A 1960 film adaptation changed the African American character Mardou Fox, Kerouac's love interest, to a young French girl (played by Leslie Caron) to better fit both contemporary social and Hollywood palates. While it was derided and vehemently criticized by Allen Ginsberg among others, for its two-dimensional characters, it illustrates the way the film industry attempted to exploit the emerging popularity of this culture as it grew in San Francisco and Greenwich Village, New York.
A Greenwich Village beatnik bar setting had been used in Richard Quine's film Bell, Book and Candle (1958), but Ranald MacDougall's adaptation of Kerouac's novel, scripted by Robert Thom, was less successful.
The Subterraneans was one of the final MGM films produced by Arthur Freed, and features a score by André Previn and brief appearances by jazz singer Carmen McRae singing "Coffee Time," and saxophonists Gerry Mulligan, as a street priest, and Art Pepper. Comedian Arte Johnson plays the Gore Vidal character, here named Arial Lavalerra.
Leo is a 28 year old novelist who still lives at home with his mother. One night he stumbles upon some beatniks at a coffee house. He falls in love with the beautiful but unstable Mardou Fox.
Roxanne warns Mardou away from Leo, who says his love for her is causing him writers block. Mardou falls pregnant. She and Leo wind up together.
- Leslie Caron as Mardou Fox
- George Peppard as Leo Percepied
- Janice Rule as Roxanne
- Roddy McDowall as Yuri Gligoric
- Anne Seymour as Charlotte Percepied
- Jim Hutton as Adam Moorad
- Scott Marlowe as Julien Alexander
- Arte Johnson as Arial Lavalerra
- Ruth Storey as Analyst
- Bert Freed as Bartender
- Gerry Mulligan as Reverend Joshua Hoskins
- Carmen McRae as Herself
The novel was optioned by Arthur Freed of MGM as a possible follow up to Some Came Running. Like that, it was originally intended to star Dean Martin. Nicole Maurey was announced to play the female lead.
Eventually George Peppard and Leslie Caron were signed. Roddy McDowall also joined the cast, his first film in nine years. Janice Rule was married to Robert Thom, who wrote the script.
According to MGM records the film earned only $340,000 in the US and Canada and $425,000 elsewhere resulting in a loss of $1,311,000.