The Story (continued)
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
In the film's most emotionally-raw sequence, Deanie is soaking and sweating in a bathtub full of steaming hot water - attempting to relax and purge herself of poisons and anxiety. She rocks her head left and right (with her eyes shut) as she sighs feebly and tells her mother that she feels better. But the tension visibly mounts when she is quizzed by her mother about Bud. Their bickering and argument soon rises to a feverish pitch when her mother threatens to call Bud and she screams "Don't you dare!" - and when she is questioned about the spoiling of her virginity:
Mrs. Loomis: What's been the matter the past few days?
Deanie: I'm sorry I've troubled you. I don't want to worry you. I don't want to worry anyone.
Mrs. Loomis: Is it all on account of...because of Bud? Because he doesn't call for you anymore?
Deanie: I don't know. I don't know, Mom.
Mrs. Loomis: I have a mind to call that boy and tell him....
Deanie: (sitting up furiously and screaming) Don't you dare! Don't you dare, Mom! (She covers her face with both hands and lies back down into the tub - and then tries asserts herself, with her right hand covering her mouth.) Don't you dare! Don't you dare!...No, Mom! Momma, if you do something like that, I'll do something desperate! I will, I will, Mom! I will!
Mrs. Loomis: (standing over her) Deanie, how serious had you and Bud become? I mean, well, you know what I mean. Deanie - had he - had anything serious happened? Did he - did he spoil you?
Deanie: (raging and laughing hysterically and uncontrollably) Spoil??? Did he spoil me? (She turns and submerges her head under the steaming water. She flails around and then sits up again.) No. No, Mom! (hatefully) I'm not spoiled! I'm not spoiled, Mom! I'm just as fresh and I'm virginal like the day I was born, Mom!
Mrs. Loomis: Stop it! Stop it!
Deanie: I'm a lovely virginal creature who wouldn't think of being spoiled! (She stands up in the tub and steps out with her arms outstretched.) I've been a good little girl, Mom! I've been a good little, good little, good little girl! I've always done everything Daddy and Mommy tell me. I've obeyed every word. I hate you, I hate you, I HATE YOU!
After confessing her prudish celibacy and that she's been 'a good little girl," she screams invectives of hate at her mother and runs naked toward her room. [Although Natalie Wood had agreed to be filmed nude in the scene, potentially the first ever by a major star in a mainstream film, Hollywood censors cut the shots of her nudity. What is left is a brief shot of her running naked away from the camera toward her room, with only a brief view of her buttocks.] Mrs. Loomis stands helplessly and watches from downstairs with her terror-stricken husband. Deanie's bare legs (on her bed) are all that is visible as she wails in her bedroom ("Leave me alone...I'm not spoiled.") In her locked room, she chops away at her long hair with an oversized pair of scissors - to create a more daring, hardened, flapper-style curl.
Her parents consider taking their daughter to a psychiatric institution in Wichita for mental rehabilitation, but the overbearing Mrs. Loomis denies the seriousness of the crisis and the reality of Deanie's illness: "I can't believe it's that serious. She's bound to get over it in a little more time. There's never been any mental trouble in either of our families." Toots arrives to ask Deanie to attend the school prom with him. She is reluctant and vows she'd be "an awful drip" - but then consents - determined to warm up her cold-hearted ex-boyfriend and show him how appealing and seductive she can be.
Deanie leaves for the Bon Voyage Grads dance (held in the school gym) in a red, slinky outfit, as she hears her mother call out from the porch: "I'll leave the door open...Don't stay out too late!" Toots listens to Deanie's criticism of her over-protective mother:
She's been saying that to me ever since I was knee-high. I used to think it meant something, but it doesn't. It doesn't mean a thing.
Her girlfriends happily embrace her as she appears - she instantly scans the couples for a glimpse of Bud. She notices him dancing with her friend Kay. When Kay asks Toots for the next dance, Deanie seeks out Bud and becomes reacquainted with him in the parking lot. She smokes cigarettes inexpertly, and then takes Bud's arm. He is tentative about speaking of their past, but Deanie can't restrain herself:
Deanie: I know why you've quit coming by...I've got to talk about it, Bud. All I've done the past couple months is just - just sit home and think about it...
Bud: Deanie, I want to tell you something. (He puts his arm over her shoulder.) Every night after dinner, I have to force myself from going to the telephone and calling you.
Deanie: Oh, Bud!!!
Bud: Deanie, I think about you all the time but -
Deanie: Oh, Bud!! (She melts into his arms and hugs him.) Where's your car? Oh, come on.
She guides him to his car and makes desperate sexual advances toward him - to consummate her feelings for the greatest love of her life. Lustfully, she risks everything when she begs him to make love to her. Again he rejects her during the failed reunion - for not being 'herself' ("a nice girl") and for denying her pride. Her emotional frailty causes her suicidal thoughts and tortured madness to resurface:
Deanie: Bud, please Bud, please.
Bud: Deanie, cut it out.
Deanie: Now, Bud.
Bud: Deanie, you're a nice girl.
Deanie: I'm not. I'm not a nice girl.
Bud: Come on, cut it out.
Deanie: (enticingly) I just can't go on like this anymore.
Bud: Now come on, Deanie, we're gonna go back inside.
Bud: Come on.
Deanie: No. I don't want to go back inside...I wanna stay here with you...I want you.
Bud: This isn't the way it should be.
Deanie: Why? Why not? Why not? Why don't you, Bud? Why don't you?
Bud: Deanie, you're not yourself. Deanie, where's your pride?
Deanie: My pride? MY PRIDE!! (He slaps her face as she becomes hysterical.)...
Bud: Stop it, Deanie! (He shakes her to make her come to her senses.) Stop!
Deanie: Oh, God. I haven't any pride. I HAVEN'T ANY PRIDE!
Bud: Oh God, Deanie, what am I gonna do with you? (He hugs her.)
Deanie: I don't care what you do. I don't care what happens. I haven't any pride. I just want to die. I just want to die.
She runs off into the night away from him - into the arms of Toots. He picks her up and lifts her into his car. He bends over her, caresses her face, and then kisses her. Deanie responds to his advances, but then fights him off when they park at lover's lane by the waterfalls - hidden by huge Stanoer oil pipelines. He glares at her when she protests with her fists and mistakes him for Bud ("Stop it, stop it. Don't, Bud, don't!") While Bud is in front of the Loomis house calling up at Deanie's window, she walks on the rocks by the waterfall and then runs across the dam's wall. Despairing over Bud, she jumps into the river - submerged up to her neck - and begins swimming toward the falls. Just in time, she is rescued from drowning herself by onlookers.
In the waiting room where Deanie has been hospitalized, Mrs. Loomis blames her daughter's (she calls Deanie her "baby" and her "little girl") troubles on Bud: "I don't want to see you ever again...He's the cause of all her trouble. He's the cause. What did you do to her tonight?" Deanie is diagnosed as being "in a very nervous condition" by Doc Smiley. Mr. Loomis has resolutely decided to sell their Stamper oil stocks and "send that girl off to Wichita." To complicate matters, Bud vehemently rebels against his father and vows to marry Deanie: "I'm legal age. I don't care what he says, Doc. I'm gonna marry her." But after seeing her delirious instability for himself (off-screen), Bud is advised by the doctor to postpone any marital plans: "Do you want to help Deanie? Then, stay away from her." When the camera cuts to a medium-shot of her face in bed (with a white highlight around her eyes), Bud breaks down in the hallway. She hears his self-pitying bawling and asks the tight-lipped nurse:
Who's that? Who's there? Who's there?...Was somebody here? Somebody was here. Somebody was here.
A melancholy saxophone provides the audio backdrop as the camera pans down on a view of the campus of New Haven's Yale University and Bud in his dorm room - depressed, he wastes his time smoking cigars and playing solitaire, a prelude to getting kicked out. Meanwhile, Deanie is institutionalized - she passes the time by rocking back and forth in a chair by an open window. In a small Italian pizza restaurant, the black-haired waitress Angelina (Zohra Lambert) prevents Bud from ordering more "home brews" by suggesting that he order a pizza to fill his stomach. Amazingly, the Kansas-bred Bud asks: "What is pizza?" Likewise, Angelina has not heard of his home state "right in the middle of the USA." When she asks, "You must have a sweetheart out there," he responds simply: "I did."
In her occupational-therapy class at the Wichita hospital, Deanie wears an artist's smock and paints a still-life portrait, even amazing herself ("I never thought I could do this well, really") and a handsome male patient named Johnnie Masterson (Charles Robinson) who is making a metal-work sculpture next to her. He has been hospitalized with aggressive tendencies due to the pressure his perfectionist father put on him as a medical student to become "the greatest surgeon who ever lived."
Her parents visit for the first time since her hospitalization - six months earlier, and Deanie is at first overjoyed to see her mother. She is embraced by her clutching mother (who calls her "my little baby") and her father (who calls her "our little girl"). Mrs. Loomis assuredly denies that there is any psychiatric problem: "She's just as sound and normal as the next one...There's nothing the matter with you. You just remember that. You - are - perfectly - all right." Deanie, who becomes visibly disturbed by the visit under the watchful eye of a stern-faced Nurse, isn't allowed to make plans to have dinner with her parents, and she leaves them after a very short visit. During an office visit with Dr. Judd, her psychiatrist, Deanie criticizes her parents for treating her like a child: "Don't they realize I'm me." She is advised to "accept them as people with a lot of faults maybe." She has also lost contact with Bud:
We've given up writing. I guess he's probably away at school. I don't know. No one ever writes me anything about him. I guess they're afraid that it would upset me.
The understanding doctor senses that she hasn't gotten over Bud (or her mother's domination) and it would affect her if she saw him again: "Well, maybe you'll feel a little stronger about it in time."
On their porch, Mrs. Loomis complains about Deanie's Freudian psycho-sexual therapeutic treatment and its cost: "I'll bet they've been practicing some of that Freud on her too. Oh, I've read about him. All he's concerned about is sex. And it's costing us every blessed penny we made on our stocks." They are stunned when a radio report from Wall Street flashes the announcement of the crash of stock market prices "in the most disastrous trading ever encountered on the New York Stock Exchange. Fourteen million dollars was lost in a nationwide attempt to unload."
In his hotel room in New Haven, Connecticut (while visiting his boy in college who is "flunking every course" but "doin' just fine"), Mr. Stamper is listening to the same radio reports of the stock market crash in the fall of 1929, and speaking on the phone. He exhorts his business partner to not "get panicky" and "sell out." An anonymous-looking man who has been paid to spy on Bud's social activities at school arrives with information on "what's wrong with him" - he has been 'eating up his time and energy' by becoming involved with a waitress in a pizza place.
Later, in Dean Pollard's Office at the university, the forceful, determined Mr. Stamper is incensed that his subdued son is indifferent to his studies and doing his best to flunk out and "disappoint" him, but still makes excuses for him anyway:
He just hasn't been applying himself. I know my boy. He could pass any course you people offer up here with flying colors - straight A's!
In confidence, Bud explains to the Dean why he hasn't been interested in his work at Yale - he has no aspirations other than to ranch - that's all he ever wanted to do: "I never wanted to do a thing but ranch - but Dad..." Mr. Stamper is summoned to New York due to the financial crisis ("the whole town of New York is jumping out of windows. I mean they're quitting"), but before he leaves with Bud for a weekend of carousing in the city, the Dean recommends that Bud drop out. Not a very good listener, Mr. Stamper is desperate that his son remain in school - and again blames Bud's failures on his association with the seductive wiles of a lower-class female:
Don't give up on him...I had to go through something like this with him once before. He falls for some little girl and then that's all he can think about...I THINK THAT'S IT! I THINK THAT'S IT! I think I've known him a little bit longer and a little bit better than you have. I had to break up something like this once before and I see I'm gonna have to break it up again. (He slaps his hand on the Dean's desk.)
Once again dominating his son's life with rigid and obsessive aspirations for his success, Mr. Stamper takes Bud to a posh New York nightclub for a night on the town. He drinks and generously offers $50 to a cute salesgirl selling kewpie dolls from a tray. Silver-haired entertainer Tex Guinan (impersonated by Phyllis Diller in a cameo), the owner and hostess of the club, walks among the tables jovially greeting guests and delivering a comedy routine: "Hello suckers. I think I smell fresh money tonight. I'm glad you didn't let a little thing like the stock market crash keep you from coming out tonight. Tonight, as I was walking down Park Avenue to get a taxi, I had to dodge the bodies jumping out of the windows. But let's don't be morbid."
At their cocktail table, Bud listens to his father justify his coarse discouragement of a romance with Deanie. With an additional bribe to raise his boy's libido and spirits - he proposes a Deanie 'look-alike' for his companionship that night - he points to a red-outfitted chorus-line dancer on the stage:
I may not be around too much longer...it may be that I haven't always done the right thing by you, boy, and I'm sorry. Anything I might have taken away I-I'd like to make it up to you...(pointing) Up there on that stage - Deanie...Exactly, the same damn thing exactly. The same damn thing, just as pretty. Just as pretty! You've never been fair to me. I did that for your own good. How'd you like to be married to her now? Did you ever think about that?...How'd you like to be married to Deanie with her in that institution?...What the hell difference does it make?...That's the same thing exactly. Just as pretty...You look up there at that...You want that? You want it, son?...You can have it, boy. I'll get it for you. You can have anything you want, anything you want, boy. This world is your oyster.
Embarrassed when his father leaps up to the stage to grab the attractive brunette, Bud leaves the noisy nightclub. That night as he sleeps in his hotel room, a knock on the door awakens him. He opens up his door - and is bewildered to find his father has purchased for his pleasure the Deanie-Girl hooker from the stage. She ushers herself in. A cutaway to Mr. Stamper's room shows him looking at a long string of ticker-tape curled on the floor. His fortune obliterated, he contemplates suicide from his hotel window. Early that morning, another knock awakens Bud from sleep. [The prostitute's red dress has been tossed on his dresser, but she is nowhere in the room.] He is summoned by officials to an alley next to the hotel to identify his father's blanket-covered body lying on the wet concrete. Bud peacefully tells the policeman: "I'll take him home."
The giant pendulum of a clock in the psychiatrist's office tick-tocks loudly as Deanie awaits her departure from the sanitarium. She is dressed in a bright-blue outfit, with a string of white pearls around her neck, white gloves, and wide brimmed white hat for the journey - after being institutionalized for almost two and a half years. She describes her feelings of going home after recovery: "Like going to a foreign country." A former patient Johnnie, who has returned to Cincinnati and is practicing medicine, has proposed marriage and she is contemplating her future with him - though she still loves Bud: "It's different from the way that I felt about Bud - but I love him." The doctor asks a crucial question about her homecoming - and encourages her to 'face her fears':
Will you see Bud when you're home?...Do you think you'll be very happy married to John if you still don't know how you feel about the other young man?...When we face these fears, they sometimes turn into nothing.
A taxi delivers her to the front of her home. After a dissolve, her mother helps her unpack her things in her room upon her return, and worries about her agreement to marry someone in the East - someone possibly with mental problems of a different political persuasion: "What do you know about this young man you're marrying? After all, you met him in a mental hospital. Are you sure he's all right?...Is he a New Dealer?" She laments, with self-pity, about the thought of losing her daughter, and is concerned that doctors blamed the parents for her wrongful upbringing: "I could cry, just cry, when I think I'm gonna lose my little girl...Deanie, did those doctors at the hospital say your mother had raised you wrong, or something? Did they blame your father and me in any way?" Now calm and with inner peace, Deanie thoughtfully consoles her own mother - with a kiss and embrace:
I don't blame anyone, Mother...I love you, Mother.
As Deanie puts things away in her dresser, she notices the bare imprints on the wall where Bud's pictures used to be, and the taped outlines on her mirror of his pictures - she tentatively reaches out toward the blank spaces. Her mother babbles behind her about the difficulties of parenting and guiding children toward "happy, normal lives":
You know, it would be nice if children could be born into this world with an absolute guarantee that they were going to have just the right kind of bringing up and all lead happy, normal lives. Well, I guess when we get born, we just all have to take our chances.
Deanie learns that Bud's sister Ginny "got killed in a car accident" - a fate that a self-destructive, 'bad girl' deserves ("Oh, we all knew something like that would happen, the way she carried on"). And "the Stampers are almost extinct in this town now...Their home has been turned into a funeral parlor."
When girlfriends Hazel (Crystal Field) and June arrive to welcome her home, Deanie joyously and affectionately greets her old high school friends. Deanie readies herself to go on a ride with them - to see Bud. Still with hope in her heart, she selects a special white dress, white pearls, and broad-brimmed white hat from her upstairs closet. Downstairs, Mrs. Loomis ominously and insistently warns her friends about keeping her away from Bud:
The very first thing she did was ask about him. And then she laid on the bed and cried and cried. Oh, I thought maybe the years away, she'd forget about him. Now I want you to promise me. The doctor says she's perfectly all right now, but there's no use in asking for trouble. Keep her away from him.
When her friends cooperate with Mrs. Loomis and refuse to tell Deanie where Bud is living and can be found, she finds an ally in her father - he reveals Bud's location on a local farm: "He's staying out at his father's old ranch." [This is the farmhouse where she shared a double-date with Bud and his sister years earlier.] She walks over to her trusting father who demonstrates confidence in her new-found emotional health (contrary to her mother's opinion), and kisses him warmly on the forehead.
With her friends, they drive along a dusty road to Bud's farm property and ramshackle ranchhouse. She fears that seeing Bud again may rekindle their deep, glorious, and hopeless love - and the emotional breakdowns as well. At an apprehensive Deanie's urging, Hazel locates Bud, with greasy hands and overalls, working on a hay truck behind the house. He boasts "we're eating regular." He is also hesitant about seeing Deanie with his dirty hands, but agrees to speak to her. They spot each other between a long row of tall green bushes - he's in work clothes while she is beautifully dressed in her white outfit with white gloves. They tentatively wave, and then Deanie runs up to him while holding onto her white hat to keep it from falling off her head. They try to remain lighthearted as she looks deeply into his face:
Bud: Long time no see.
Deanie: A long time.
Bud: It's good to see you, Deanie.
Deanie: Thanks, Bud. (The wind stirs the bushes behind him. She laughs nervously.)
Bud: Hey, you wanna meet my family?
Deanie: Of course.
Deanie is introduced to Bud's hospitable, pregnant wife - the Italian waitress from New Haven, Connecticut that he married and impregnated during his first year in school before he dropped out. Deanie is stunned but not overcome after learning he has a family - an infant named Bud, Jr., and another on the way. Lovingly, Deanie holds the baby boy up in her arms and lets him play with the pearl string around her neck. Now a little older and more sophisticated, she can see that her high-school hero is burdened by a pregnant wife and a run-down farmhouse.
As they walk to the car, the short visit has confirmed for Deanie that her former lover hasn't matured much since she last saw him as a high-school senior. But his lifestyle has changed radically from one of wealth and prosperity to the hard-working life of a rancher/farmer. And he seems only half-satisfied with married life. They both have had to accept compromises in their bitter-sweet lives ("You gotta take what comes") - no longer able to dwell obsessively on recovering the intense happiness (and its attendant agony and confusion) that they once experienced. Although she still loves him warmly, she disovers that the affection that they once had could never be recovered:
Deanie: You're happy, Bud?
Bud: I guess so. I don't ask myself that question very often, though. How about you?
Deanie: I'm getting married next month.
Bud: Are you, Deanie?
Deanie: (She nods.) A boy from Cincinnati. I think you might like him.
Bud: Gee - things work out awful funny sometimes, don't they, Deanie?
Deanie: Yes, they do.
Bud: I hope you're gonna be awful happy.
Deanie: Well, like you, Bud. I don't think too much about happiness either.
Bud: What's the point? You gotta take what comes.
Deanie: Yes - well -
Bud: Deanie! (She turns toward him.) I'm awful glad to see you again.
Deanie: (She sighs and affectionately flitters her eyelids.) Thanks, Bud. Goodbye.
When he returns to the house, Angelina senses that Deanie was once Bud's closest love in his life. As the three girlfriends drive off, Deanie is asked about the love of her life:
Hazel: Deanie, honey, do you think you still love him?
She removes her white hat and looks ahead to her new future with a wise, unspoken understanding and acceptance. She has calmed inner conflicts, disappointments, and struggles and put herself back together after the painful shattering of her intense, first youthful love. With new awareness, she realizes she has outgrown the very different, still good-natured Bud that she once loved and worshipped. Deanie has put aside youthful exuberance, grieving, and denial of love to move forward. She has also gained strength from what remains - the memories of her "splendor in the grass."
As she narrates (in voice-over) and remembers the words of the Wordsworth's poem Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, taught to her by her schoolteacher, Deanie peacefully and fully answers the question about her loss of love - one that has finally been resolved:
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower
We will grieve not, but rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
[The final lines of the film, the telling of Wordsworth's poem, are the second instance of Deanie's recitation of the words.]
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AMC Filmcritic's Review of Splendor in the Grass