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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Splendor in the Grass - 1961

Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) is the rich, popular captain of his highschool football team. Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood) is the poor, nice girl in the school, who would never go any further than kissing a boy. They are both struggling with the problems of teenagers, and the many pressures of their school, but unspoken to one another they both expect to get married one day. However, Bud's very controlling father expects him to go to Yale and live a life that is important. But Bud only wants to stay home so he can marry Deanie. The two are no doubt in love, but they have everything they possibly can going against them.

Well, I gave this a 4/5, but I am actually somewhat disappointed in the film overall. I am a huge Elia Kazan fan, he is in fact one of my favorite directors of all time. Though not reviewed very much, or heard mentioned often in today's time, Splendor in the Grass has always been a big film in my family. I watched it once when I was young, and remembered it being a masterpiece, but after watching it recently a second time it seems that I was very wrong. Splendor in the Grass is a very solid film, but nothing more than that, unfortunately.

Let's begin with the acting, which coming from the 60s it was a little hard for me to judge properly. Natalie Wood's performance is excellent here, but there is a very big problem with it. I know older movies tend to be most known for their terrible music and the over-acting by the cast, but this is a bit extreme here to be honest. Just for a regular viewer, people will have a very hard time getting into this just because Natalie Wood acts so over the top for today's time in film. It is very unrealistic and most audiences today will probably find her acting in some scenes quite laughable actually. But, I am not saying it was bad, it was very good, and especially for its time worthy of the best actress nomination. No real criticism coming from me, but just a fair warning. Warren Beatty debuts in this film, and I know he is not the most popular actor in the world, but he truly does a very good job. Bud is probably the most troubled of the characters in the film, and he takes the role and plays it perfectly on the screen. A most impressive performance coming from an underrated actor.

But the most important part of this review is the comparison between the film's rival "Rebel Without a Cause". Splendor in the Grass is not near as well known as Rebel Without a Cause is, but I hear people say that it is in fact the better film. Unlike most, I do not find either of the films to be a masterpiece, both fall just a bit short at times. But this film really is still socially important today, and made a very big impact at one point. The lives of these teenagers are hard, and often go unrecognized, which is what sparks the problems they go through, and I think that is something a lot of people in the world today can relate to. Everything may be a tad different now from what it was back then, but the story and message still work. I would personally take Rebel Without a Cause first though, as I think it is the more important film, but the concept of Splendor in the Grass is very well done.

Elia Kazan's direction is top notch as always. This was a very hard film to tackle, mainly because of the message it is trying to show, but as always the brilliant Kazan comes through for us. I honestly do not think he has made a film that I do not like. Not one that I have seen anyways. But the writing was not perfect in my opinion, the second half of the film it began to sort of change tones, and that I did not like. Everything came together nicely by the final scene, but that was one thing that got on my nerves a bit.

Overall, Splendor in the Grass is not the masterpiece that it could have been, or that I remembered it to be, but it still brought a well acted, meaningful film to the table. It is far from perfect, but Kazan's direction makes it another solid film that goes under his name.
Rating: 8/10

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