Yesterday I watched the movie Splendor in the Grass, a very memorable film I first saw in 1961. At the time I was still a kid, thirteen years old, immature and not very worldly. We lived in a rural setting in very conservative Indiana and didn’t get to go to many movies, so were always eager for an opportunity to see one. Sometimes my parents would take us to a movie, sometimes my uncle, who loved those classic big Westerns would invite us kids along when he went, and there were a few times when my grandparents would take us to a movie theater.
My grandmother was an extremely religious person, who drove all of us kids crazy with her moralizing and pushing religious teaching on us. I always felt sort of sorry for my grandfather, who had to struggle to get a television, and when grandma finally allowed it, she would not allow it to be watched on Sundays.
One evening my grandparents invited my sister and I go to the movies. We didn’t really know anything about what we were going to see, but we were anxious to go. It turned out that the movie we were taken to was Splendor in the Grass.
Splendor in the Grass was about two teens; Bud (Warren Beatty) and “Deanie” (Natalie Wood). They fall passionately in love with each other and struggle terribly to resist their raging hormones to obey the wishes of their parents. They succeed in fighting off their extremely strong desires, leading Deanie to attempt suicide, then end up institutionalized for 2 and a half years after an emotional breakdown.
Bud submits, goes of to Yale, following his domineering father’s wishes, only to flunk out because of his lack of motivation. Years later they meet, still in love with each other, but their futures have changed, Bud now married with a young son, and Beanie about to be married. They both admit that they “don’t think about happiness any more.”
It was an uncomfortable night for my sister and I and very uncomfortable for my grandparents, when they began to see what was happening on the big screen. It was full of carousing, and sexual suggestion.
Surprisingly my grandparents, sister and I, stayed through the whole movie. Afterwards, on the way home, I could tell, that my grandmother had difficulty justifying the movie choice, and she told us something like, “Well, I guess you can see what can happen if you aren’t careful with your behavior.” and left it at that.
Clearly, this was not a film aimed at a naive 13 year old, so it has always puzzled me why my sister and I were taken to see it. I am sure it was some kind of mistake, but I don’t know what caused it. “Splendor in the grass” is a phrase taken from a Wordsworth poem, maybe my grandmother thought the film would be more literary and poetic.
I did enjoy re-watching the film again and I appreciated it more, now as an adult, and not as an embarrassed kid.
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