Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

After a disastrous performance in an ingénue role, stage actress Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh) decides to give up her career and take a vacation to Italy with her husband. Unfortunately, he passes away enroute, leading Karen to become a recluse in Rome where from her balcony she sees she is being stalked by a strange young man. One day Karen is visited by Countess Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya). The Countess is a nasty crone who makes her living as a procuress. With her she has brought Paolo di Leo (Warren Beatty), a potential lover for Karen. Though it takes him some time to get Karen to warm up to him, something you’re led to believe he respects about her, Karen is eventually unable to resist his charms. He reads her well, sees how lonely she is and predicts she has never been in love, not even with her husband.
When she finally succumbs to by Paolo, she buys him expensive gifts but never gives him money, much to the Countesses dissatisfaction since she is supposed to get fifty percent of whatever by Paolo receives. When Paolo tires of the no money situation; he allows the Countess to set him up with Barbara Bingham (Jill St. John), a rich young Hollywood star. This arrangement is flaunted in front of Karen causing her to confront Paolo who rejects her and taunts her with the knowledge that her pursuit of him has made her the laughing stock of Rome. Having had her first taste of love and heartbreak, Karen summons the young stalker to her room in hopes that he will murder her.

An entertaining if predictable, adaptation of the Tennessee Williams novel, I like the contrast between the Leigh and Lenya’s characters. Mrs. Stone’s melancholy is palpable; she’s lost in it and withdraws from life because of it. Comparatively, Countess Terribili-Gonzales, who is materially in much dire straits, has a zest for life and fights to get what she can out of it. She doesn’t withdraw from life but rather clutches to it. Beatty too plays his character well, seeming more a petulant child than a romantic lothario. The point being, I assume, that Mrs. Stone fell mostly in love with youth and what it represents and not the gigolo himself. If you can get past Beatty’s unfortunate attempt at an Italian accent, you’ll find he plays plays sleazy well.

Fun Fact!
Lotte Lenya was an Austrian singer and actress. In the German-speaking and classical music world she is best remembered for her performances of the songs of her husband, Kurt Weill. Weill was the original composer of my favorite oldie Mack the Knife. With lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their musical drama The Threepenny Opera, Mack the Knife is best known today because of Bobby Darin. However, it was Louis Armstrong who first popularized it in 1956. Lotte Lenya was present in the studio when Louis Armstrong recorded Mack the Knife, and he added her name to the list of Mack's female conquests by improvising the line "Look out for Miss Lotte Lenya!"

Tonight on TCM!
Maureen O'Hara with my favorite John Ford in the mix-
The Quiet Man (1952)!!

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