The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is the 1961 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1950 novella about a rich, dissolute widow meandering her way through Rome, Italy. Vivian Leigh plays Karen Stone, a 50-something actress with fading beauty who is facing a backlash from both critics and the public for being too old to appear in a show she’s taking to Broadway. Her businessman husband gives her a way out of the play and the two decide to escape to Rome to nurse their wounds. En route to Rome, Karen’s husband suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving her a grieving widow. While in Rome, Karen rents a glorious apartment and soon falls vulnerable to Paolo (Warren Beatty), a young, tanned Italian gigolo who is housed in a stud stable that falls under the watchful eye of a ferocious Italian procuress, Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya). Despite her friends’ warnings and her own uneasiness, Karen falls for the determined Paolo and the pair soon become lovers. From there, things take a decidedly negative turn as Paolo catches the eye of a much younger actress Barbara Bingham (Jill St. John) and soon he abruptly takes off on Karen to explore this new relationship. In the end, the vulnerable and lonely Karen finds herself as easy (and willing) prey for a dark and mysterious man who has been stalking her throughout her entire stay in Italy. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was the first film directed by the well-regarded theatre director Jose Quintero. And while the film is well-dressed and beautifully filmed (by cinematographer Harry Waxman), it is an overwrought mess that is saddled with a lazy script (credited mostly to screenwriter Gavin Lambert) and boasts one of the worst Italian accents attempted by an actor in film history (courtesy of a 24 year old, man-tanned Warren Beatty).
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone only managed to snag one Academy Award nomination. The film’s sole nomination went to Austrian-born actress Lotte Lenya, nominee, (148), for her role as Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales, the barracuda-like pimp who rents out her Italian studs to rich widows. Lenya, with her wide-mouthed grin, is by far the best thing about the film as the contemptible Countess who manipulates her gigolos and clients like a sinister puppeteer. Lotte Lenya lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Rita Moreno in West Side Story.