Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961, UK)

In Panamanian director José Quintero's hot and downbeat romantic melodrama (and travelogue), based upon Tennessee Williams' first novel published in 1950 - the director's sole theatrical film received mixed reviews - one of its alternate titles was 'The Widow and the Gigolo'; a remake (on Showtime in 2003) starred Helen Mirren and Olivier Martinez:

  • the pre-credits introduction of the nihilistic character of over-45 year-old Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh), a failing Broadway star (after an inferior performance in London in the unsuitable role as ingenue Rosalind in Shakespeare's As You Like It); the first dialogue was from theater patrons who were mocking the actress for her notable aging
  • in her dressing room, Karen told her confidant and political journalist friend Meg Bishop (Coral Browne) that she was ready to retire from youthful roles: "I should have learned my lesson the first time I tried to play Shakespeare"; Meg concurred: "It's not a question of talent, but time of life"
  • enroute on a plane from Paris to Rome for a "long vacation" (six months) with her elderly, millionaire husband Tom (John Phillips), he suffered a fatal heart attack, and she decided to move there permanently for "an almost posthumous existence" - to die
  • after the credits (a travelogue montage of the city), there were glimpses in Rome (on the Spanish Steps, or the Piazza di Spagna) of younger men approaching women for encounters or propositions: (Narrator's voice-over: "A multitude of assorted humanity comes every day to crouch in the sun, to seek fulfillment of some desire, or to dream")
  • the Narrator continued on about how the widowed, lonely and self-deluded Karen was living in the ancient city in a luxurious rented palazzo-apartment (overlooking the famed Steps), while often being watched by a "strange youth": "Simultaneously, a solitary young man with no regular or legitimate occupation had appeared on the Spanish Steps to spend all his time keeping watch on Mrs. Stone's apartment, as if waiting to give or receive some sort of secret signal. What puzzled Mrs. Stone was why this strange youth should make any impression on her consciousness. Self-knowledge was something that Karen Stone had always been able to avoid. The obsessive, ruthless pursuit of her career and the childlike adoration of an indulgent husband had kept this proud and arrogant woman from exploring the dark corners of her own nature"
  • the first of many appearances of an obsessive, destitute, unkempt "Young Man" - a mysterious stalker (Jeremy Spenser) - an erotic fantasy-dream figure? - who was often located below Karen's palazzo balcony terrace and at various points in the film followed her in the streets
  • the voice-over narration also noted that Karen was living a solitary 'drifting' existence - and drowning: ("As her body began adjusting to its new condition and her self to the upheavals which had so greatly unnerved her, Mrs. Stone was also becoming alarmingly conscious of a sense of drifting if not of drowning in a universe of turbulently rushing fluids and vapors, but now the drift was beginning to take direction")
  • the introduction of controlling, shrewd and manipulative deposed, red-haired Russian madame Contessa Magda (Austrian singer Lotte Lenya, who received a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination), a procurer of young gigolos; wearing a predatory feathered hat, she appeared in Mrs. Stone's residence with one of the handsome members of her stable of men - who was deliberately kept from view for a short while to heighten his entrance; she expressed sympathy for Mrs. Stone as a great lady, but believed that she was a ripe candidate to be exploited: "Believe me, Paolo, nothing touches me more deeply than human loneliness. The first time I met Signora Stone, almost a year ago, I could hardly stop myself from weeping"
  • the vulgar Contessa (with a dead-fur wrap around her neck) was accompanied by one of her gigolos - self-interested, narcissistic pretty-boy Paolo di Leo (Warren Beatty with a mock Italian accent), a perfect remedy for Karen's self-admitted sadness and condition of "drift"; Paolo was introduced to the graceful and reserved Mrs. Stone, kissed her hand, and then sat back for small talk while smoking
Contessa Magda (Lotte Lenya): Her Visit to Mrs. Stone's Residence -
with Paolo (Warren Beatty)
  • later in her red-velveted, bordello-boudoir-office, the cynical Contessa (while petting her small cat Ludwig in her arms) was still plotting and strategizing with Paolo about how to entice Mrs. Stone, expecting that the impatient Paolo would ultimately succeed in separating her from her money, and then would benefit from a 50/50 split: ("I shall be eating again by the end of this month...real eat! Caviar, truffles, and some lobster"); she made a prediction: ("Believe me, this woman is only beginning to find out what loneliness is"); she encouraged the "lazy" Paolo to phone her, accidentally run into her, or date her: "Telephone her with your best voice. Caress her with your voice, purr for her"
  • Karen became engaged in an ill-fated, unfortunate love affair with Paolo, beginning with a dinner date scene between them; before entering the restaurant, she briefly ran into her friend Meg; later during dinner, Karen stated she didn't really want to see her friend the next day - who would inevitably ask a lot of truthful, searing questions: ("I just don't feel like one of those women's talks, what I've been doing, who I've been seeing, why I'm drifting. When I told you I was drifting, did you understand?"); he replied: ("Not why it made you sad. I too am drifting, Signora. The whole world, everybody, the stars, everything is drifting. Is it so bad to drift? Is it so unhappy?"); Karen answered: ("Yes, when you have no where to go")
Dinner Date Scene: Karen and Paolo (Warren Beatty)
  • the next day, Karen's friend Meg visited and privately on her balcony spoke about Karen's restlessness, insecurities and boredom in the city after retiring: "Isn't it odd how women of our age, suddenly start looking for beauty in our male partners? But, I suppose after you've been married to that elderly invalid for 20 years...Everyone thought you married him to I think you depended on him. But, that's different. Anyway, now he's dead, what have you got to fall back on, except for his filthy millions?"; she criticized Karen's choice of Paolo as a love object - "Of all the people in Italy, why did you have to pick on that one? Oh, the young ones are pretty, of course. And I'm told they make love very nicely. But is that enough to ask of a whole human society...You are such an escapist. You may have quit the stage, but you won't escape public attention"; with a judgmental assessment, she cautioned about Karen's new role - degrading herself by her poor choice of partners: "Is this yourself, or rather, what you've become - a figure of fun? The stock character of a middle-aged woman, crazily infatuated with a succession of young boys!"
  • after another dinner date with Paolo, Mrs. Stone returned home and experienced a harsh-reality moment, when she switched on a light and saw her reflection in a mirror - she briskly looked away and moved on
  • in conversation with the Contessa, Paolo kept insisting that the very difficult Mrs. Stone (who remained dignified and proud, and had not yet slept with him) had only had dinners with him, but that she continued to be a "great lady"; the Contessa disagreed: "Listen, Paolo, there is no such thing as a great American lady. Great ladies do not occur in a nation less than two hundred years old"; the Contessa even hinted that Paolo was cheating her out of her 50/50 split and had become "infatuated" with the woman
  • the introduction of a new, young, seductive and rich Hollywood actress-starlet Barbara Bingham (Jill St. John), who immediately caught Paolo's eye at a party; during an interaction with the conniving Contessa about her platonic relationship with Paolo, Karen asserted how she wasn't extravagant or careless with her wealth
  • soon after during an afternoon with Paolo, he manipulatively described to Mrs. Stone a situation involving a friend who was desperately in need of money - obviously trying to extract money from her; recalling her earlier conversation with the Contessa, Karen insightfully answered that she would not throw her wealth around: "You see, I don't leave my diamonds in a soap dish. And when the time comes when nobody desires me for myself, I'd rather not be desired at all"
  • she made a dramatic exit to her bedroom, tucked herself into her bed in a slip, and awaited the arrival of Paolo, who arrived on cue and closed the drapes; Mrs. Stone surrendered to him for their first love-making before a quick fade to black
  • during a sunbathing episode on her balcony the next day, Mrs. Stone (with a new Elizabeth Arden hairstyle) complained about the inconvenience of the oncoming rain storm, after which a very unpleasant Paolo delivered a resentful rant about rich, entitled, 'invading' spoiled American tourists and ladies: “You rich American women, you think that you are the new conquerors of Rome. Well you let me warn you something. This city has all 3000 years and every one of its conquerors has went right back to the dust"; when she called his complaints "ridiculous," he asserted that he didn't love her or anybody - but then moments later apologized; however, their relationship had decidedly taken a turn for the worse
  • the many subsequent interactions between benefactress Mrs. Stone and Paolo, and her support of his lavish lifestyle (by paying his charge account bills as a kind of 'salary'), by providing gifts, and encouraging his expensive taste in clothes in an Italian suit store; however, she never gave him money outright; soon, they were on the cover of Mondo Illustrato - a popular gossip magazine
  • Paolo tried to frighten her about the dangers of love with strangers: ("Has it ever occurred to you, Karen, that women of your kind are very often found assassinated in bed?"); during a game of cards with her, he told a tale about a middle-aged woman murdered on the French Riviera by someone she had invited into her apartment - and lightly suggested he might see news of her death in a few years: ("Only last week on the French Riviera, a middle-aged woman was found in bed with her throat cut from ear to ear. There was no broken lock, no forced entrance, just stains of hair oil on the other pillow. Obviously, the lady had asked the assassin to come in...And in three or four years, I pick up a paper and read about your death"); she casually responded affirmatively with dark humor: "Three or four years is all I need. After that, a cut throat would be a convenience"; as they kissed and made up, she affirmed: "Paolo, you once told me you won't hurt me because you love me. You're afraid of being hurt yourself. Shall I never know you love me unless you hurt me?"
  • during another encounter between Meg and Karen during lunch, Paolo was off flirting with another female closeby (to deliberately drive Karen away?); Meg confronted Karen about her made-up tale of having an incurable disease - and suggested it was metaphorically true: "You told the truth without meaning to. You are suffering from a disease, Karen. I just hope it's not too late to cure it"
  • at a time when Karen was aggressively and jealously pursuing Paolo and trying to convince herself of his love for her, there was a concluding sequence of Paolo and Karen's invitation to friends to view their projected home-movies (shot with Paolo's movie camera, a gift from Karen); during the viewing in her apartment, Paolo retreated to the balcony with Barbara Bingham for a furtive, private conversation before the starlet abruptly left to return to her hotel
  • Paolo lied to Karen that he also had to leave because of a headache - she revealed that she knew the real reason and created an ugly scene: he had planned to abandon her and meet up with Barbara Bingham: ("And you can't stay tonight? That's it, isn't it! But, not because of any headache. It's because you made a date with that cheap little..."); when Paolo called Karen "cheap" herself, she also denounced the Contessa as someone who encouraged Paolo to seek out 'the highest bidder': "Your friend the Contessa is nothing but a female pimper with a stable of handsome boys she sells to the highest bidder. I won't deal in that ugly traffic. And so she passes you on to someone who will"; Paolo noted that Karen was already implicated and in a "cesspool" - and only puffed up as a 'great lady' - with these cruel parting words: "Rome is a very old city. Three-thousand years. How old are you? Fifty?"; the guests were told to vacate as the projected movie kept playing; the Contessa ended the evening with a contemptuous "Wunderbar!" before slamming the door
Last Scene: Viewing Home-Movies
Mrs. Stone's Angry Outburst Toward Paolo
The Contessa: "Wunderbar!"
  • in the final bleak and ambiguous scene, the debased and abandoned Karen recalled her first conversation with Paolo about 'drift' as she walked alone through nighttime streets; back in her apartment, she crumpled up her framed black and white photograph of Paolo, and then suicidally surrendered herself to inevitable 'death' when she tossed her apartment keys (wrapped in a white handkerchief) to the menacing, transient "Young Man" stalker below, who let himself into her apartment
  • the Young Man was a symbol of moral depravity and degradation (and Paolo's dark double); he ominously approached Karen; and as he came closer with his hands in his pockets, his shadow filled the screen in blackness - a metaphoric representation of her complete surrender to him (sexually or to death?) (off-screen after THE END); she succumbed to a murder-assisted suicide to finally end her unrelenting movement of "drift"
The Final Scene: The Menacing "Young Man" Stalker - Paolo's Dark Double

Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh)

Meg (Coral Browne)

Death of Karen's Husband on Airplane

The Inescapable Mysterious "Strange Youth" (Jeremy Spenser) in Rome

Lonely and Dissatisfied in Rome: Mrs. Stone

Mrs. Stone - Imagery - Imprisoned in Rome

The Plotting and Cynical Contessa

Karen Accidentally Meeting Paolo While Horse-Back Riding

Meg's Cautionary Criticisms of Paolo

A Mirror Harshly Reflected Mrs. Stone's Aging

Contessa's Argument with Paolo

Barbara Bingham
(Jill St. John)

Mrs. Stone with the Contessa

Mrs. Stone to Paolo: "I don't leave my diamonds in a soap dish..."

Her First Sexual Surrender to Paolo

Karen with Pretty-Boy Paolo

Gossip Magazines in Italy

Paolo's Foreshadowing of Karen's Death

Meg with Karen: "You are suffering from a disease"


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z