Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Movies I've Missed (Until Now): Splendor in the Grass

When we started to watch this one, I commented that I’d never seen it before, and Livia asked, “How could you have missed it? It was on TV all the time when we were kids.”

Well, that’s true enough, but when I was a kid, I watched Westerns, comedies, Tarzan movies, war movies, monster movies . . . You get the idea. I wouldn’t have had much interest in a romantic drama about dysfunctional families and teenage lust, angst, and madness in 1928 Kansas.

Now, of course, I was able to watch it with considerable interest. It’s the kind of movie they just don’t make anymore. Yes, it’s a little hammy at times. Pat Hingle, as an oil wildcatter who’s struck it rich, chews the scenery shamelessly, but character actors like that could really make it work, and Hingle does here. Mostly, though, the movie belongs to Warren Beatty (in his film debut) as the rich boy in love with the butcher’s daughter, played by Natalie Wood. I’m not sure there’s ever been a movie star as pretty as Natalie Wood, and she’s beautiful here, as always, and turns in a pretty good performance, too.

If you haven’t seen it before, most of the plot won’t really surprise you. Let’s see, it’s 1928 when the movie opens, and people are talking about getting rich off their stocks . . . hmm, I wonder what’s going to happen. However, the way the movie plays out does eventually take some unexpected turns. I was a little disappointed that some of the vital action takes place off-screen and is referred to rather casually by some of the characters, but other than that the story is pretty solid. William Inge, the playwright who did the screenplay, has a cameo as a minister. Always good to see a writer get some screen time.

I don’t think SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS is a great film, but I enjoyed watching it. And it’s one more movie off my list of Movies I’ve Missed (Until Now). (I don’t really have such a list, by the way. If I did it would be too long to manage.)


Laurie Powers said...

I've never seen this either, although I've heard of it my entire life. Maybe it's because I don't particularly care for Beatty. You're right about Natalie Wood though and her beauty. In BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (probably the most dated movie being shown now), her beauty is startling.

Ron Scheer said...

As a kid who saw nearly anything that came to the local theater, I saw this one when it was new. I remember finding it a downer and the storytelling too oblique. Inge was, I believe, a gay man with a lot of (probably justified) grievances about growing up in provincial, Prohibition-era Kansas.

His plays and fiction were often about people with unhappy and unfulfilled sex lives. Holden and Novak are too old for their parts in PICNIC, but it's a wonderful film. BUS STOP is more of an upper.

David Cranmer said...

Add me to the list of those that have missed it. And I may stay in that category for a little while longer.

James Reasoner said...

I've seen clips from BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, but I don't think I've ever seen the whole film. I do remember watching the short-lived, watered-down TV sitcom version in which Anne Archer, also a very beautiful woman, played Wood's part. One of the interesting things about Wood is that in almost every film she made, there are moments when you can still see the little girl from MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in her face.

I know very little about Inge, but when Livia and I were doing research for her Tennessee Williams book, we ran across quite a bit about his friendship and rivalry with Williams. I remember liking both PICNIC and BUS STOP, but I haven't seen either of them in a long time. I believe BUS STOP was another movie that was turned into a short-lived TV series, come to think about it.

MP said...

I, too, saw this when it originally came out, but I was probably too young to appreciate it at the time. I saw it a year or so ago on TCM and found it quite enjoyable. It's hard to believe Wood has been dead for nearly 30 years and is almost forgotten. Like many of the great beauties of the studio era (Monroe, Hayworth, and Ava Gardner also come to mind), she appeared in very few movies that are likely to last. And if her movies don't last, then neither will her memory.