The Greatest Stories Ever Told
The 2010 Paramount Summer Film Classics
By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 21, 2010
All Sacrificed for Passion: 'Splendor in the Grass'
Deanie Loomis and Bud Stamper are in love and fueled by the kind of passions and surging hormones that are the provenance of American teens. They are in love but not lovers. This is the late 1920s in rural Kansas, and there are proprieties to be upheld even though the two pant and paw and tenderly poke at each other's bodies through their clothing. Deanie's mother admonishes her good daughter to keep her legs crossed, especially since she knows what a good catch the rich Stamper scion would make – and men certainly don't marry the kind of women who give it away for free. One need look no further than Bud's floozy sister Ginny for evidence of that fate. For different reasons, Bud's father also advises his son to steer clear of Deanie and find other beds in which to sow his wild oats. According to him, sex with Deanie would only lead to pregnancy, which would then trap Bud into marriage and family obligations way before his time. In English class, the Midwestern teens study the poetry of Wordsworth: "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." The repression of her sexual instincts causes Deanie to go stark raving mad, and she is sent away to an asylum where she remains for several years. Meanwhile, Bud fulfills his father's wishes and heads East to attend Yale. In an epilogue years later, Deanie returns home older and wiser and visits Bud, whose family has lost everything in the Depression. Both have sacrificed mental health and well-being in deference to society's ideals about premarital sex. Older and in different circumstances now, Deanie and Bud's pure and innocent young love has been sacrificed on the altar of inherited ideals.
Elia Kazan, who was so good at portraying simmering sexual tensions in the heartland of America in such films as A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and Baby Doll, directed Splendor in the Grass in 1961. No slouch in the simmering-sexual-tensions department himself, playwright William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop) wrote the screenplay. In their work, both artists also had a propensity for delving into the hypocrisies of American life. Natalie Wood, who embodied the new American teenager in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause and the modern American woman faced with a choice between love and career in 1958's Marjorie Morningstar, here gives succulent life to Deanie Loomis. Strapping young hunk Warren Beatty makes his screen debut as the sexually magnetic Bud Stamper. Acquiescence to society's norms has led only to frustration for these young people. Frustration and poetry. They cannot go back in time to that hour of splendor in the grass, only find strength in what lies behind.
Splendor in the Grass screens Thursday, May 27, 9:15pm, and Friday, May 28, 7pm.