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.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Mrs Stone, on her Roman balcony, 1960

We have written about Mrs Stone here before - that beauty on a Roman balcony in 1960. That Tennessee Williams boxset some years back (in the great era of dvds when we had to collect everything) 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 ROOFSWEET BIRD OF YOUTHBABY DOLLNIGHT OF THE IGUANA and the 1960 film of his story THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE. (I suppose it couldn't fit in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, SUMMER AND SMOKE, THE FUGITIVE KIND, THE ROSE RATTOOBOOM! or THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED (I always forget THE GLASS MENAGERIE, as have never seen any version of it, though I have read the text). ... more on all these at Tennessee label).

Right: Rich, lonely and vulnerable, Mrs Stone is easy prey for heartless gigolo Paolo (Warren Beatty) and his malevolent female pimp The Contessa (Lotte Lenya).

THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE is always a pleasure to see again, maybe not a great movie, but a splendidly enjoyable melodrama where Vivien Leigh is again ideal - this time as Karen Stone, an ageing famous 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, below) 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 and she looks great in those Balmain outfits. 
(Pauline Kael in "I Lost It At The Movies" 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. Vivian has some delicious scenes with Lotte, who is as perfect as her Rosa Klebb here.   

Penny Stalling in the very entertaining Flesh and Fantasy (1978) says: 
“Tennessee Williams wanted the lead in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone to go to Katherine Hepburn, after seeing her performance as the scheming mother in Suddenly Last Summer. But Hepburn, who resented the way her advancing years had been treated in that film, had no intention of inviting comparison between herself and the lonely middle-aged actress who buys the attentions of a male hustler. Although the public was intrigued by rumors of an off-screen liaison between the film’s subsequent stars, Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty, Spring was a disappointment at the box office. It seems that audiences were uncomfortable with the film’s depressing theme, and with the painful similarities between the lives of Vivien Leigh and Karen Stone.”
(Hepburn, of course, had already done the love-starved woman in Italy falling for a handsome man, in Lean's SUMMERTIME in 1955, so would hardly have repeated herself). 
(There was, incidentally, a 2003 remake of MRS STONE with Helen Mirren and Olivier Martinez (right) - 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 original, and Anne Bancroft in one of her final roles as the Contessa was somehow all wrong, her decadence amounting to stealing the chocolate biscuits...). 
Contrast with Tom Hiddleston in HIGH RISE


  1. You've never seen ANY version of THE GLASS MENAGERIE! Call yourself a drama queen! (Or is it me who calls you a drama queen?). You should try to catch the Gertrude Lawrence version with Wyman, Kennedy and Douglas. Not great but worth seeing. The Newman directed version with Woodward is watchable but Katie goes a little OTT in her version. I do agree 100% about THE ROMAN SPRING ... It's far from being a great film but it is a camp treat and Leigh, Beatty and Lenya are splendid. Old queens, of course, should identify with Mrs Stone .... Never saw the Helen Mirren version and not sure I want to.

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