Another Look: Splendor in the Grass
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 11, Number 1, February 1981
- pp. 9-13
- Additional Information
ANOTHER LOOK: SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS By Kenneth Hey Splendor in the Grass reached the nation's wide screens in October 1961. The critics recognized the film's examination of interpersonal behavior in a rural Kansas community around the 1929 market crash, but they divided over the manner in which the film portrayed that behavior. Some critics credited screenwriter William Inge for lucidity and seriousminded attention to the subject of adolescent conflict in modern society. However, other commentators saw an emotionally charged study of sexual frustration, and they blamed director Elia Kazan for exploiting an unfortunate social reality. With the perspective of two decades, it seems both critical groups missed the "film." Splendor in the Grass tells the story of two adolescents, Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) and Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood), who confront social intransigence in the form of Mr. "Ace" Stamper's (Pat Hingle) arrogant class attitudes and Mrs. Loomis' (Audrey Christie) ignorant traditionalism. Bud and Deanie approach personal intimacy ladened with parental advice about "two types of girls," "nice girls," and the respectable young man with "gumption." Unable to relate to each other in a manner befitting their feelings, they drift in different directions, Bud to the "other kind" of girl and Deanie to an uncomfortable flirtation with a new personality. To the end of their high school days, Bud submits to his father's tyranny and Deanie tries in vain to break free of her mother's proscriptions. At their high school graduation dance, Deanie attempts suicide, a rebellious action which lands her in a sanitarium. Shortly thereafter, Bud, capitulating once more to his father's wishes, leaves Deanie and attends Yale Kenneth Hey Is In the Department ofa Film at Bnooklyn College. He necently published articles on On the Waterfanont In both Film & Hlstony and The American Quarterly. University with an oblique promise that after graduation Ace would send Deanie and his son on their honeymoon. Bud responds to his weakness by failing every Freshman course, while Ace reveals his weakness by commi ting suicide immediately after the Wall Street crash. Finally liberated from paternal control, Bud marries a New Haven waitress and returns to a farm in Kansas. Deanie eventually emerges from the mental institution and marries a well-to-do fellow patient. Prior to leaving Kansas for good, Deanie seeks out Bud on his small ranch, and their meeting prompts a voiceover narration of William Wordsworth's poem "Ode: Intimations of Immorali ty" : Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind. The advice of Deanie' s psychiatrist—adjust to whatever happens—underlines the youths' frustrations and powerlessness and propels them into different worlds. The film's attention to sexual problems dominated critical responses. Esquire (December 1961) printed a review which ridiculed underlying assumptions in the story line. "I hazard that the theme is: Should a Nice Girl Sleep with Him or Go to a Mental Hospital? And: Should A Clean-Living Boy (etc.) or Go to Yale? This seems to me an Emily Post problem, in the same class as Should Doilies or Tablecloth be Used for Formal Tea?" After comparing Kazan's garishness to that of Cecil B. deMille, the author concluded that "Kazanistan is as mythical as Ruritania. So is Ingeland." The New Yorker (October 14, 1961) disagreed as to the filmmakers' abilities but agreed that the story pointed the wrong direction. "Inge and Kazan are so skilled in their craft that one is forced to believe they have done by calculation what one would far rather believe they had done by inadvertance ." According to the urbane critic, the filmmakers had titillated the masses. "Splendor in the Grass is as phony a picture as I can remember seeing. Not only that, it's phony in a particularly disgusting way. Although it purports to be a study of young love... what it amounts to is a prolonged act of voyeurism, which we as adults are invited to become parties to on the pretext that it will provide us with fresh insights into the sexual anguish of teen-agers." The cynicism behind the film...