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USA 1961
Directed by
Elia Kazan
124 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Splendor In The Grass

Although set on the cusp of The Great Depression, Elia Kazan’s film is in fact about the repressive mores of 1950s America and has much in common with Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause and Kazan’s own East OF Eden which were both released in 1955.

Filling James Dean’s shoes is Warren Beatty making his big screen debut as Bud Stamper, an East Kansas high school sports jock and the son of an overbearing oil magnate father (Pat Hingle, sporting a seriously scary limp) and weakly compliant mother (Joanna Roos). Dad is grooming him for success but Bud, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer just wants to settle down as a rancher with Deanie (Natalie Wood) who adores him but who is watched closely by her interfering mother, Audrey Christie, who wants to make sure that Deanie doesn't get "spoiled" before Bud puts a ring on it. 

William Inge’s empathetic and intelligent screenplay which takes its title from a line in Woodsworth's "Intimations of Immortality” is a devastating portrait of the generation gap and Kazan brings it to the screen with panache.  Beatty and Wood are both too old for their parts but Wood does a good job in suggesting Deanie’s emotional and mental fragility in fording the ups and downs of first love, as both of them are driven crazy (literally so in Deanie’s case) by their sexual frustration and compliance with their parent’s proscriptive mores.  Beatty, although commensurately handsome doesn’t have the ability to suggest the pain of feeling misunderstood that Paul Newman let alone James Dean could bring to the screen but this actually suits the passivity of his character and the narrative which is deftly brought to a closure by the ending in which Bud and Deanie meet up two years later and winsomely remember their youthful romance.

Splendor in the Grass is a tip-top melodrama and was Kazan's last commercially successful film. 

FYI: Bud's rebellious sister is played by Barbara Loden, who would marry Kazan some years later and go on to cult success as the director-writer and star of Wanda (1970)




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