Friday, February 23, 2024

2024 Blind Spot Series: Splendor in the Grass


Directed by Elia Kazan and written by William Inge, Splendor in the Grass is the story of a young woman’s love for a young man from a rich family in Kansas has them wanting to take a big step as they deal with a lot of things in its aftermath. The film is a coming-of-age romantic film that explores two high school sweethearts who fall in love and embark on new places into their relationship as it would delve into chaos and heartbreak. Starring Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle, Audrey Christie, Barbara Loden, Zohra Lampert, Joanna Roos, and introducing Warren Beatty. Splendor in the Grass is a rich and ravishing film from Elia Kazan.

Set in 1928 Kansas, the film revolves around a relationship between a working class girl and a young rich boy who fall in love and want to take the next step into their relationship yet expectations and pressures from their parents about their individual futures and such would drive the couple apart and into chaos. It is a film that explores young love between two high school kids who are devoted to each other yet both of them are from different social statuses despite attending the same high school as well as their parents wanting to do something for their futures as well as wanting to keep them together. William Inge’s screenplay is largely straightforward as it opens with Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Natalie Wood) and Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) making out in his car as the latter wants to go forward but the former is reluctant for the relationship to be sexual. Still, the two want to maintain a relationship with Stamper wanting to marry Deanie in the future yet his father Ace Stamper (Pat Hingle) has plans for him to take over the family business even though Bud knows he doesn’t have the grades to go to Yale.

While Deanie lives comfortably despite her being over-protected by her mother (Audrey Christie), she is eager to become Stamper’s wife though is still reluctant to lose her virginity while also having to watch the dysfunctional world that is Stamper’s family. Notably as his older sister Ginny (Barbara Loden) has returned home from Chicago from an annulled marriage as well as a getting an abortion done, which was illegal at the time, where she becomes a source of discord for the family. Even as her behavior would create gossip with Ace wanting to focus more on Bud’s future where he convinces Bud to break up Deanie temporarily as the result would be chaotic with Deanie becoming erratic over its break-up. The two would endure their own separate journeys where Stamper deals with the futility of expectations while Deanie goes on her own journey to discover herself.

Elia Kazan’s direction is evocative in not just the richness of its compositions but also in its overall presentation as it plays into a world where parents are expecting this great future emerging just a year before the Crash of 1929 that lead to the Great Depression. Shot largely at the Filmways Studios in New York City with exterior locations shot on Staten Island and High Falls, New York, Kazan creates a film that plays into a period in time where Prohibition was still happening though the rich were able to get alcohol through some illegal means and get away with it. Even as Kazan shows how Ace Stamper is able to get alcohol in those times as he is a rich man with oil wells and cattle ranches where he wants Bud to run these things in the future though Bud is more interested in just wanting to run a ranch. Kazan plays into this sense of generational gap involving Deanie and Bud against the expectations of their parents as Kazan’s unique compositions in his close-ups and medium shots play into the melodrama and dramatic suspense.

There are some wide shots in Kazan’s direction in the way he films scenes in Kansas including this waterfall area for the film’s first scene as well as a couple of key moments that would play into the Deanie and Bud’s dissolution. Kazan also maintains this air of sexual innuendo in the way Ginny presents herself as well as a scene of Deanie in a bathtub as she is talking to her mother as she would act erratically over what happened with Bud. It would play into this third act of Bud and Deanie living separate lives but also confront their own issues with themselves but also gain an understanding of what their parents want. Notably as Bud’s time in Yale produces poor results in a scene with him, his father, and Yale’s dean (Kermit Murdock) where Kazan definitely shows who is running the conversation as that person is starting to unravel with Bud caught in the middle. Its ending refers to a poem by William Wordsmith that Deanie struggled to read and comprehend in its second act as it would return as a way to express what she and Bud had endured but also the choices they would make as adults. Overall, Kazan crafts an intoxicating and exhilarating film about high school sweethearts whose love life is disrupted by the demands of adulthood and the expectations of their families.

Cinematographer Boris Kaufman does amazing work with the film’s cinematography in the richness of the daytime exterior locations as well as the usage of lights for some of the interior scenes at night along with an emphasis on low-key lighting for the exterior scenes at night. Editor Gene Milford does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the melodrama as well as some lighthearted moments in the film. Production designer Richard Sylbert and set decorator Gene Callahan do brilliant work with the interiors of the Loomis family home in its simple yet classy style that is a sharp contrast to the way more refined world of the Stamper family estate with all of its bigger rooms and such. Costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone does fantastic work with the costumes with the dresses that the women wear being a highlight including some of the clothes that Deanie would wear later in her life as well as the raunchy clothes that Ginny wears.

Hairdresser Willis Hanchett and makeup artist Robert Jiras do terrific work with the hairstyles that the women wear at the time including Deanie’s hairstyle in the film’s first and second act as well as a more refined look in the third act. Sound editor Frank Lewin does superb work with the sound in the way waterfall sounds from its location up-close and from afar as well as the way a room is presented in its location. The film’s music by David Amram is incredible for its jazz-like score that features some saxophone and piano to play into the melodrama and romance that includes some orchestral flourishes with a soundtrack filled with the music of the times.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Ivor Francis as Deanie’s psychiatrist Dr. Judd, screenwriter William Inge as the local pastor Reverend Whitman, Kermit Murdock as the dean of Yale in Dean Pollard, Phyllis Diller in her film debut as the famed performer Texas Guinan, Martine Bartlett as the school literature teacher Miss Metcalf, the duo of Sandy Dennis and Crystal Field as two of Deanie’s friends in Kay and Hazel, Charles Robinson in an un-credited performance as a young man that Deanie meets in a hospital in John, Gary Lockwood as a friend/teammate of Bud in Toots, Jan Norris as a slutty classmate of Deanie in Juanita Howard, and John McGovern as Doc Smiley who becomes concerned for Bud’s health following a collapse at a basketball game while also believing that Bud is being put into a lot of pressure from his father. Joanna Roos is wonderful as Bud and Ginny’s mother who is supportive of Bud’s relationship with Deanie though she has great concerns over her husband’s ambitions and the pressure he put on their son. Fred Stewart is superb as Deanie’s father Del Loomis as a man who runs a small shop next to the house as he is this low-key person that doesn’t try to cause trouble while is also doing what he can to make Deanie feel happy as he would also feel that his wife is smothering her.

Zohra Lampert is fantastic as Angelina as this young Italian immigrant that Bud meets in Yale as she would help him see things differently as well as be an important person to him later in his life. Audrey Christie is excellent as Deanie’s mother who is protective of Deanie as she also sees her as a young girl as she unknowingly would smother her as it would add to Deanie’s emotional and mental troubles. Barbara Loden is brilliant as Bud’s older sister Ginny as this young woman who likes to push her father’s buttons as well as be this ultimate rebel though it would also put her in danger including an attempted rape on her as she’s also gained notoriety for all of the wrong reasons. Pat Hingle is amazing as Bud’s father Ace Stamper as this rich oilman who expects so much from Bud to succeed him as he talks a lot while also making some bad suggestions as he would help play a role in Bud and Deanie’s break-up as he is really a complex man that is severely flawed and tries to control so many things in his life.

Finally, there’s the duo of Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in tremendous performances in their respective roles as Bud Stamper and Deanie Loomis. Beatty in his debut performance has all of the attributes of a high school sports star in terms of its physiques and looks yet it is Beatty’s vulnerability that makes Bud compelling to watch as someone who is aware of his flaws and shortcomings as well as the fact that he doesn’t have his father’s ambitions. Wood exudes a radiance in her performance as a young woman that has an air of innocence but is also someone who had been too sheltered leading to an emotional breakdown and issues that would allow her to act out where Wood brings in that intensity to a young woman that is unraveling. Beatty and Wood together have this amazing chemistry as a young couple in love but one of them wants to get more physical but other isn’t willing as it causes problems with Ace getting involved as it adds to the drama as the two are a major highlight to watch.

Splendor in the Grass is an outstanding film from Elia Kazan that features great leading performances from Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty. Along with its supporting ensemble cast, wondrous visuals, a fiery music score, and a story of young love and the expectations of adulthood. It is a film that explores two young people wanting to devote their love for one another only to cope with life changes and the move into adulthood as well as the demanding hopes of their parents. In the end, Splendor in the Grass is magnificent film from Elia Kazan.

Elia Kazan Films: (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) – (The Sea of Grass) – (Boomerang!) – (Gentleman’s Agreement) – (Pinky) – (Panic in the Streets) – A Streetcar Named Desire - (Viva Zapata!) – (Man on a Tightrope) – On the Waterfront - (East of Eden) – (Baby Doll) – (A Face in the Crowd) – (Wild River) – (America America) – (The Arrangement) – (The Visitors (1972 film)) – (The Last Tycoon)

© thevoid99 2024


ruth said...

Oooh! I've been wanting to see Splendor in the Grass, esp with Elia Kazan as director. WOW Warren Beatty was so gorgeous back then wasn't he, didn't realize this was his acting debut. Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-Thanks. This film blew me away as it was a film my dad raved about for much of his life as now I understand why. Plus, Natalie Wood... wow!

It's a shame she's been dead for so many years and her lowlife cunt of a sister in Lana has been spreading lies about Robert Wagner and Kirk Douglas. Plus, having watched that documentary about Natalie Wood. I find it to be really fucked up considering that this woman who claims to love her sister so much yet never bothered to have any relationship with her nieces when Natalie was still alive.