Sunday, November 01, 2015

cinema obscura: Peter Ustinov's "Romanoff and Juliet" (1961)

Ignored by its distributor, Universal Pictures, for almost five dacades now, "Romanoff and Juliet" is Peter Ustinov's Cold War satire that playfully juxtaposes the familiar Shakepeare plot with the political atmosphere that was simmering in 1961. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been available on home entertainment in any form and I can't recall the last time it was televised. I'm guessing forty years at least.

I'm seriously dating myself here.

Sandra Dee and John Gavin (above), who also teamed the same year in Henry Levin's "Tammy, Tell Me True" (also for Universal), play the title characters - he being the son of the Soviet Ambassador to Concordia and she the daughter of his American counterpart. Ustinov essays the role of the leader of Concordia, virtually playing it drunk, and makes a most disarmimg cupid for Romanoff and Juliet.

Ustinov's satire compares favorably with "The Mouse That Roared," Jack Arnold's Cold War satire from the same period, but it inexplicably remains less known than Arnold's film.

The 1958 play which Ustinov wrote and on which his film was based was directed by none-other-than George S. Kaufman and included incidental music by Harold Rome ("Fanny") with lyrics written by Ustinov and ... Anthony Hopkins. Elizabeth Allen played Juliet and Edward Atienza played Romanoff. Ustinov recreated his original Broadway role for the film.

Note in Passing: Speaking of "Tammy, Tell Me True," it is available on DVD in a boxed set from MCA/Universal that includes "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957) and "Tammy and the Doctor" (1963). I don't know about the other two "Tammys," but I'm a sucker for "Tammy, Tell Me True."

11 comments:

Stephen said...

Anthony Hopkins co-wrote the lyrics of the film's song with Ustinov? A Google search was inconclusive, and he's not credited for it on IMDb. He would have been only about 20 years old when the play was originally produced in 1957. Are you sure?

joe baltake said...

Stephen- The name given in the play's credits is Anthony Hopkins. Of course, that's not necessarily an uncommon name. Could be another Anthony Hopkins. On the other hand, it could be the Anthony Hopkins who might have been Ustinov's protegé. (Both are from the British theater.) Who knows? Could go either way. Also, I've read in a column items, which describe Hopkins as an accomplished concert pianist, that he has long been planning to go on tour. So who knows?

Jimmy said...

Sounds good, and I see that Ustinov got a DGA nomination for it.

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Bill Miller said...

Good news! "Romanoff and Juliet" is scheduled to premiere on TCM on tomorrow night - November 2 - at 930pm.

Harriet Andrade said...

Charming, yet sharply satirical. Beautiful cinematography and music. Loved the beginning U.N. vote sequence and the scenes with the nosy telephone operator, who is also the foreign minister.

Bill Miller said...

Unfortunately, on November 2 TCM broadcast a pan and scan version of this widescreen movie. Ben Mankiewicz should have disclosed this in his introduction. Maybe the widescreen version is lost.

joe baltake said...

So I noticed, Bill. What's curious is that the Turner "Now Playing" guide lists the film as a wide-screen presentation.

Marvin said...

Thanks for highlighting one of my all-time favorite films!

Kiki said...

I love when you do this even if it means dating yourself. No, I never saw or heard of "Rom and Juliet" but it looks like something I would LOVE to watch. One of the most underrated movies (in my mind) dealing with the same situation was Wilder's "One Two Three." Whenever it comes on every couple of years, I always watch it because once again, he uses the old early German film trick of guys dressing like women.
I remember back in the early 60s there was a covey of young girl/young guy and older woman/older man tandem love stories being cranked out. All of which seemed to have girls that were Sandra Dee or looked like Sandra Dee. What was the one where she worked with Bobby Darin and Rock Hudson was the older man? Then there was one where she was a debutante and Lilli Palmer and Fred Astaire were her estranged parents? They all seemed to have come out at once.

joe baltake said...

The Sandra Dee film with Rock Hudson and Bobby Darin (and Gina Lollobrigida) is “Come September. “ She also starred in Minnelli’s “The Reluctant Debutant” with Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall. But the film with Lilli Palmer and Fred Astaire was “The Pleasure of His Company” and Debbie Reynolds was the ingénue, with Tab Hunter as her love interest.

And you are right, all these films came out around the same time, the early ‘60s.

Re “One Two Three,” I love it. For me, it’s Wilder’s best film (after “Ace in a Hole”). Cagney is brilliant in it, just brilliant. And because of it, I developed a serious crush on Pamela Tiffin.