Friday’s Film: Splendor in the Grass

Splendor in the Grass (1961) is another of director Elia Kazan’s dramatic, hyperbolic films with daring and controversial content for its times – sexual repression and neurosis. The intriguing, over-wrought film is a tragic, coming-of-age melodrama from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Inge’s original screenplay – it was Inge’s first story written directly for the screen and he received a nomination (and the film’s sole Oscar) for the Best Original Story and Screenplay for his work (one of the film’s two Academy Award nominations).

The time period of the plot occurs during the late 1920s and early 30s at the start of the disastrous Depression in a rural, SE Kansas town, coinciding with the intensity of a first love and the devastating consequences of repressed sexuality upon a pair of love-struck teenagers. The film’s tagline expressed this theme: “There is a miracle in being young…and a fear.” A poster also described the reality of a ‘first love’ when feelings that are new and somewhat frightening are heightened by a constricting society:

Whether you live in a small town the way they do, or in a city, maybe this is happening to you right now…maybe (if you’re older), you remember…when suddenly the kissing isn’t a kid’s game anymore, suddenly it’s wide-eyed, scary and dangerous.

The film’s title is taken from English romantic William Wordsworth’s 1807 Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood, some of which is quoted here:

Though nothing can bring back the hour, Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower, We will grieve, not, but rather find, Strength in what remains behind.

The mood and story line of the stormy relationship between two star-crossed, teenaged lovers parallels the poem as the adolescents meet, fall obsessively in love and become sexually awakened, face repressed sexual attitudes, parental pressures, turmoil, social constraints and class differences, and ultimately break up and are traumatized without consummating their love. The values of the business-oriented civilization – at the time of its greatest crash – coincides with the collapse of their tender romance.

In a quasi-Romeo and Juliet script, Warren Beatty marked his screen debut (after starring in the Broadway play A Loss of Roses), and co-star Natalie Wood received a Best Actress nomination (her second of three career nominations) for one of her finest (if not the best) screen roles. Reportedly, the stars began an off-screen love affair while making this film – a story of unconsummated passion between a rich midwestern boy and a passionate young girl. [The irony of Wood’s film role here was that her accidental drowning death in 1981, off of her yacht named the Splendour, was pre-figured by the shocking bathtub scene and an attempted suicidal drowning scene at the reservoir.]

Excerpt from AMC Film Site by Tim Dirks

Splendor is one of my favorite films from my teen years, I would watch it on an old VHS everyday after school. I would constantly recite the lines “spoiled mom spoiled mom Im as fresh and virginal as the day I was born.” At the top of my lungs just to upset my mom. Very devilish practicing my acting chops with a very intense scene.

As a virgin mormon girl in AZ I loved the conflict that this movie represented as I went through the same moral dilemmas