Splendor in the Grass (Alas)

At the Astor

Among the pre-teen set, the back seat of the family car enjoys all the erotic mystery of an Algerian brothel; in more adult circles, however, I had always assumed that it would take more than a necking scene in a Model A to titillate or provoke. Elia Kazan and William Inge seem to disagree with me.

Kazan gave the impression, when speaking at B.U.earlier this fall, that he had created a rather ambitious film which employed new color techniques and took full advantage of the new freedom ceded to American film-makers by the censors. Actually, Splendor rises insignificantly above previous domestic achievements in color photography (compare John Huston's Moby Dick), and it advances only a little beyond Abie's Irish Rose in discussing sex in America.

The story begins with Natalie Wood fighting off her high school steady in a roadster parked by a reservoir in Kansas. She says, "Don't;" he doesn't. Instead, he drives her home to Mother who tells her that nice girls "don't go too far." His father tells him to "be careful." At this point, Inge inserts a series of plot complications that illustrate all the Freudian home truths. Eventually, she goes out of her mind, and he goes to Yale, where he marries an Italian waitress. Many morals could be drawn from this oh-so-revealing analysis of sexual mores, but let's not bother.

It's all been said better before, and so often that I wonder how Kazan could dare to pass this mild little ladyfinger off as a cherry bomb. Currently, the Astor will admit no children under sixteen unless they are accompanied by an adult. If Splendor is going to unravel the mysteries of sex for anyone at all, it will have to reach a younger audience. Perhaps the prevailing admissions policy at the Astor should be reversed, forbidding adults to enter unless accompanied by a child under sixteen.

Even if it were possible to disregard the ineffable cliche quality of Inge's screenplay, it would not be possible to overlook Natalie Wood's abysmal acting. If Sandra Dee stands at the nadir of movie acting, then Miss Wood sits on her shoulders. Her only commendable scenes are those in which she runs through the grass or jumps up and down gleefully with her girlfriends. When it comes to words or sentences, she does not succeed so well.

An unidentified brunette actress turns in the only creditable performance in the whole picture, as the pizzeria waitress in New Haven. It's my guess that she has had some experience with the method, and found it easy to follow Gadge's direction. Anyway, she's only in view for ten minutes or so, which hardly makes it worth-while to pay $1.80 and stand in line.

Yes, they're standing in line. Lurid advertising has activated Boston's libido again, but I predict that the crowds will shrink drastically as soon as people find out from their friends that Kazan has given us the Ladies Home Journal instead of Nugget.