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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Movie Review: "Splendor in the Grass" (1961)

Hello everybody.... welcome to the second edition of the Sunday Movie Review!

As you can probably tell now, my blog header has changed from Clark and Vivien ("Gone with the Wind") to Natalie and Warren in what I believe was some kind of a publicity still for "Splendor in the Grass," the movie I will be reviewing today.

Before I start, I'm going to make a quick plug for my "Which Old Hollywood book should I read next?" poll. If you haven't already voted, I'd really appreciate if you could! The poll will be closing in three days, and Lauren's autobiography and Ava's biography are tied, so let's see if we can break it... or pull Vivien up or Natalie in the running.. so yes. If you could vote :) And, like always, I will review the book after reading it... this is the book I'll be reviewing after I finish Jean Arthur's biography, but I'm taking a little longer to read than usual because the end of August is always quite crazy for me, with getting ready for back to school (ugh), finishing summer projects I left until the last minute (of course), and my mom's birthday next week...

BUT! you don't need to hear me complain. So, as promised, here is my review of "Splendor in the Grass"...


Despite the fact I have seen most of Natalie Wood's films, you'll probably be surprised to learn that when I saw this movie a couple of days ago it was for the very first time. I guess I avoided it because it always seemed weird, or that once they showed it on TCM and my mom was watching the last half of it, and, well (this was before I became a big Natalie fan), all I could really remember was a lot of screaming and splashing in the water and things in the back of cars. 

But anyway, it was time I saw it. 

Deenie Loomis (Natalie Wood) and Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty in his debut role) are young lovers who are pushed to the edge when they must chose between their own desires for one another or the moral standard of 1920's smalltown Kansas. When they reach the boiling point it drives the fragile Deenie to heartbreak and madness.

The cast has:
  • Natalie Wood as Deenie Loomis
  • Warren Beatty as Bud Stamper
  • Pat Hingle as Ace Stamper (Bud's father)
  • A Barbara Loden as Ginny Stamper (Bud's sister)
It's directed by Elia Kazan.

So.... I did like the movie, I thought it was engaging and well written. However, I can easily understand why I once found this "weird" or why anyone else would. The film is centered around sexual repression, but I think the idea that abstinence can drive you crazy is a little outdated. I would think that that idea was even a bit outdated for the early 60's, in which this movie was released... but it does take place in the 1920's (even with the very 60's feel to it), so I guess that makes it appropriate. Because of this, it does not age well and some audiences won't do so well with this film.

Natalie Wood played in several different types of movies: comedies, musicals, dramas. I've seen her in all different genres and I think, above all, she was best as a dramatic actress. She gets a chance to chew some scenery in this without becoming too obvious, and all while being effective. 

Natalie in the infamous bathtub scene  -  evoking a powerful moment in her acting career

Deenie is a very complex character and probably a challenge for any actress to play but Natalie does well and gives one of her best performances of hers I've seen to date. I was thinking how Deenie's character could easily become annoying in many scenes, but Natalie's brilliant performance stops it from happening. Her character comes to life as very convincing. 

Beatty is a little lackluster as Bud, the boyfriend. He keeps a straight face all the time and is a little bland with the lines he's given. On the bright side, he has good chemistry with Natalie (Natalie was divorcing Robert Wagner about the time of the filming of this; popular rumor was that she and Warren Beatty were having an affair which caused the separation, but that was not true. Natalie and Warren actually clashed backstage and it was not until later that they would begin dating).

A very interesting character is Ginny, Bud's freewheeling flapper sister who is forced back into the sleepy Kansas town after she got in trouble in New York. Ginny rebels and it is not long before she becomes the most gossiped about in town and gets the label of a tramp. But no one can stop Ginny, a true product of the roaring 20's who has a strong pallet for men and booze, from her scandalous ways.

The role of Ginny is played by a Barbara Loden that I have not heard of, but she gives a wonderful performance in a character who is a stark contrast to the original, virginal Deenie.

Ginny, strumming away to glory, at some of her youthful, sober best

The parents (in particular Bud's father, Ace Stamper, and Deenie's mother) are almost as troubled and as high strung as their children. Though they do their best to show to the young lovers that they approve of the relationship, you can tell that deep down they do not want what they believe as an "awkward match" of the rich boy and the poor girl. Deenie's mother constantly badgers her daughter over her relationship with Bud -- on the other hand, Ace encourages Bud to get a girl to "have fun with." (A strong case of sexism: Ace is embarrassed by his partying daughter Ginny, but would not mind Bud to get a girl like his sister so long he doesn't marry her.)

Natalie enjoyed doing films like this, slightly daring and under the direction of the always controversial Kazan. She would do several types of roles, but these were the films she would enjoy best - and I must agree, she does wonderful in them.

Deenie and Bud at a tension filled New Year's Party

Morally, it was 1961 and they could not do much more than imply, but they most certainly do a lot of that.  The content may have caused a little bit of a stir: a newspaper ad for this film in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, requested that "No one under the age of 16 will be admitted without an adult", inadvertently giving this film an R rating. (Of course, the material is no where near as strong... and would probably be given a PG -13 by today's censors).

So, yes. It was most certainly weird at points. But Natalie gives the performance of her life that is well worth seeing - also, if you want to see Warren's film debut and the entirely too human characters are engaging, exciting, and very engrossing to watch. Because of this, I'm going to give it four stars out of five. I did enjoy it, and it's a good movie - but not if you are looking for something light and fluffy to watch!

The bathtub scene, a very high strung scene that sums up the whole theme of the film

Lastly, I'd like to leave you with a excerpt from the lovely poem, "Ode to Immorality" by William Wordsworth that this film gets it's title from (and as Deenie puts it, explains to us how when we are young, we are very hopeful about life, but as we get older, we realize things aren't as picture perfect as we plan):

"Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass and glory of the flower
We grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind."


 Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch the all day long Cary Grant marathon on TCM! I hope you enjoyed the review, though it most certainly could have been better. :) But don't worry, I hope to get better at it in time.

(Oh, and by the way - if you have seen "Splendor in the Grass", I'd really love if you could comment and let me know what you thought of it... was it weird? Was it good? I'm looking for opinions on this one because some people find it poignant while others find it strange... and it just goes either way. So, I'd love to hear!)


StanwyckFan said...

Super review, Rianna! :) I don't plan on watching this flick, but I liked reading your views on it. And I still love your header - that was a brilliant idea.

Rianna said...

Thanks, Natalie, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I still think I'm not so great at these reviews... but hopefully I'll get better at it :)

Audrey said...

I enjoyed reading your review. You have a nice style of writing that is very personal and easy to follow.

I also love the idea of your header. Very creative and cool!

I'll probably watch this one eventually, but it's not really one I'm dying to see...basically because the subject matter and tone of the film don't interest me much. It just sounds kind of heavy and depressing. But I definitely enjoyed reading your review. :)

Rianna said...

I'm so happy you liked it :) And thanks for the compliment. It always means a lot to me when someone praises my writing. ;)

Yeah, I'm having a lot of fun with the header, too! Thanks :)

I understand what you mean. The topic is quite heavy, and though I wouldn't call it an emotionally draining film or anything, it's not one of those happy ones, either. But you should watch it eventually though, because it's pretty well acted.

Anyhow, thank you so much for reading! :)

Anonymous said...

I love this movie. It's certainly on my top 10 list of favorites. I don't think it's strange nor that it's dated, mostly because of the time setting. Also, you could see Deannie as someone who is inclined to a mental breakdown; some people just are. And, when Bud dumped her for someone who would have sex with him, it just led her to a meltdown. That added to the sexual energy she had repressed, maybe.
That was a great review, very thorough, in my opinion.
Also, I think the picture you put on the header is from Natalie and her husband, Robert Wagner, from the movie All the fine young cannibals.

Rianna said...

Hi there,
I definitely think this is one of those movies that can go either way. Some people love it, others find it weird. I actually did really enjoy it. I kind of like these somewhat controversial but strong and thought provoking dramas and Natalie did really well in them.
I agree, perhaps Deenie is quite fragile. And the film taking place in the 1920's makes it appropriate, as I had said. I only meant that it may not age well with some audiences, but not all.
I'm glad you enjoyed the review and THANKS so much for pointing out the thing with the header. I feel so stupid, lol! It was one of the first to show up when I searched in Google for Natalie and Warren - but I kept thinking something was kind of fishy. His head is down so I couldn't tell it was RJ, and despite the fact All the Fine Young Cannibals was a while later Nat looks just as youthful. I'll be fixing it now. Thanks so much for pointing it out. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your review. Was it sexual repression or the feelings of two people who were desperately in love? Those are strong emotions.
I was wondering if you had any information on the filming location? In particular the scene where Deenie jumps into the water to go over the falls? I am interested in film locations and I can't find this one! Thank you!

Rianna said...

Hi there, I'm glad you liked the review. As for the filming locations, according to Natalie's biography, "Natasha", Splendor in the Grass was filmed in New York. The waterfall scene, the book says, was filmed at reservoir at High Falls in Upstate New York. I hope that helped! :)

Erin O'Connor said...

I'm using this movie in a school paper I'm writing on innocence. Your review gave great historical context for the movie. Thank you so much! :)

Jay Blotcher said...

Hello, movie fans! The High Falls Conservancy of High Falls, NY, is developing a mini-documentary about the week that Elia Kazan and crew came to shoot the opening segment of Splendor in High Falls. We seek reminiscences and photos from people who observed or took part in the shoot. Thank you!

Please contact me at jblotcher @

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