SUtS: Warren Beatty

Carrie’s choice: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Airing 6:00PM EST

Since Brandie already had something to say about Bonnie and Clyde back in February, I’m linking to her post about the film.

Brandie’s choice: Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Airing 8:00PM EST

Ahh, young love.

Well, sort of.

The first time I saw this movie was in a high school psychology class. Incidentally, this teacher also showed me Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds for the first time. And I really liked the way she tried to link the concepts we were discussing in class to these movies: for Splendor, mental illness and manic depression, and for Birds, the notions of fear and panic and how they inform mob mentality.

In Splendor, Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Beatty), two teenagers in rural 1920s Kansas, fall in love and wrestle with their sexual attraction. Deanie’s mother tells her daughter to refrain from having sex with Bud because “nice girls don’t do that,” while Bud’s wealthy father tells his son to find another outlet for his sexual frustration because he fears his son will impregnate (and then be forced to marry) the poor Deanie. Both teenagers follow their parents’ advice, albeit reluctantly, and Bud turns to the “town slut” for his own gratification, angering Deanie and sending her into a deep depression for which she must be institutionalized. In the meantime, Bud fights against his parents’ expectations and several personal tragedies as he tries to take control of his own life.

Splendor in the Grass functions as a kind of double-edged cautionary tale for both parents and teenagers. It’s not telling parents to let their kids fornicate freely and openly any time they want; that’s taking the message a bit too far. This is far from a happy portrayal of young love; the warts-and-all examination of the consequences of sexual repression and parental pressure is somewhat chilling in its honesty. Young love is not carefree and misty-colored. It is, in many cases, painful and numbing. And though not every girl (thank God) loses her mind when rejected by the boy she loves, it is nonetheless true that young love affairs should not be dismissed out of hand simply because those involved are youthful; love exists even in our youngest years.

We’ve all been there. Everyone has his or her story. I remember the first time I told a boy (I was seventeen; he was twenty) that I loved him, and I remember, soon after, my father breaking up the relationship because “military men are only after one thing.” In retrospect, I can understand why my father broke us up; he was concerned about me tying myself down to someone at too young an age, and he worried about the effect that relationship would have on my future. But at the time, I thought I would die from the pain, and I cursed my father with every breath. Obviously, I survived, and today, that boy is just a faint memory.

I tell you this to explain, simply, that young love may not always be mature, but in the moment, it’s real. And it should be acknowledged and, at the very least, respected, because the consequences otherwise could be damning, as we see in this movie.

This was Beatty’s first film; he received the role, in part, because of his connection to the author of the screenplay, playwright William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop). By most accounts, Elia Kazan, the director, detested Beatty, whose cockiness bothered the prolific director, but Kazan was nonetheless impressed by Beatty’s talent. And Kazan encouraged the illicit love affair that developed between Beatty and his married co-star Wood, feeling that it added greatly to their performances. And though I am not really a Beatty fan–the cloying arrogance that seemingly radiates from his every pore is off-putting to me as a viewer–I can appreciate how he handled the role and how well he holds his own opposite Wood, who by this time (at the tender age of 23) was a virtual pro in the business.

The result is a moving film, somewhat overwrought by the nature of its material, but still enjoyable. If anything, it’s interesting to watch Beatty at the dawn of his career and to see just how far he came as an actor over the course of his long years in Hollywood.

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