Comfortable and Furious

Starring Debuts #28: Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Sometimes movies are good at showing how things need to change. Imagine you have a hot girlfriend and wanna partake in some silky strokes. What’s more natural and fun? Society, however, insists on marriage first. Of course, you could do it on the sly, but this puts you at risk of unwanted parenthood, curtailed career plans and ostracism, especially for the girl. Bud Stamper (a 23-year-old Beatty) and Deanie (a bewitching Natalie Wood) excel at capturing such sexual repression, desperate to get it on and yet afraid of the consequences. It’s like these two star-crossed lovers are courting in straitjackets behind a sheet of glass.

Yet to begin with, things are looking good for Bud when it comes to etching that all-important first notch on his belt. He’s parked in front of a spectacular waterfall snogging Deanie on the front seat, the raging torrents of water obviously representing their passion. “Deanie, please…” he whispers as she breaks off. “Oh, Bud… I’m afraid,” she responds, unable to stop herself slipping a hand around the back of his neck and drawing him close again.

But then it’s the dreaded: “Don’t, Bud! We mustn’t!” And poor Bud is banging a fist against the steering wheel, once again having to endure a case of love with the handbrake on. All he can do is slam the car door and flounce off.

Initially set during a pre-Wall Street Crash Kansas, Elia Kazan’s melancholy, on the nose and tad overwrought Splendor is a surprisingly explicit examination of sexual frustration and hypocrisy. Most of the characters repeatedly reinforce the myth that nice girls don’t think about sex and when they do finally succumb it’s only for the sake of procreation. Bud also has other troubles in that he doesn’t want to fulfill his overbearing father’s ambitions of attending Yale and going into the oil business, instead wishing to marry Deanie and become a rancher.

“It’s what I want that counts,” he tries to insist. But as Splendor shows, it isn’t. For as his dad underlines: “A boy your age doesn’t even know what he wants.”

Bud knows he’s frustrated, though. He might be handsome, rich and a high school sports star with a beautiful girlfriend but there’s barely one scene in which he isn’t biting his tongue, trying to get a word in edgeways, sticking his hands in his pockets, throwing things against the wall, exhaling, looking skyward, insincerely nodding while staring at the ground or stalking away. The poor lamb’s in a permanent state of bewilderment.

His time with Deanie, a girl he genuinely loves, should provide respite from the stultifying conformity of school, family life and parental expectations, but it just seems to make everything worse. When he goes looking for advice, his dad essentially tells him to bang a slut. A clueless doctor is only able to suggest a shot of iron and a spell under a sunlamp. Meanwhile, his freewheeling flapper sister, who mocks his safe, virginal ways, has to endure repeated derision for defying convention.

When alone with Deanie, Bud often projects a curious mix of decency and lasciviousness, exemplified by the scene where she rebuffs him yet again, prompting him to seize her by the delicate shoulders and force her to his knees in front of his crotch. “At my feet, slave,” he says. “Tell me you love me. Tell me you’ll be anything I ever ask you to be. Anything.” He’s joking but you can tell there’s steel in his playfulness. In the history of blowjob-longing, I’d wager this guy is somewhere near the top. He’s wound up so tight that he’s on the verge of doing something he really will regret.

Beatty is Not A Fave (and he’s outshone here by the captivating Wood) but his 55-year-long career occasionally resulted in worthwhile flicks like Splendor. I guess there’s also some amusement to be had in watching a renowned real-life Casanova having such difficulty dipping his wick. 

Read Matt Cale’s review Here



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One response to “Starring Debuts #28: Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass (1961)”

  1. Don Avatar

    Excellent review and fine writing, Dave. Thank you, I appreciate it!

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