Splendor in the Grass (1961)
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Set in the 1920s, this film concerns the superheated romance between working-class high schooler Natalie Wood and rich kid Warren Beatty. Trying their best to keep their relationship from going "all the way," Beatty and Wood go through a series of unsatisfying interim romances.
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Critic Reviews for Splendor in the Grass
A complicated film that never really successfully yokes together the themes of money-making and sexuality, it reveals both Kazan's operatic sensibility and his inability to follow an argument rigorously through.
This romantic sudser is darker than those of its day, as it shockingly deals with matters Hollywood had previously kept under wraps.
Splendor in the Grass is a prestigious, top-of-the-line, sensitively-handled melodramatic literalization of the axiom "If you touch yourself too much, you'll go crazy."
Youth exploitation pictures were all the rage at the time, and while this is better than some in execution and intent, it's still exactly that.
One of Kazan's two or three mastrpieces, this powerful small-town film examines growing pains, respressed sexuality, and social hypocrisy, featuring Warren Beatty, in an astonishing screen debut, and Natalie Wood, at their very best.
Probably Wood's finest hour
Audience Reviews for Splendor in the Grass
A "big" Hollywood movie in its day, represented by dint of extravagant color, large, swelling musical scores, and turgid acting about an "important" issue of the day, in this case: young lust. This can't turn out well and it doesn't (Hollywood was doing all it could to defeat television in those days), but along the way we get Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in their youthful heyday, a decent script by William Inge, and fine character work by the supporting cast.More
The definitive bucket of cold water movie about the hormones that swept America. Warren Beatty finds his Stanley Kowalski and Natalie Wood gives one of the essential female performances in American film.More
If there is a heaven, it simply must involve being loved by Natalie Wood. I have only seen Rebel Without a Cause, but after this incredible, emotionally riveting performance, there are certainly more of her films added to my queue. In addition to possessing the physical beauty that we simply don't celebrate anymore, she embodies this character with raw intensity, recognizing the complexities and themes of the story. In this performance, she is "actor as character" and "actor as storyteller" - an oft-overlooked combination.
The story, penned by William Inge, is part morality tale, part universal truth. The film reverses the typical dictates about pre-marital sex and suggests that the constant pressures of being "untainted," "pure," "unspoiled," and "a nice girl" cause more moral degradation than they prevent. Additionally, the characters all see women as fitting into two distinct categories: they are either whores or wife material, a condition which is explained starkly by Mrs. Loomis: "A woman doesn't enjoy those things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children." As a result of such sexual repression and categorical thinking, the film shows the inevitable descent of two good people. But their descent is marked both by the effects of their environment and by the simple fact that adulthood always disappoints the idealism of youth, a theme the title of the film evokes.
The film has two very minor flaws. First, I thought the under-handed images of sexuality were over-used; how many times do I have to look at a waterfall? I understand the censorship of the time, but Kazan could have added a train going through a tunnel just for variation's sake. Second, Beatty seems to betray some inexperience here and there, unsure when to play subtlety and when to release.
Overall, Natalie Wood makes this film a sheer joy to watch, and as long as men continue to tell women what is valued about their bodies and their sexuality, the themes in this film will remain relevant.
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