It was intended to be the first of a series called "Around the World with Orson Welles", which is also the name of a series Welles made for the BBC in 1956. The film is about Italy, where Welles's third wife, Paola Mori, was from, and where Welles lived and worked for about 20 years (roughly 1950-1970). The picture discusses both negative and positive aspects of Italian culture. Actress Gina Lollabrigida, who is interviewed at the end of the film, has refused to allow the public release of the film. Vittorio De Sica, Rozzano Brazzi, Anna Gruber and Welles' wife, Paola Mori, are also briefly interviewed, and the film moves along at a rapid speed: it is cut 'quick on the eye' in the style of Welles's film-making.
When Welles submitted the film to ABC, they complained that they only received one reel of un-showable material, and it was never broadcast. It seems it was the style which ABC objected to. Around the same time Welles made another TV program on Alexandre Dumas, père. It too was rejected as being incompetent, and The Fountain of Youth met a similar fate.
In the late 1950s, Welles left the only copy of Viva Italia in his hotel room at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris. The film cans were unmarked, and ended up in the hotel's lost-and-found department and were eventually moved to a storage facility. The film was thought to be permanently lost until it was discovered in 1986. It was at that point that it was finally given a public showing at an Italian film festival, which is where Lollabrigida saw it and took legal recourse to have it banned, which it remains to this day.