Time passes. Lately I have heard and seen a lot of stories on aging and the passage of time (or maybe I have just been noticing them more). Last weekend I watched two movies on TCM that were very different, but equally sobering: The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) and The Whales of August (1987).
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was written by Tennessee Williams, and tells the story of an actress in her 40s whose much older husband dies as they are flying to Rome on a vacation. Mrs. Stone, played by Vivian Leigh, stays on in Rome, becoming involved with a greedy duchess/pimp, played by Lotte Lenya, and Paolo, one of the gigolos the duchess handles. Mrs. Stone becomes besotted by Paolo, who generally behaves like a sullen teenager but has surprising flashes of insight, as when he predicts that Mrs. Stone will tired of him and will start running with a hungrier, more dangerous class of gigolo.
And that is what happens. Furious at Paolo’s flirtation with a younger woman, Mrs. Stone gives her house key to a rough-looking young man who has been following her throughout the picture. The movie ends there, but the implication is obvious—Mrs. Stone is giving up, inviting death. Tennessee Williams tends to be pessimistic like this—I should have realized there would be no happy ending. But it was depressing all the same.
The Whales of August is a very different movie. Two elderly sisters, played by Bette Davis and Lillian Gish, are spending a summer at their family’s beachfront cottage in Maine. Libby, played by Davis, is blind and cantankerous. Sarah, played by Gish, cares for Libby and is much more giving and hopeful than her sister. Elderly neighbors and old friends, some of more than 50 years, visit the sisters and reminisce about the days when they were young.
Vincent Price plays a charming, cultured Russian émigré, whom Sarah is smitten with for a time. Price is a joy to watch in this, as is Gish. It is difficult, though, to watch Davis—one gets the impression that this is not just a performance, that the bitterness is real. The movie ends on a positive note. Libby, long opposed to creating a picture window in the cottage to look out at the ocean, agrees to it to make Sarah happy. They both walk down to the beach as the closing credits roll. It is not a depressing ending, but it is sad. It is the sadness of things inevitably ending, of people dying and their memories and experiences dying with them.
Both movies made for one long afternoon.