Splendor in the Grass
Splendor in the Grass is a 1961 American Technicolor period drama film that tells a story of a teenage girl navigating her feelings of sexual repression, love, and heartbreak. Written by William Inge, who appears briefly as a Protestant clergyman and who won an Oscar for his screenplay, the film was directed by Elia Kazan and features a score by jazz composer David Amram.
|Splendor in the Grass|
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Elia Kazan|
|Written by||William Inge|
|Music by||David Amram|
|Cinematography||Boris Kaufman, A.S.C.|
|Edited by||Gene Milford|
An Elia Kazan production
for Newtown Productions, Inc.
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$4 million (US / Canada)|
In 1928 Kansas Wilma Dean "Deanie" Loomis (Natalie Wood) is a teenage girl who follows her mother's advice to resist her desire for sex with her boyfriend Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty), the son of one of the town's more prosperous families due to oil drilling. In turn, Bud reluctantly follows the advice of his father Ace (Pat Hingle) to find another kind of girl with whom to satisfy his desires.
Bud's parents are ashamed of his older sister Ginny (Barbara Loden), a flapper and sexually-promiscuous party girl who smokes, drinks, and has recently been brought back from Chicago, where her parents had a marriage annulled to someone who married her solely for her money; the rumor around town is that she actually had an abortion. Disappointed in their daughter, Bud's parents pin all their hopes on him and pressure him to attend Yale University. The emotional pressure is too much for Bud, who suffers a physical breakdown and nearly dies of pneumonia.
Aware that his classmate Juanita (Jan Norris) is willing to become sexually involved with him, Bud has a liaison with her. Shortly afterward, depressed that Bud ended their relationship, Deanie attends a party with classmate Toots Tuttle (Gary Lockwood); trying out Ginny Stamper's behavior, she goes outside with Bud and comes on to him. When he rebuffs her, shocked because he always thought of her as a "nice" girl, she returns to Toots, who drives her to a private spot by a pond that streams into a waterfall. While there, Deanie realizes that she can't go through with sex, at which point she is almost raped. Escaping from Toots and driven close to madness, she attempts to commit suicide by jumping in the pond, but is rescued just before reaching the falls. Her parents sell their oil stock to pay for her institutionalization, which actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise, because they make a profit prior to the Crash of 1929 that leads to the Great Depression.
While Deanie is in the institution, she meets another patient, Johnny Masterson (Charles Robinson), who has anger issues targeted at his parents, who want him to be a surgeon. The two patients form a bond. Meanwhile, Bud is sent to Yale, where he fails practically all his courses but meets Angelina (Zohra Lampert), the daughter of Italian immigrants who run a local restaurant in New Haven. In October 1929, Bud's father travels to New Haven in an attempt to persuade the dean not to expel Bud from school; Bud tells the dean he only aspires to own a ranch. The stock market crashes while Ace is in New Haven and he loses everything. He takes Bud to New York for a weekend, including to a cabaret nightclub, then commits suicide by jumping from a building - something he had been joking about just a short time earlier - and Bud must identify the body.
Deanie returns home from the asylum after two years and six months, "almost to the day." Ace's widow has gone to live with relatives, and Bud's sister has died in a car crash. Deanie's mother wants to shield her from any potential anguish from meeting Bud, so she pretends to not know where he is. When Deanie's friends from high school come over, her mother gets them to agree to feign ignorance on Bud's whereabouts. However, Deanie's father refuses to coddle his daughter and tells her that Bud has taken up ranching and lives on the old family farm. Her friends drive Deanie to meet Bud, at an old farmhouse. He is now dressed in plain clothes and married to Angelina; they have an infant son named Bud Jr. and another child on the way. Deanie lets Bud know that she is going to marry John, who is now a doctor in Cincinnati. During their brief reunion, Deanie and Bud realize that both must accept what life has thrown at them. Bud says, "What's the point? You gotta take what comes." They each relate that they "don't think about happiness very much anymore."
As Deanie leaves with her friends, Bud only seems partially satisfied by the direction his life has taken. After the others are gone, he reassures Angelina, who has realized that Deanie was once the love of his life. Driving away, Deanie's friends ask her if she is still in love with Bud. She does not answer them, but her voice is heard reciting four lines from Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality": "Though nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower / We will grieve not; rather find / Strength in what remains behind."
As music plays, the final scene fades out, but the words THE END do not appear.
Uncredited (in order of appearance)
Filmed in New York City at Filmways Studios, Splendor in the Grass is based on people whom screenwriter William Inge knew while growing up in Kansas in the 1920s. He told the story to director Elia Kazan when they were working on a production of Inge's play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs in 1957. They agreed that it would make a good film and that they wanted to work together on it. Inge wrote it first as a novel, then as a screenplay.
The film's title is taken from a line of William Wordsworth's poem "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood":
- What though the radiance which was once so bright
- Be now for ever taken from my sight,
- Though nothing can bring back the hour
- Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
- We will grieve not, rather find
- Strength in what remains behind...
Two years before writing the screenplay for the film, Inge wrote Glory in the Flower (1953), a stage play whose title comes from the same line of the Wordsworth poem. The play relates the story of two middle-aged, former lovers who meet again briefly at a diner after a long estrangement; they are essentially the same characters as Bud and Deanie, though the names are Bus and Jackie.
Scenes of Kansas and the Loomis home were shot in the Travis section of Staten Island, New York City. Exterior scenes of the high school campus were shot at Horace Mann School in the Bronx. The gothic buildings of the North Campus of The City College of New York stand in for Yale University in New Haven. The scenes at the waterfall were shot in High Falls, New York, summer home of director Kazan.
Warren Beatty, while having appeared on television (most notably in a recurring role on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), made his screen debut in this film. He had met Inge the prior year while appearing in Inge's play A Loss of Roses on Broadway.
Also making her screen debut in this film, Sandy Dennis appeared in a small role as a classmate of Deanie. Marla Adams and Phyllis Diller were others who made their first appearances in this film. Diller's role was based on Texas Guinan, a famous actress and restaurateur, who owned the famous 300 Club in New York City in the 20s.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film a "frank and ferocious social drama that makes the eyes pop and the modest cheek burn"; he had comments on several of the performances:
- Pat Hingle "gives a bruising performance as the oil-wealthy father of the boy, pushing and pounding and preaching, knocking the heart out of the lad"
- Audrey Christie is "relentlessly engulfing as the sticky-sweet mother of the girl"
- Warren Beatty is a "surprising newcomer" and an "amiable, decent, sturdy lad whose emotional exhaustion and defeat are the deep pathos in the film"
- Natalie Wood has a "beauty and radiance that carry her through a role of violent passions and depressions with unsullied purity and strength. There is poetry in her performance, and her eyes in the final scene bespeak the moral significance and emotional fulfillment of this film."
Writing in Esquire magazine, however, Dwight Macdonald confirmed the notion that Elia Kazan was "as vulgar a director as has come along since Cecil B. De Mille." He further commented:
I've never been in Kansas, but I suspect that parents there even way back in 1928 were not stupid to the point of villainy and that their children were not sexually frustrated to the point of lunacy...Kazan is "forthright" the way a butcher is forthright when he slaps down a steak for the customer's inspection. [He] won't give up anything that can be exploited.
As for the performances, Variety stated that Wood and Beatty "deliver convincing, appealing performances" and Christie and Hingle were "truly exceptional," but also found "something awkward about the picture's mechanical rhythm. There are missing links and blind alleys within the story. Several times it segues abruptly from a climax to a point much later in time at which is encountered revelations and eventualities the auditor cannot take for granted. Too much time is spent focusing attention on characters of minor significance in themselves." Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The picture does have its theatrical excesses and falls short idealistically in that its morality remains unresolved; nevertheless, it is film-making of the first order and one of the few significant American dramas we have had this year." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post found "beauty and truth" in the story but thought "the parents' incessant nagging and unlistening ears are not convincing" and that Christie and Hingle's characters "could do all that they do in far less footage." Harrison's Reports awarded a grade of "Very Good" and wrote that the adult themes "do not blow up the story into a soap-opera bubble. The emotional cheapness and the sordid crudeness that are evidencing themselves in so many of the yarns being spun, these days, out of the sexual pattern of young, immoral behavior is not to be found here. Instead, you find a poignantly appealing and warmly touching performance of lovely Natalie Wood that gives the story meaning." Brendan Gill of The New Yorker disagreed and slammed the film for being "as phony a picture as I can remember seeing," explaining that Inge and Kazan "must know perfectly well that the young people whom they cause to go thrashing about in 'Splendor in the Grass' bear practically no relation to young people in real life ... one has no choice but to suppose that this unwholesome sally into adolescent sexology was devised neither to instruct our minds nor to move our hearts but to arouse a prurient interest and produce a box-office smasheroo. I can't help hoping they have overplayed their hand."
Time magazine said "the script, on the whole, is the weakest element of the picture, but scriptwriter Inge can hardly be blamed for it" because it had been "heavily edited" by Kazan; he called the film a "relatively simple story of adolescent love and frustration" that has been "jargoned-up and chaptered-out till it sounds like an angry psychosociological monograph describing the sexual mores of the heartless heartland."
The film holds a score of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews.
Awards and accolades
At the 34th Academy Awards, Inge won an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay—Written Directly for the Screen; Wood was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, losing to Sophia Loren in Two Women. Elia Kazan received a nomination for a Directors Guild of America (DGA) award. The film received three nominations in the 1961 Hollywood Foreign Press Association awards: Best Picture - Drama, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama for Warren Beatty, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama for Natalie Wood. Wood received a nomination for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Foreign Actress.
The film ranked #50 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies. In 2002, the American Film Institute ranked Splendor in the Grass number 47 on its list of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time.
Splendor in the Grass was re-made as the 1981 television film Splendor in the Grass with Melissa Gilbert, Cyril O'Reilly, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
- "All-Time B.O. Champs", Variety, January 3, 1968 p. 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
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- "TRAVIS, Staten Island". Forgotten New York.
- "Splendor in the Grass (1961)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 1, 2013. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
- Crowther, Bosley (October 11, 1961). "'Splendor in the Grass' Is at 2 Theatres". The New York Times. p. 53. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
- Macdonald, Dwight. On Movies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969. pp. 141-142.
- "Film Reviews: Splendor In The Grass". Variety. August 30, 1961. 6.
- Scheuer, Philip K. (October 12, 1961). "'Splendor in Grass' Dilemma of Youth". Los Angeles Times. Part III, p. 11.
- Coe, Richard L. (October 14, 1961). "Lush Grows Inge's 'Grass'". The Washington Post. A17.
- "'Splendor in the Grass' film review". Harrison's Reports. September 2, 1961. p. 138.
- Gill, Brendan (October 14, 1961). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 176.
- "Cinema: Love in Kazansas". Time. October 13, 1961. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
- "Splendor in the Grass". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
- "34th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- "14th Annual DGA Awards".
- "BAFTA Awards".
- "50 Best High School Movies". www.filmsite.org.
- "AFI listing". www.afi.com.
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