Splendor in the Grass (1961)
When it was released, Splendor in the Grass was extremely explicit, and some scenes will still be considered that way even today. The spontaneity and energy that Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty instantly bring to Splendor in the Grass gives the first part of the film a directness and a freshness that very few of its contemporaries can match. The acting, characterizations and ambience are alive and vivacious in a timeless way. Inge's script draws inspiration from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, mixes that with a precocious thematization of youthful sexual aggravation and finally backdrops it all against the economical contrasts surrounding the stock market collapse in the late 20s. It's a very ambitious project that ultimately turns out to be too ambitious even for a man of Elia Kazan's calibre. Because, although there are interesting views presented on most of these issues, Kazan has trouble maintaining a thin red line throughout his work. That goes especially for the historical material; more often than not, these are 1960s characters placed in a 1920s environment. Kazan also has some trouble with his pacing and time-spanning. Where he is thorough in the film's first half, he rushes off too often in the latter. Unfortunately, this affects the potency of the story as well as the characters and the relations between them. Only Pat Hingle's powerful performance keeps the film interesting on more levels than the one it's really all about: sex. Arguably the first film to really come out and discuss sex openly - even if the word is never said. Wood and Beatty sure has the energy to depict the frustration their characters go through. And it probably wasn't too hard to empathize: the two stars' much publicized relationship started just after the filming had finished. Beatty's debut; Wood was Oscar-nominated.