Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Elia Kazan
Written by William Inge
Starring Natalie Wood
Music by David Amram
Cinematography Boris Kaufman
Editing by Gene Milford
Studio NBI Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) October 10, 1961
Running time 124 minutes
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Splendor in the Grass is a 1961 romantic drama film that tells a story of sexual repression, love, heartbreak, and manic-depression, which the character Deanie suffers from. Written by William Inge, who appears briefly as a Protestant clergyman and won an Oscar for his screenplay, the film was directed by Elia Kazan.
1928 Kansas: Wilma Dean "Deanie" Loomis (Natalie Wood) is a teenage girl who follows her mother's advice to resist her desire for sex with her boyfriend, Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty), the son of the most prosperous family in town. In turn, Bud reluctantly follows the advice of his father, Ace (Pat Hingle), who suggests that he find another kind of girl with whom to satisfy his desires.
Bud's parents are disappointed by, and ashamed of, his older sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), a flapper and party girl who is sexually promiscuous, smokes, drinks, has had an abortion (or as Deanie's mother said "one of those 'awful surgeries'"), and a marriage annulled, so they "pin all their hopes" on Bud, pressuring him to attend Yale University.
Bud does find a girl who is willing to become sexually involved with him; when Deanie finds out, she is driven close to madness and institutionalized. Her parents must sell their stock in order to pay for her institutionalization, which they do just before the Great Depression. Bud's family loses its fortune in the Crash of '29....
Natalie Wood as Wilma Dean "Deanie" Loomis
Warren Beatty as Bud Stamper
Pat Hingle as Ace Stamper
Joanna Roos as Mrs. Stamper
Audrey Christie as Mrs. Loomis
Fred Stewart as Del Loomis
Barbara Loden as Ginny Stamper
Zohra Lampert as Angelina
John McGovern as Doc Smiley
Jan Norris as Juanita Howard
Martine Bartlett as Miss Metcalf
Gary Lockwood as Allen "Toots" Tuttle
Sandy Dennis as Kay
Crystal Field as Hazel
Marla Adams as June
The film is based on people whom screenwriter William Inge knew while growing up in Kansas in the 1920s. He told the story to director Elia Kazan when they were working on a production of Inge's play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, in 1957. They agreed that it would make a good film and that they wanted to work together on it. Inge wrote it first as a novel, then as a screenplay.
The film's title is taken from a line of William Wordsworth's poem "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood":
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind...
Scenes of Kansas and the Loomis home were shot in the Travis section of Staten Island, New York City. Exterior scenes of the high school campus were shot at Horace Mann School in the Bronx. The gothic buildings of the North Campus of The City College of New York stand in for Yale University in New Haven.
Sandy Dennis made her big-screen debut in this film, in a small role as a classmate of Deanie's.
Pat Hingle "gives a bruising performance as the oil-wealthy father of the boy, pushing and pounding and preaching, knocking the heart out of the lad"
Audrey Christie is "relentlessly engulfing as the sticky-sweet mother of the girl"
Warren Beatty is a "surprising newcomer" and an "amiable, decent, sturdy lad whose emotional exhaustion and defeat are the deep pathos in the film"
Natalie Wood has a "beauty and radiance that carry her through a role of violent passions and depressions with unsullied purity and strength. There is poetry in her performance, and her eyes in the final scene bespeak the moral significance and emotional fulfillment of this film."
Time magazine said "the script, on the whole, is the weakest element of the picture, but scriptwriter Inge can hardly be blamed for it" since it had been "heavily edited" by Kazan; he called the film a "relatively simple story of adolescent love and frustration" that has been "jargoned-up and chaptered-out till it sounds like an angry psychosociological monograph describing the sexual mores of the heartless heartland."
Awards and accolades
At the 34th Academy Awards, Inge won an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay—Written Directly for the Screen; Wood was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, but lost to Sophia Loren in Two Women.
The film ranked #50 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
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The different mindsets motivating Deanie's mother, who is relatively poor, and Bud's father, who has made a great deal of money in the oil industry, to hold back their children's sexuality are evident in two adjacent scenes early in the story.
In the first, Deanie's mother encourages her not to give up her virginity to Bud, telling her "Boys don't respect a girl they can go all the way with; boys want a nice girl for a wife". Having bid her daughter a good night, Mrs. Loomis then talks with her husband, enthusiastically informing him that their daughter and the son of the richest family in town are in love and that Bud would "be the catch of a lifetime".
In the next scene, Bud's father encourages him to abstain from sex with Deanie, because, if Deanie were to conceive a child by Bud, they would have to marry.
Deanie's mother believes that sex would ruin her daughter's chances of marrying Bud. Bud's father believes that sex, especially pregnancy, would force his son to marry Deanie. One parent wishes for such a marriage, while the other seems to warn against it.
In their discussion of what kind of girl a boy wants as a wife, Mrs. Loomis also tells Deanie that "No nice girl" has sexual desires for a boy. When Deanie asks her mother whether she was ever sexually attracted to Mr. Loomis, the answer is "Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married. And, then, I—I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn't enjoy those things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children." This enhances Deanie's inner struggle—about whether to give Bud what she and he both seem to want, or whether to behave in a more socially acceptable way, avoid the risk of pregnancy, and follow her mother's advice about how to retain Bud's respect—, which eventually drives her to madness.
Splendor in the Grass was re-made as a 1981 television film of the same name with Melissa Gilbert, Cyril O'Reilly, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
References in popular culture
This "In popular culture" section may contain minor or trivial references. Please reorganize this content to explain the subject's impact on popular culture rather than simply listing appearances, and remove trivial references. (July 2011)
John Cougar Mellencamp wrote the 1982 hit song "Jack and Diane" after watching the film.
Splendor in the Grass is credited for portraying the first French kiss in Hollywood.
The title character of the 1973 Judy Blume novel Deenie is named after Natalie Wood's character in Splendor in the Grass. (The movie is also mentioned in the book, though not by name.)
Pink Martini released their fourth album in 2009, titled Splendor in the Grass.
Eric Carmen wrote the song "Hey Deanie" about the character of the same name on his album Change of Heart. "Hey Deanie" also became a Top 10 hit for Shaun Cassidy.
Jackie De Shannon wrote her song "Splendor in the Grass" in 1966 after watching the movie. She released three singles with two versions of the song.
At the beginning of the Single Gun Theory song "Take Me Back" there is a sample from the film where Natalie Wood quotes the poem segment described above.
^ Crowther, Bosley (October 11, 1961). "Splendor in the Grass". NYT Critics' Pick. The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF173DE170BC4952DFB667838A679EDE. Retrieved 2011-07-20.
^ "Cinema: Love in Kazansas". Time. October 13, 1961. http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,939285,00.html. Retrieved 2011-07-20.
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hide tablev · d · eFilms directed by Elia Kazan
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) • The Sea of Grass (1947) • Boomerang! (1947) • Gentleman's Agreement (1947) • Pinky (1949)
Panic in the Streets (1950) • A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) • Viva Zapata! (1952) • Man on a Tightrope (1953) • On the Waterfront (1954) • East of Eden (1955) • Baby Doll (1956) • A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Wild River (1960) • Splendor in the Grass (1961) • America America (1963) • The Arrangement (1969)
The Visitors (1972) • The Last Tycoon (1976)