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SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (director: Elia Kazan; screenwriter: William Inge; cinematographer: Boris Kaufman; editor: Gene Milford; music: David Amram; cast: Natalie Wood (Wilma Dean Loomis), Warren Beatty (Bud Stamper), Pat Hingle (Ace Stamper), Audrey Christie (Mrs. Loomis), Barbara Loden (Ginny Stamper), Zohra Lampert (Angelina), Fred Stewart (Del Loomis), Joanna Roos (Mrs. Stamper), Jan Norris (Juanita Howard), Charles Robinson (Johnny Masterson),Phyllis Diller (Texas Guinan), Sandy Dennis (Kay), Gary Lockwood (Allen ‘Toots’ Tuttle); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Elia Kazan; Warner Bros.; 1961)
This romantic sudser is darker than those of its day, as it shockingly deals with matters Hollywood had previously kept under wraps.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Elia Kazan’s (“On The Waterfront”/”A Streetcar Named Desire”/”Baby Doll”)steamy ‘Coming of Age’ film on First Love is set in rural Kansas, in the late 1920s, and the adult screenplay is by Kansas-born playwright William Inge (won an Oscar). It was first written as a novel and then as a play. This romantic sudser is darker than those of its day, as it shockingly deals with matters Hollywood had previously kept under wraps. The title comes from Wordsworth: “There’s nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower / We will grieve not, but rather find / Strength in what remains behind.” Though impressive in bringing up some psychological trappings, the Freudian melodrama is awkwardly presented and is delivered rote-like.

Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty, his acting debut) and Wilma Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood) are high school sweethearts in a small-town in 1920’s Kansas, who are finding it increasingly difficult to resist their sexual urges. The couple are in love, but frustrated and confused because they can’t consummate this love in a physical way because of their moral upbringing. Their parents (Pat Hingle & Audrey Christie) are interfering and are more a problem than a help. Wilma’s overbearing puritanical mom is a man-hater, while Bud’s arrogant self-made millionaire dad tells his son to first graduate from Yale before thinking of marriage to the working-class hottie Wilma. Their advice only makes the lovers feel more lost and in a tizzy. When mom tells Wilma “nice girls don’t,” she listens. Bud’s life lesson from dad is for him to fool around with loose women, and he listens.

The frustrating relationship ends for the star-crossed lovers and leads to disastrous results for both. But it’s much worse for the emotionally broken-down Wilma, who goes mad and later drowns in a reservoir (not far different than her real-life death where she drowned falling off her yacht named the “Splendour”). The roaring twenties wasn’t roaring for this repressed couple and also came tumbling down for Bud’s capitalist dad when the stock market crashed in ’29.

The film received mostly good reviews upon its release, as critics were impressed with Wood’s angst-driven performance.

Up-and-coming stars Phyllis Diller, Sandy Dennis and Gary Lockwood had small parts.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”