Splendor in the Grass (1962)
Splendor in the Grass is set during the 1920s but one can't mistake when the movie was actually filmed. It's Rebel without a Cause for the JFK years. It's young teenagers in love (one of them still Natalie Wood) suffering less spiritual and more sexual torment. It helps that William Inge wrote the screenplay, while Warren Beatty plays Bud Stamper, high school quarterback, because both men are associated with sex: Inge from his play, Picnic, and Beatty because, well, he's Beatty. Splendor is his first movie, and so his rep as a ladies man hadn't taken hold yet, but nevertheless the first time we see him he's trying to go all the way with "Deanie" Loomis (Natalie Wood) in the front seat of his convertible. A prescient introduction.
Academy Award Nominations:
Best Actress (Wood)
"Though nothing can bring back the hour/Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;/We will grieve not, rather find/Strength in what remains behind..." (from a Wordsworth poem read by Deanie)
Essentially Beatty and Wood play good kids who get shitty advice from their parents. His father, Ace (Pat Hingle), an oil man, warns Bud about the Loomis girl, since Yale University and better prospects await, while her mother (Audrey Christie) says women never have sexual urges, they just do it with their husbands to have children, and besides boys never respect a girl who goes all the way. Frustrated, both young lovers throw themselves onto their beds as if to satisfy themselves with the sheets. When Bud raises the marriage question with his father and Ace tells him to wait, Bud replies, through clenched teeth, "Don't know if I can, Dad." It's pretty funny.
With the arrival of Bud's older, flapper sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), this theme disappears. Rather than contain himself, Bud has to contain Ginny, and, in that role, he's less interesting. Deanie's eyes light up at the Stamper dinner table, witnessing Ginny's "badness," but there are dangers to being bad. At a New Year's party, Ginny drinks and flirts too much and a gang-bang is implied. Bud, attempting to rescue her, gets beaten up. Afterwards he's not quite the same and breaks things off with Deanie.
Some not-bad imagery here. Bud and Deanie's make-out spot overlooks the town waterfall, but the rushing water is always viewed from a distance. When he goes out with another girl (a redhead), they make out at the foot of the falls and then in them. Frustrated almost to madness, Deanie tries to throw herself off the falls but is rescued by men from town. An environmental message is added to the sexual metaphor, as the view of the falls is eventually obscured by Ace Stamper's oil pipelines.
But Splendor of the Grass is a movie that tries to do too much and goes on too long. Its portrait of the elder generation suffocating the younger is so overwhelming as to be uninteresting. Young people are pure, the movie implies, because they desire only love, while the older folks are morally destitute because they talk about getting rich from stocks. Ironic watching it at a time when both old and young talk about nothing but getting rich from stocks.
July 1, 2000
© 2000 Erik Lundegaard