Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

“That’s what happens to girls who go wild and boy crazy.”

In 1920s Kansas, a teenager (Natalie Wood) and her boyfriend (Warren Beatty) struggle with managing their sexual urges while listening to confusing advice given by the adults around them — including Beatty’s dad (Pat Hingle) and Wood’s mom (Audrey Christie).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Elia Kazan Films
  • First Love
  • Historical Drama
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Pat Hingle Films
  • Sandy Dennis Films
  • Sexual Repression
  • Warren Beatty Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “William Inge scripted and Elia Kazan directed what is still the quintessential film about young love — first love, true love, eternal love — which is wonderful but terribly confusing while it lasts, [and] mercilessly cruel when it ends.” He points out that “this [was] also the first film that dared emphasize that teenagers are ruled by their sexual drives and that, because of their immaturity and inability to get practical information and advice from their parents, doctors, ministers, etc., they are unable to cope with their feelings.”

He argues that “Kazan has tremendous sympathy for [the] lovers and beautifully conveys their painful sexual frustration and confusion,” and notes that the film “perfectly captures feelings of most who have met former lovers years later and have been disappointed… by [the] person whom you once were obsessed with.”

He writes that “throughout [the] film, Kazan’s direction of actors is superlative,” with Beatty “very controlled and sympathetic in his screen debut,” but the film ultimately belonging to “Wood, who has never been more ravishing, sexy, energetic, or revealing of her own personality.”

In Alternate Oscars, Peary names Wood Best Actress of the Year for her performance here as “Deanie” Loomis. While conceding that “Natalie Wood was an inconsistent actress whose bad performances were deserving of the Harvard Lampoon awards given her,” he asserts that “on those rare occasions when she played characters with problems to which she could relate, she opened up as few actresses could, stripped off all her protective pretenses, revealed herself completely, and turned in portraits that were emotionally shattering.”

Although Wood and Beatty dominate our attention in the lead roles, strong performances are given by other members of the cast as well — including Hingle as Beatty’s overbearing father:

… Christie as Wood’s over-protective, misguided mother:

… Barbara Loden as Beatty’s alcoholic sister:

… and Zohra Lampert — star of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) — as a kind young woman who takes an interest in Beatty when he’s away at college.

Also watch for Sandy Dennis in her film debut as one of Wood’s circle of friends:

… and Phyllis Diller in her film debut as a performer named “Texas Guinan”.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Natalie Wood as Deanie Loomis
  • Warren Beatty as Bud Stamper
  • Audrey Christie as Mrs. Loomis
  • Pat Hingle as Ace Stamper
  • Vibrant cinematography

Must See?
Yes, primarily for Wood’s performance but also as an overall powerful show.


  • Important Director
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Splendor in the Grass (1961)

  1. Agreed; must-see, for reasons stated. As well, it’s difficult to think why anyone would refer to the film as “terribly confusing” but it’s certainly richly textured – which is why it holds up well on repeat viewings.

    It’s also Wood’s best performance. She’s fine in a number of other top-tier films (i.e., ‘Gypsy’) but it’s a shame that she didn’t get much opportunity to rise to the level of ‘Splendor’.

    In his only (uncredited) film role, Inge appears as a minister who quotes the Wordsworth poem which gives the film its title.

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