Chances are, if you’re a classic film fan, you probably own at least a few of TCM’s “Greatest Classic” collections. Each containing four films, these sets are themed around a particular star or genre, with TCM curating their picks for the best of the best films fitting that theme. Today I’ll be kicking off a four-part series reviewing the films from the Greatest Classic Films Collection: Romance. I’ve seen all four of the films included in this set previously, but have not reviewed any of them on the blog.
On to the good stuff!
FILM #1: Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by William Inge
Starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty
The year is 1928. Football team captain Bud Stamper (Beatty) and the lovely Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Wood) have found young love in their senior year of high school.
The two young’ns are devoted to each other, and though they’re not engaged they both expect to marry one another some day, after Bud fulfills his father’s wish that he’ll attend college at Yale. Still, they’re “good” kids who haven’t let themselves go “too far,” despite the temptation.
Bud worries that if they take their relationship to the next level, Deanie will end up with a reputation like that of his sister, who is known as a party girl and has been ostracized in their small Kansas town. Deanie doesn’t care as much about her reputation, instead only aiming to keep Bud happy, but she faces pressure from her mother to be a “nice girl.”
With all of these pressures put on their relationship, will Bud and Deanie’s young love survive?
Natalie Wood was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Deanie. The film was also nominated for and won the award for “Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.”
Natalie Wood’s Academy Award nomination for this film was well-deserved. Any film she stars in is usually worth watching for her performance, and this one’s no exception. She’s absolutely captivating. Those facial expressions! That Wordsworth speech! She delivers a lot of powerful moments in this film.
Also a strong player is Barbara Loden as Bud’s sister. She’s a sassy character and her values completely contradict those of the rest of her family, but she’s unapologetic about who she is. The film never demonizes her. Instead, she is the character that encourages Bud to find who he truly is rather than abiding by their father’s every wish.
The judgment does get to her at times (the New Year’s party scene, for example), but rather than joining her family/the community in judging her, the audience feels sympathy for Ginny Stamper. The treatment of Ginny by most of the film’s other characters is horrid and adds a new dimension of societal critique to the film.
The film is technically wonderful as well: the costumes, the art direction, the lighting, the script. It is a film that quite boldly takes on hot-button issues of its time, using the late 1920s setting to give subtlety to the fact that it’s making very modern arguments. Repression, gossip, abortion, promiscuity, suicide and mental illness are all explored by the story.
Is Splendor in the Grass a bit melodramatic at times? Yes, but then so are teenage emotions, which lie at the heart of this drama. The film is definitely worthy of a spot in one TCM’s “Greatest Classic” sets.
SPECIAL FEATURE: Beep Prepared, a classic Merrie Melodies cartoon
Our old friends Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote face off in this fun little cartoon. Following the usual formula, the short has Wile E. getting himself into all types of dangerous (often life-threatening) situations as he tries to trap Road Runner. Released in 1961, the same year as our feature film, Beep Prepared is a nice addition to the collection, offering the viewer a couple of laughs before delving into the drama of Splendor in the Grass. This cartoon was nominated for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards. (A theatrical trailer for Splendor in the Grass is also included as a special feature.)