Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass (1961)Synopsis:

Natalie Wood (Rebel Without A Cause and Love with the Proper Stranger) plays a teenager in the Midwest that tries to put her life back together after a failed relationship with an upper class classmate (Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde) during the 1920s.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Splendor in the Grass, sharply written by playwright William Inge, sensitively directed by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront and East of Eden), is a poignant, heartbreaking coming-of-age story about the pains, hopes, and disillusions of growing up. Although the story takes place in the 1920s and the film was made in the 1960s, the issues presented here have universal and timeless appeal.

Splendor in the Grass was Inge’s last triumph as a writer. Born in Independence, Kansas in 1913, he initially achieved prominence with his famous Broadway play Come Back, Little Sheba and later won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Picnic in 1953. All of his stories deal with the deeply felt passions of frustrated people in small American towns. Directed with great attention to detail by Kazan, this is an absorbing and surprisingly mature look at young love. Few films have captured the frustrations and disillusions of falling in love as powerful and penetrating as this bittersweet film.

Splendor in the Grass provides Wood with perhaps the most important role of her career — this is the beginning of her successful transition from child star into mature and confident dramatic actress. As the teenager who has to make some important decisions about morality and passion, Wood gives the performance of a lifetime. Her transformation in the film from a naïve and enthusiastic young girl to a wise and assertive adult woman is vividly portrayed. She deservedly received an Oscar nomination for her efforts. 1961 was a watershed year for Wood — she also starred in the classic West Side Story.

Beatty makes an auspicious film debut as a young man having a hard time controlling his hormones. It’s an intelligent performance from a newcomer. Along with Beatty, funny lady Phyllis Diller, TV soap-opera star Marla Adams (The Young and the Restless), character actor Eugene Roche (Foul Play), and Oscar-winning actress Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), they all made their movie debuts here. The cast also includes Pat Hingle (Batman), Barbara Loden (Wild River), and Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey).

The film looks and sounds terrific. Boris Kaufman’s (12 Angry Men and Long Day’s Journey Into Night) camera beautifully captured the actors and the surroundings to their best advantage. David Amram’s (The Young Savages and The Manchurian Candidate) simple yet effective score gets injected throughout the film in a very subtle way. Amram’s score helps emphasize the romantic angle of the story, and his compositions are well-integrated into the mix.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Even though Splendor in the Grass is not as popular as many other films from the 1960s, it is one of the best coming-of-age films ever made, and remains a welcome addition to your collection. This is an absolute must for all classic movie lovers and romantics at heart. Remade as a 1981 TV movie with Melissa Gilbert and Michelle Pfeiffer. Color, 124 minutes, Not Rated.

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9 responses to “Splendor in the Grass (1961)

    • Wood was a really good actress. I feel she has been undervalued by the critical mass. She was terrific in Love with the Proper Stranger, The Great Race, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, etc.

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  1. This film is hard for me to watch because of all the very real emotions, the angst of adolescence and the pain of moving forward and looking back at what might have been…and seeing what might have been for what it really is. That’s about the highest compliment I could give it! Natalie Wood was a wonder…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. Although the movie takes place in the 1920s and the film itself was made in the 1960s, this movie still resonates 50+ years later. And Wood is fantastic! One of the best movies about young people. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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