Splendor in the Grass, alas (about the film and Elia Kazan)

From The Forum With No Name:

For some reason Kazan's Splendor in the Grass rubbed me the wrong way. I don't find there the same level of immediate realism as I found in, say On the Waterfront (surface realism I mean; even the characterization in Waterfront has its problems).

Part of it I think is that I'm never happy with the way Kazan scores his films, usually with Alex North's music (here it's David Amram, but it sounds pretty much the same)--what's happening onscreen may be drama, but the music reduces it to melodrama.

Part of it is the American youth movies of this period bother me; I always found even the younger children in European movies more persuasive (400 Blows, Forbidden Games, Zero for Conduct; for adolescent pictures, well, I Vitelloni comes to mind). And the sense you have that not just the Kansas folks but the movie itself finds the subject matter--repressed sexuality--sensational and shocking seems not a little funny (I suppose part of it is seeing this material today).

Warren Beatty is superb--carries the load of Adonis and troubled youth effortlessly on his square shoulders; even at this pretty-boy age you can see he's not just any pretty boy. Natalie Wood I find problematical--she's pretty, but I thought Barbara Loden far more striking. Doesn't help either that Sandy Denis is around--seeing her reminds you that she could play Natalie's role better and with less effort than a duck shakes off water.

Oh, and it's amusing to see Gary Lockwood play a cad; he shows more life here in his few minutes than in all of 2001. I remember him giving off some heat when he and Keir Dullea worried over HAL; he must have been really champing at his bit in Kubrick's movie to cut something--anything--loose.

TonyaJ: Glad you enjoyed Warren's performance, Noe - I thought you might. Yes, I have to say the last time I saw the movie last year, I found the music exasperating (but then you have to remember the era it was made in). Instead of simply providing a simple backdrop to the story, it threatened to overwhelm it. Yeah, we get it, we get it already! Overblown teenage hormones and emotions. I am fond though, of separate scenes in it, like Wood getting up and explaining what Wordsworth's poem means in layman's terms.

ChrisJ: Splendor IS dated and IS overwrought melodrama with a handful of superb scenes. However, I think that's the movie they were making. The gave us the movie they wanted to and we get as Noel has said some performances worth watching. Beatty is excellent. Wood always seemed a bit off, not up to the task of playing this role, I want to like her but she's not up to it and overshadowed by others as Noel pointed out.

However as these kinds of films go, it's an excellent one.

I have a very very sour taste in my mouth for Kazan but On the Waterfront is a great film and Face in the Crowd superb. Streetcar is a grossly compromised film partly because of censorship and partly because Brando just takes over the film--which you could argue he should.

Boomerang with Karl Malden's melodramatic performance is another top notch Kazan film.

Gentleman's Agreement never gets over the fact it knows it's an important message film (anti-semitism)and we've got serious script problems throughout. Peck is also miscast, but for me that works FOR the film.

PINKY is very dated and had censor problems and also suffers from the message film syndrome. Too bad the studio didn't let Lena Horne play the title role---Chickens.

Panic in the Streets is suspense thriller noir set in a very seedy New Orleans (take note) with a message of paranoia woven into the film that worked better a few years after the movie was made...then when it first came out. It's dated but I like this one a lot.

Viva Zapata is also an excellent film from a prize winning John Steinbeck script and featuring one of Brando's best performances. It's a strong step away from Hollywood's safe, somewhat cliched studio epic biographies.. but still has elements of the era that date it.

Baby Doll created a sensation, it definitely has a real sleazy and trashy feel to the film and part of that is created by the need to fudge and play within strict censorship guidelines pushing it here and there and not being able to push it in other ways. The acting and Kazan's direction are superb. Not my favorite On the Waterfront and Panic are those and I'd put Zapata ahead of it too), but one of Kazan's best.

DH1: The problems of Gentleman's Agreement for me were summed up by Arthur Laurents, who said that its central message was that "you better be nice to a Jew because he might turn out to be a gentile."

ChrisJ: Great line--but it was a difficult film to get released and taken seriously--which it was. It's an easy target to deride for a few reasons, but the message was important. Of course just because it was an IMPORTANT film doesn't mean it's a good one and if you could once consider it above average--time has been cruel to it.

Baby Doll's my fave precisely because it's so sleazy (right on, Chris); Kazan got that down pat. Splendor seemed off because you feel even for that time and place the kids were more sensible and crazier (in different ways) than on the screen.

We can call it "Sirkian," but even Sirk's melodramas are more persuasive, partly because he clues you in that it isn't exactly real life--it's very stylized.

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