Had he been alive yesterday, would have been the birthday of the great Elia Kazan. So in honour of this I decided to feature a write-up of one of his films which also is a part of my top 100 – Splendor in the Grass. Splendor in the Grass is a movie about sex…well about as much as a movie in 1961 could be about sex. The film is from the sixties, but the story is not archaic. Deanie and Bud are the ‘it’ couple at their high school. Deanie is a good girl and the film opens one night happening upon a passionate make out session in the back of Bud’s car. Yes, it’s the sixties, but this film is credited with the first onscreen French kiss, just so you know. So it’s that kind of movie. Of course Deanie isn’t sure where she wants this to lead and she rebuffs her boyfriend’s overt advances. A sexually frustrated Bud drives her home. Deanie and Bud are from opposite sides of the tracks. Deanie is the daughter of a weak store owner controlled by his wife. Bud is the son of the most prestigious family in the area. His sister is notoriously lost cause even having an abortion back in her day, so the family’s hopes rest on him.
The basic conflict of the first half is the ‘will they, won’t they’ debate. It’s clear that Bud and Deanie want to have sex. And with how Elia Kazan shoots the film it seems there would be no better solution but for them to just do it. But this is the sixties, and Deanie’s mother is nothing if not clear. She tells her daughter “Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married. And, 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.” How incredibly primeval. It’s downright scary. Needless to say, they don’t have sex and when at his father’s advice Bud finds a girl to satisfy those physical pleasures…well, it doesn’t turn out too good. Especially for Deanie.