THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE (1961). Director: Jose Quintero.
This first film version of Tennessee Williams' novel, with a screenplay by Gavin Lambert, stars Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty as Karen and Paolo. Both of them give good performances – it is actually one of Beatty's best -- but the picture is stolen by a superb Lotte Lenya in the expanded role of the lizard-like if oddly likable Contessa. [It is explained that she is originally from Budapest, unlike the Contessa in the novel, to account for her accent.] Coral Browne also scores as a somewhat more sympathetic Meg, who seems to genuinely love and care for Karen [who almost goes off to New York with her at the end]. The dopey screen persona that Jill St. John affected at that time works perfectly for the small role of the film actress who attracts Paolo. Jean Marsh appears as a young woman smitten with Paolo; she seems terrified of Beatty in an early party scene, but is all over him in sexy fashion in a later scene in a restaurant. Bessie (The Lost World) Love and Ernest (Bride of Frankenstein) Thesiger have small roles in a party scene at the end. It is a half an hour into the running time before Beatty is given a close up, which is not a problem so much as the fact that he is not given enough scenes to show off the charm that wins over the cautious and dignified Karen Stone.
Unlike the novel, the movie isn't that sympathetic to Karen, perhaps reflecting the mores of the time. Instead of "Romeo and Juliet," Karen's final performance was changed to "As You Like It," and her husband is made twenty-five years older, perhaps to explain why she requires and is amenable to a lover so much younger. Ironically, the film still has some daring elements, such as the [generally unnecessary] narration at the opening that talks of how the Spanish steps are a place of "assignation" and just on that word shows a middle-aged man talking to a man in his twenties. However, the Baron, who was briefly referred to in the novel as one of Paolo's earlier keepers (although it is suggested that Paolo kept the man sexually at bay), while also seen briefly in the movie, is not linked to Paolo in the film version. Finally, at the end of the film, as in the novel, when Karen throws her keys down to the dark, handsome Angel of Death who has been following her all around Rome, Vivien Leigh simply seems too cool and strong to want to commit suicide by inviting Death into her home. Excellent score by Richard Addinsell. Remade for cable in 2003.
Verdict: Still a fascinating movie with some fine performances. Lenya rules! ***1/2.