Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Buddy Holly and I watched Splendor in the Grass last night. I Netflixed it because it is supposed to be one of the first films to openly address sex, in particular teen sexual angst. It is definitely a pioneer of the time and included the first French kiss on film (factoid!). It is also supposed to be the movie that redefined Natalie Wood as an adult actress, transitioning her from former teen stardom. I don't know, I still prefer her in The Great Race. For all its touting of sex and sexual repression, the sex part does not last very long. Really, it might also be titled How Not to Handle Your Hormones. I spent quite a bit of this film with my mouth gaping. Keep in mind, I had had two glasses of Moscato by the time we started this film, so that may have been an influence.

The film is set in 1928 Kansas and, while having nothing to do with the overall sex angst motif, includes many humorous foreshadowings of the stock market crash of 1929. My favorite parts of this film were when the adults would discuss how rich they would be if they sold their stock, but who would sell? Everyone knows it's just going to get better! Gosh, it's great to be rich, here in 1928. Nothing can pop that stock market bubble!

Meanwhile, Deanie (Natalie Wood) and her rich boyfriend Bud (Warren Beatty) are madly in love and suddenly making out just doesn't seem to be enough. Necking in the car is fun but these teenagers have needs and only their dread of moral ostracization is keeping them at bay. Deanie comes home from a date to find her mother has been waiting up to talk to her, about the stock market and how awesome it's going. Oh, and have you and Bud been doing anything you shouldn't? Deanie assures her mom they haven't gone too far but Deanie also wants to know if it would be so bad to feel that way about a boy. Yes. Yes it would. Nice girls do not feel sexual excitement. Nice girls get no pleasure from the touch of a man. Only whores and prostitutes enjoy sex. Literally, this conversation is had:
Deanie: Didn't you ever feel that way about Dad?
Deanie's Mother: Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married. Then I... I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn't enjoy those things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children.

Nice girls do NOT enjoy this.

Wow. Parents, this is not the talk to have with your children. I'm pretty sure Deanie leaves this conversation convinced she is a demon-whore because of her sexual urges. Sexual angst continues, making out quickly devolves into awkward S&M poses and writhing on the foyer carpet moaning.
This happens. And it's awkward.

Bud tries to have a heart to heart with his father about his sexual needs and is told that there are two types of girl, the girl you marry and the girl you sex. Bud needs to focus on going to Yale, he can marry Deanie later. For now, all Bud needs is a sex-girl to get him through and everything will be fine. Wow. No.
So Dad, I've been wondering about this feeling I's in my pants.

Augh! Why is not having sex so hard?!

In the meantime, Bud's flapper sister returns from Chicago as a reminder of the perils of loose-women, jazz, and booze. Ginny (even her name is alcoholic!) has dropped out of art school, again. Rumor has it that her married paramour put her in a family way and then she had to have one of those awful operations. Another part I love about this film is the unreliability of the plot, so much is inferred or rumored. We never see anyone have sex (never would have gotten past the censors) and we only know Ginny is a trollop because that's what the hearsay is. In the end, it doesn't matter if she is or not (she probably is), the rumor is there and her reputation is marred. At the New Year's Eve celebration for 1929 (Wohoo! Great year for stocks everyone!) Ginny gets trashed and is attempting to make out with every man in town, most of whom are married. They ignore her and won't dance with her. She throws a fit that men only talk to her in the dark. She then goes out onto the dark patio, where about eight of the guys who were just ignoring her are having a smoke. One of them takes her off to his car to have the sex. The others follow behind and stand around watching. Gang rape is implied. Ew. Eventually, Bud comes out to save her and gets pummeled for his trouble. Later on in the movie, we will learn that Ginny has died in a car accident. A suitable death for the harlot.
She's obviously asking to be raped, dressed like that.

Meanwhile, in the land of sexual angst. Bud is at the breaking point. He collapses during a sports game (seriously, the kid plays football, basketball, and runs track, I don't remember which sport he's playing when he collapses from not having sex). This is when the wine really kicked in and I started cracking wise:
Movie: *Bud blinks rapidly, runs into a pole, staggers, falls*
Coach: Doc! Doc Smiley!
Movie: *Doc leaps from the bleachers and rushes to Bud's side*
Me: Oh my God! This boy has entirely too much semen in his body! Quick! Get him a prostitute! Stat!

Bud is rushed to the infirmary. When he's feeling better, he tries to have a heart to heart with the Doctor about his sexual needs. Bud tells the doctor about his father's suggestion of finding another type of girl.
Doctor: *smiling* No.
Me: Here, try this pamphlet, My Friend, My Hand.
Buddy Holly: I'm pretty sure masturbation was still considered a huge sin at this time.
Me: Oh, definitely! Hell, it's still considered a major sin by the Catholic church now. Just like premarital sex.
Buddy Holly: No, I mean, I think it was considered to be worse than premarital sex.

Finally, Bud approaches Juanita, the class prostitute. Juanita is a pale, red-head (Juanita? Really?) who is obviously a slut because she wears a knife-pleat skirt and has short, bobbed hair. She's a girl who "knows what it is about".
Bud: Juanita -
Me: I hear, you know what it is about. Can you tell me? I'm really lost.
Buddy Holly: Also, what is "it"?
Also, she looks like Molly Ringwald.

Bud takes Juanita on a date to the waterfall. There, they strip down to their skivvies and French kiss (the hussy!) and then, we are left to presume, they do the sex. Bud's sexual urges are sated at last.

The next day at school everyone knows, somehow. Deanie, walking the dreaded halls to her English class (taught by a woman who has obviously never enjoyed the splendors of the grass), is treated to the stares and whispers of her fellow classmates. She didn't know how to keep Bud. Poor Deanie. In English class, Deanie sits directly behind Juanita.
Me: Oh great. Now I get to stare at her whoreish head all through class.

They are reading Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality. Deanie is asked to read a particular passage:
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.

Oh no, I feel an insanity headache coming on.

In the midst of explaining what she thinks Wordsworth means, Deanie begins to cry and flees from the classroom. She immediately suffers a mental break down and is taken home. Deanie's mother has her take a hot bath, nothing like a good soak to cure your early-stage insanity. Bud is the cause of this, isn't he? Did anything? Did Bud spoil her?
Deanie: No, mom! I'm not spoiled! I'm not spoiled mom! I'm just as fresh and virginal like the day I was born, mom!

This actually was a fantastic freak out on Natalie Wood's part. She's thrashing about in the bath tub, roaring at her mother that she's not spoiled and she's pure and laughing to beat the band. She leaps from the tub and races to her room. Apparently, Wood had agreed to film the whole scene nude, a major first, and much was cut by censors. Deanie's parents consider sending her to a mental institution in Wichita. She's not doing very well. Deanie's mother insists she just needs time.

Flapper Deanie
In her room, Deanie takes on a hard edged but slipping exterior. Bud couldn't wait for her, despite her promising herself to him. Very well, she'll become the kind of girl Bud likes. Deanie chops of her hair and flappers it up. She attends a school dance, jazzed up in a fantastic red dress, with one of Bud's friends, Toots. Once they've arrived, Toots goes off to dance with another girl and Deanie immediately seeks out Bud. They take a walk; Deanie smokes a cigarette to show how cool she is. At Bud's car, Deanie offers herself for the sexing, pleading with Bud to take her. Kudos to Bud for not taking advantage of her in this absolutely desperate state. He tells her to quit it, she's a nice girl. Horrified at being rejected, Deanie runs off and bumps into Toots, who is more than happy to console her.Toots takes Deanie to the waterfall and they park. He tries to sex her. Deanie refuses and runs off to attempt suicide over the falls. She is stopped and taken to the hospital. Doc Smiley diagnoses her as being in "a very nervous condition". Deanie's parents decide to sell their stocks (Uhg! Now we'll never make all that money!) and send Deanie to the mental institution.

Bud, who really wanted to marry Deanie all along, decides to stay away and let her get well. He goes to Yale and attempts to get kicked out, he wants to be a rancher. While there, he meets Angie, an Italian girl who works in a pizzeria. Bud has never heard of pizza. He's from Kansas. Angie has never heard of Kansas. She's Italian. There is obvious interest.

Meanwhile, Deanie is doing well in the institution. She's met John, a young patient from Cincinnati who takes out his violent tendencies on scrap metal - beating it with a hammer while he pretends it is his perfectionist father's face. There is obvious interest (he's a winner, folks!)

The stock market crashes (What? How could that happen?!). Bud's father comes to Yale to set his son on the straight and narrow and break up the whole Italian waitress thing. He takes Bud off to New York for the weekend. At a nightclub, Bud's father insists that one of the chorus girls looks just like Deanie:
Bud's Father: I may not be around too much may be that I haven't always done the right thing by you, boy, and I'm sorry. Anything I might have taken away I-I'd like to make it up to you...(pointing) Up there on that stage - Deanie...Exactly, the same damn thing exactly. The same damn thing, just as pretty. Just as pretty! You've never been fair to me. I did that for your own good. How'd you like to be married to her now? Did you ever think about that?...How'd you like to be married to Deanie with her in that institution?...What the hell difference does it make?...That's the same thing exactly. Just as pretty...You look up there at that...You want that? You want it, son?...You can have it, boy. I'll get it for you. You can have anything you want, anything you want, boy. This world is your oyster.

And he does indeed get it for Bud. Later that night the chorus girl shows up at Bud's room, yawning and obviously tired, but she got paid to come. I assumed that Bud did not sleep with her but I recognize now that her dress was on the dresser when Bud is awakened later by the police. Bud's father, who invested heavily in the stock market, has lost everything and jumped from his hotel window to his death. Bud leaves New York with his father's body and returns to Kansas.

Deanie, we find, is leaving the institution to return home as well. She is engaged to John, the mad doctor. Before she leaves, her psychiatrist encourages her to see Bud while she is home, to face her fear so that she can be with John with a clear past. Deanie goes home to first make peace with her parents, particularly her mother. Everyone dances around the subject of Bud. When two high school girlfriends come to call on Deanie, Deanie's mother insists that they not bring up Ud-Bay. Deanie spoils that by immediately asking them to take her to see Bud. They attempt to side-step it. Oh, I haven't see Bud in ages. Have you? No, no, neither have I. Deanie's father, in one of my favorite moments, tells Deanie that Bud is living at the old ranch. He's confident his little girl can handle this last hurdle and Deanie kisses him for it.

The three girls drive off to the ranch to see Bud. The ranch is surviving but nothing of the former wealth Bud was used to. One of the friends goes to fetch Bud, who is dirty and working with cattle. Deanie has dressed up for the occasion in all white, her best dress, an expensive gift from fiance John.
They meet again, after a number of years:
Bud: Long time no see.
Deanie: A long time....
Buddy see.

Bud asks if Deanie wants to meet his family. Bud married Angie, the Italian waitress, before he left Yale and they have a son, Bud Jr., who is playing on the kitchen floor and swatting at a chicken with a wooden spoon. Angie is expecting and barefoot. The house is run-down and shabby. I'm not sure if we're supposed to assume that Deanie is happy to have escaped this impoverished life. Before she leaves, Deanie and Bud share one last private conversation:
Deanie: You're happy, Bud?
Bud: I guess so. I don't ask myself that question very often, though. How about you?
Deanie: I'm getting married next month.
Bud: Are you, Deanie?
Me: Are you really, Deanie? Or did you just imagine you are in your crazy?
Deanie: A boy from Cincinnati. I think you might like him.
Bud: Gee - things work out awful funny sometimes, don't they, Deanie?
Deanie: Yes, they do.
Bud: I hope you're gonna be awful happy.
Deanie: Well, like you, Bud. I don't think too much about happiness either.
Bud: What's the point? You gotta take what comes.
Deanie: Yes - well -
Bud: Deanie! I'm awful glad to see you again.
Deanie: Thanks, Bud. Goodbye.
Bud: Goodbye.

As Deanie and her girlfriends drive away, they ask if she still loves him. Natalie Wood voiceovers the Wordsworth passage once more:
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.

So, there you have it, folks. Ladies, if you like sex, you're a whore. Gents, if you've got a girl you want to marry, just make sure to find yourself a whore to tide you over. And whores, you will inevitably meet your tragic but fitting end. Actually, the moral I really want to take away from this is: High Schoolers, I know it seems important now, but seriously, in two years, you're going to hate your significant other and be so happy that you didn't end up together. Also, he'll probably lose all his money in the stock market crash.
This face pretty much sums up my feelings about Splendor in the Grass.


  1. Amazing! I both do and very much do not want to view this movie now. I really miss you and watching movies. I want to drink moscato and snark to an old movie!

  2. You have to see it, at least once. I suggest getting loaded while doing so. Watching a young girl go insane because she can't have sex while her male counterpart whores it up is a dish best served alcoholic. And I miss you too! We totally need to have a moscato and movie snark night.

  3. Yes, we must arrange this. Somehow. Unfortunately, I don't know if Skype would work for me, because last time I had it killed my laptop's microphone. Although I suppose there is a small chance that redownloading Skype will result in my microphone functioning again, because Skype ate it.

    On second thought, I actually have a work laptop, which probably has a functioning microphone. So nevermind.