Splendor In The Grass (1961) ★★★★★ 5/5
Amazing movie. This is one of the best movies I have ever seen without any question and has placed Natalie Wood on a whole new level for me. Wood plays Deanie Loomis, an all American girl in 1928 who is living the perfect life. Her family is middle class, but optimistic about stocks they have. Although they are not wealthy, they are happy and living above their means. Deanie is successful in school and well liked. She is pretty, popular and dating the star football player, Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty). He is athletic, has perfect looks, and comes from a wealthy family. The two share a typical teenage romance. They enjoy their time together and their romance is innocent. Both of their parents warn of issues that may arise if the romance goes to far, referring specifically to sex.
Bud begins to have stronger desires the more the two are together. He becomes confused and grows annoyed their relationship hasn't progressed beyond simple kissing and holding. Essentially, he wants sex. Likewise, Deanie questions her own sexual needs and tries to determine herself how to maintain her chastity. Bud has a sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), who confuses his perception on sex completely as she does not hold back at all in her relationships, which are primarily based on sex. At one point, she nearly becomes raped as a group watches. From this, Bud realizes he can't keep seeing Deanie because he may not be able to resist his sexual urges. His Father (Pat Hingle) explains that he needs to find a different kind of girl to meet those needs. Bud does just that with Juanita Howard (Jan Norris).
Upon finding out what Bud has done, Deanie become depressed, nearly suicidal and throws herself at Bud. Knowing the difference between a good girl and a bad, he turns her down. Finally, she breaks down physically and emotionally. Her parents (Audrey Christie & Fred Stewart) send her to a psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, Bud, still in love with Deanie and still knowing she is the right girl for him, becomes careless with his own life and loses sight of his goals. Deanie is institutionalized, yet he still loves her. Because of poor performance in college, his Father visits and tries to convince him that he can take any girl he wants and that Deanie is replaceable.
Years pass and Deanie comes home. Although time has passed, her love for Bud has not. While her Mother protests her seeing him, her father tells her where he can find Bud, at his Father's ranch. Deanie visits Bud, meets his wife, and realizes that although she loves him still, she might possibly love that the relationship is nothing more then a fond memory. The finale leaves for several interpretations, which add to the beauty of the film.
Natalie Wood's performance in this film rivals that of all her other work. Transforming from a perfectly lovable girl next door to an emotionally unstable wreck, there is never a moment of doubt as to what her character is going through. The character development is well played and highly believable. She is surrounded by a cast that plays to every aspect of the film. It is the surrounding characters who help define what Deanie and Bud believe in. Just as they impact Deanie and Bud, everything Deanie says and does impacts every other character. Whether it is the teacher, kids in the hall, Juanita, the doctors or Bud. Rarely does a film intertwine the characters so perfectly no matter how large or small their role is.
The use of the camera compliments everything about the film too. Complex scenes are easily adapted to the screen. Among those are the scene where Deanie reads a poem aloud in class as Juanita listens, Ginny's drunken antics as she wanders from the ballroom to the parking lot and Deanie's walk to the falls. Color is placed to focus attention on key elements in various scenes.
From a story perspective, it is so very complex and absolutely deserving of the Academy Award it won for the screenplay. When broken down, the topic of teenage sex has consequences regardless as to whether it happens or not. The pressure to avoid human instincts and urges can be maddening and cause mental and social suffering. At the same time, the act itself can cause just as much turmoil from pregnancy to negative labels. Decades later the double edge sword still exists where the perception a man can ensure his sexual needs are met if they are met by a girl to serve that need. Yet, a young woman who desires to have her needs met is ridiculed and scorned. Deanie and Bud were truly in love with each other and intended to marry. They both had urges and were directed away from them. This prompted the decline in both of their lives. Bud took the advice of his father and his sexual needs were met, but they were met at the expense of his relationship with Deanie. He loved her, but was convinced that because she was good he should not have sex with her. Deanie was not allowed to have her needs met and the betrayal of her true love drove her insane. It's a very complex storyline and the actions taken to cause and prevent what happened to the central characters could be debated on many levels.
The final scene is amazing. Here are two people who were completely in love and planning on spending their lives together. After time has passed, they are nearly strangers, yet you can see there are still feelings. Neither seem to be truly happy with the outcome and have merely accepted life as it now is, realizing that what they had left behind them in time was quite possibly the finest moments of their lives. you can almost see that while they are not happy, they question whether or not happiness would have lasted and carried on through their relationship had they stayed together. It's a tender moment. Sad, yet at the same time freeing.
Literally everything about this film is amazing. Without a doubt this ranks as one of Natalie Wood's finest performances in a career that has no real low points.