What’s Splendid About It? “Splendor in the Grass”

Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (1961), set in the late 20s, is about “the dangers of [sexual] abstinence” (Stanley Kauffmann).  It’s abysmally stupid.

The screenplay is flimsy and hyperbolic.  (It was written by Kazan and William Inge; the story is Inge’s.)  It is inexplicable for Warren Beatty’s Bud to break up with Natalie Wood’s Deanie, the girl he loves but who unhappily resists having sex with him.  It is absurd for Pat Hingle’s Ace, Bud’s father, to do . . . well, everything he does.

Hingle overacts, but I don’t think Wood does.  Her hysteria is probably right, no less than her gracefulness—and her beauty is assuredly right.  The look of the film is lovely, but the film itself isn’t.  It’s an unholy mess. . .  William Inge is the author of such decent plays as Picnic and Bus Stop.  Splendor, in which Inge ineptly plays a minister, is merely a homosexual writer’s cloak for expressing the desire to escape erotic inhibition.  This desire is sad, and we can sympathize with Inge even as we recoil from his movie.

Cover of "Splendor in the Grass"
Cover of Splendor in the Grass

 

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