reprimanded for allowing one of her students to read a book about "love". Angrily she resigns her post and plans a trip to Rome where, she insists, "they know all about love"! Her high-brow parents are terrified of her traveling alone (by ship), and, from the pier, point out the son of a friend of theirs, who is also traveling on the ship. "He'll take care of you!" they call to her. Prudence mistakes the man they are pointing at (the one on her right) for the man standing on her left - Rossano of course! She introduces herself to him and places herself in his care per her parents' wishes ... Rossano's character, the Count Roberto Orlandi, is naturally surprised and delighted at what he assumes is a bold overture; her parents, meanwhile, try to yell, "Not THAT one, the OTHER one!" at her as the ship departs - but she is unable to hear them.
In her state room, Roberto helps her to unpack her trunk, and Prudence is a little nervous. But she tells him that she thinks women have the right to be free, like men are. Roberto pauses for a moment, considering this, and then rises with her chiffon nightgown dangling from his fingers. "It always amazes me," he tells her, approaching her with fire in his eyes, "That a few meters of chiffon, when filled with a beautiful body such as yours, becomes, as if by magic, alive." He's backed Prudence into a corner and she is saved by the arrival of a telegram from her mother, informing her that she's walked off with the wrong protector. "Beware of strangers!" she finishes. The right gentleman (a young, boring Etruscologist from Eton) arrives and Roberto is forced to relinquish Prudence to the care of this very proper - and very unexciting - Albert Stillwell.
In Rome, Roberto assists Prudence and Albert in obtaining rooms in a palazzo run by a Contessa. They meet another guest, an angry young artist named Don (Troy Donahue) who is having trouble with his mistress, Lida ( Angie Dickenson). In fact, she has just dumped him; and Don's heart is broken. Roberto, meanwhile, escorts Prudence around Rome, showing her the sights, and they eventually arrive on the Bridge of the Angels. They discuss love. Roberto finds it hard to imagine Prudence has never known a "grande amore". Prudence tells him that her mother told her once that when the right man comes along she'd hear bells ringing. Just then, bells ring! Roberto takes this as a sign and they kiss. Prudence sadly confesses that she didn't hear bells ringing. Roberto wants to try again, after he returns from a business trip to Milan.
The inevitable: Prudence and Don fall in love and their tour through Italy is actually a joy to watch ... a stunning 30 minutes of beautiful photography, the majestic Italian countryside and a little history thrown in. When they finally return, Roberto graciously wishes them well; their love is interrupted by the return of Lida. They argue, and Don appears to have abandoned Prudence in favor of Lida. In revenge, she decides to embark upon an affair with Roberto, and arrives at his estate, intending to lose her virginity to him.
He appears for all the world to be completely in favor of this idea until the very last moment, when we realize he's been merely trying to prove a point to her with his behavior. "Don't try to be Lida", he tells her. "Be Prudence, Prudence who is a one-man woman. There are far too many "many-men" women in the world." Prudence argues that she doesn't want to be a "one-man woman" anymore because it's too painful. Roberto informs her that Don has not been with Lida, but at his estate, trying to think. Unfortunately, Lida had sent Don a telegram sounding as though she intended to commit suicide unless he joined her, so he'd gone, to make sure she wouldn't kill herself.
Prudence is so devastated she decides to return to America. "Ah, my darling," Roberto tells her. "You came here to be free and now you find that the price is too high." He adds that the lesson that "Lovers Must Learn" (the Italian title of this movie) is that women should not seek to be free like the men. "To be free as a woman, well that is one thing." But he says that women's primary role in life is to "anchor men, and to help them change from the wild, fearsome hunters they naturally are, to the productive, creative members of society they can be." Prudence accepts this sage wisdom with a straight face and hugs him good-bye. (The rest of us might not be so lucky. Ah well, this was 1962). Prudence returns home only to find that Don has followed her there, to profess his love for her.
Despite Rossano's character's last scene in this film being saddled with some rather dumb dialog ... there are some very sweet, and some very touching moments in it: it's fun hearing him play "tour guide" when they first arrive in Rome ... and once you know something about his personal history in World War II, the cold, emotionless delivery of his line about Mussolini ("from the Caesars to Mussolini in 6 blocks") nearly breaks your heart. Another very sweet moment is his gracious reaction to discovering that Don and Prudence have fallen in love: basically that if he couldn't have Prudence, he was very happy that Don could. Then, his parting line, happily smiling, and with one arm slung casually over a statue of a nude and headless female torso: "For me, the bells are still ringing!" is one of the loveliest, warmest moments in the movie.
And another thing you will notice in this film is yet another stage in the "ever-changing Brazzi physique." In four short years, Emile de Beque's rock-hard, angular body and brusque, abrupt, forceful gestures have disappeared. In its place is a slim, elegant, monogrammed man who moves with such an easy fluid grace and delicacy he seems to have been entirely re-molded with that role in mind. How did he DO that?????