Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Tennessee and Mrs Stone and those others ...

Time for some lurid melodramas? That Tennessee Williams boxset some years back was an ideal compendium of his greatest hits, with A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (with new added material like Brando's screen tests etc), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, BABY DOLL, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA and the 1960 film of his story THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE.
Not included but we had it anyway was SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER from 1959 and it is even more lurid now, particularly when Taylor dons that white bathing suit and finally shrieks out what happened to Sebastian last summer: "they DEVOURED him" ..., Monty though goes through it like a zombie and Hepburn, while apparantly not liking the material, made a meal of her spectacular entrance and exit in Oliver Messel's splendid set, and that speech of hers above seeing God as the baby turtles try to get to the sea as the birds descended ... Mankiewicz filmed it all in the UK!

STREETCAR, CAT and SWEET BIRD may have been diluted for the cinema of the '50s and early '60s, but their power is still there with great performances and staging. Newman and Taylor are so perfect together in their young prime, Gooper and Sisterwoman and Big Daddy and Big Mamma are also just right and that language endures. IGUANA is just perfect as directed by John Huston and thankfully updates the play and removes those Germans in the background. Again, Kerr and Gardner do some of their best screen work.  (Claire Bloom was a wonderful Blanche in that 1974 STREETCAR production, left - theatre label).

What interests me now though is THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE, where Vivien Leigh is again ideal as the ageing actress fleeing from her public and taking up residence in Rome where she "drifts" after her husband inconsiderately dies next to her on the plane. She avoids concerned friends like Coral Browne, but soon falls prey to predatory creatures like the Contessa and her stable of young beauties for every taste (viz the old gent meeting his trick in the opening credits). No-one suggests decadence like Lotte Lenya and she certainly scores here, as Mrs Stone is soon bedazzled by Paolo (Warren Beatty in his debut) who treats her mean and takes her money, but as Mrs Stone becomes addicted to sex she throws caution to the winds after coolly resisting Paolo's casual blandishments at the start. Soon though he is mocking her and arranging other dates with that young actress new in Rome (Jill St John), while the homeless young man stalking Mrs Stone (Jeremy Spenser) becomes more bold ... finally the abandoned Mrs Stone throws down her keys to the vagrant and thinks that five years more is all she wants ... one almost laughs out loud at Beatty's youthful beauty and petulence as Vivien again sketches her desperation (this of course captures her after the Olivier years) - if the film had been better (it was directed by theatre director Jose Quintero) it could have been one of her great roles equalling Scarlett O'Hara or Blanche DuBois, or THE DEEP BLUE SEA or her last appearance in SHIP OF FOOLS. (On re-reading Pauline Kael's I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES she says: "The Tennessee Williams novella is about a proud, cold-hearted bitch without cares or responsibilities who learns that sex is all that holds her to life, it is the only sensation that momentarily saves her from the meaningless drift of her existance" and who used her youth and beauty to get ahead and now finds she is reduced to purchasing both. 

(What incidentally happened to Jeremy Spenser ? - one of those actors who just disappeared after being a child actor and in several '50s films: a scene with Katharine Hepburn in SUMMERTIME; as the young prince sharing scenes with Monroe and Olivier in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, with Vivien here, and in other films like FERRY TO HONG KONG and WONDERFUL THINGS .... then, zilch ...his last credit was 1967). 

(There was, incidentally, a 2003 remake of MRS STONE with Helen Mirren and Olivier Martinez - they may have shown more flesh and Helen did her usual thing, but (like THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY where they also trowel on period detail) it just couldn't catch that 1960 oringial, and Anne Bancroft in one of her final roles as the Contessa was somehow all wrong, her decadence amounted to stealing the chocolate biscuits...). 

Then there is 1961's SUMMER AND SMOKE, Peter Glenville's under-rated film with another defining role by Geraldine Page as Alma, the small town spinster in love with local rake Laurence Harvey, with Una Merkel as her dotty mother, Rita Moreno as the local spitfire and Pamela Tiffin as the nice girl she loses Laurence to ... we feel and share Alma's gentility and pain and her refusal to give in to her baser instincts, as she loses the man she loves ... as IMDB succinctly puts it: "Plain, repressed spinster falls for a dashing young medical student, but he prefers the wilder life, until it's too late"

THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED is another interesting one from 1966, with Natalie Wood (see INSIDE DAISY CLOVER post below..) ideal and certainly looking her best as the girl who falls for railroad guy Robert Redford in this appealing tale of the small town beauty used by her mother to lure men to her establishment, as the story is told by Mary Badham.  This one plays very nicely now and captures that mid 60s moment perfectly, as the movies were changing, just before BONNIE AND CLYDE etc came in. Scripted by DAISY's Gavin Lambert and directed by Sydney Pollack.
The blurb says: A railroad official, Owen Legate comes to Dodson, Mississippi to shut down much of the town's railway (town's main income). Owen unexpectedly finds love with Dodson's flirt and main attraction, Alva Starr. Alva and Owen then try to escape Alva's mother's (Hazel) clutches and the town's revenge. After INSIDE DAISY CLOVER recently, this is one I am going to re-watch very soon.

A canter through Tennessee's greatest hits then? One I have not seen is the 1962 film of Tennessee's comedy PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT about newly marrieds with Jane Fonda headlining. Other Tennessee's of course include THE GLASS MENAGERIE, THE ROSE TATTOO (which I did not care for overmuch when I finally saw it a few years ago, Magnani seemed totally over the top and highly resistable, whereas I thought she was perfect and liked her a lot in Cukor's WILD IS THE WIND in 1957...) and there is Lumet's oddity THE FUGITIVE KIND in 1960 which should have been stupendous but somehow wasn't with that dream team of Brando (wearing that snakeskin jacket), Magnani and Woodward.

and of course BOOM!, Joseph Losey's Burton and Taylor extravaganza in 1968, with that great set in Sardinia - he of course was too old and she too young for those parts, but its oddly compelling, Losey gives it his baroque gloss and of course there is Noel Coward as the Witch of Capri. Would that stage version with Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter have been as much fun? - we would have ran to see that... as we would to that first production of NIGHT OF THE IGUANA with Margaret Leighton (as Hannah) and Bette Davis (Maxine) who was playing to the gallery ...

More on these later then.... and those other torrid dramas of the time like SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, Joanne Woodward as THE STRIPPER  - both from William Inge dramas, as was THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS (1960) - and TOYS IN THE ATTIC, that long-unseen 1963 Lillian Hellman drama with another great cast in Geraldine Page, Wendy Hiller, Gene Tierney, Dean Martin and Yvette Mimieux.
Beatty went on to be terrific in ALL FALL DOWN (1962 label), the troubled LILITH shoot and Penn's MICKEY ONE -which are included in the BFI's season on Beatty next month, they are not though showing KALEIDASCOPE or his so-called comedy with Leslie Caron PROMISE HER ANYTHING ("but don't take her to this" as critic Judith Crist advised in '65). One could create a new label for some of these: Classy Trash!

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