Splendor in the Grass
About the Movie
In 1981, Michelle Pfeiffer played the part of Ginny Stamper in a new television version ‘Splendor in the Grass’ broadcasted on NBC in October 26, 1981.
The original stuff was a William Inge screenplay which was first produced in 1961 as a film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. At the time, it was considered rather steamy stuff, its story of adolescent sexual longings drenched in standard Freudian imagery, most notably the passion-and-purifcation symbol of rushing water.
Twenty years later, in a era of sexual permissiveness, ”Splendor in the Grass” becomes something of a double period piece, reflecting the innocence of the early 1960’s in Hollywood as much as that of the late 1920’s in Kansas, the period and place in which the drama unfolds. It offers the typical Inge mixture of exploding emotions and repression, of unsettling psychological forces being confronted in the dark at the top of the stairs in the most ordinary of homes.
The television movie features Melissa Gilbert and Cyril O’Reilly as Deanie and Bud, the young couple trying desperately to live by the strictly enforced rules. As Deanie’s frigid mother keeps warning her, ”Boys don’t respect girls they can go all the way with.” Meanwhile, understandably aroused by extended petting sessions near the local waterfall – the rushing water is still prominent – Bud is increasingly frustrated and ready to wander off with one of the town’s ”looser” girls.
Bud has to cope with his wealthy and domineering father, played by Ned Beatty in one of his marvelous signature turns of uninhibited but still vulnerable vulgarity. The son would like to marry Deanie and settle down to becoming a rancher. The father wants him to go to Yale and become respectable and influential. Meanwhile, Deanie gets little understanding from her dizzily determined mother, played by Eva Marie Saint in her best neo-Martha Scott manner. While mama rattles on about soaring stock quotations and virginity, her daughter is tumbling furiously toward a nervous breakdown.
On the sidelines is a generous sampling of representative types. Bud’s sister, Ginny (Michelle Pfeiffer), is a hyperactive flapper, whose promiscuous ways get daddy excited in more ways than one. Toots (Jim Young) is the high-school Lothario, who harbors none of Bud’s scruples about premarital sex. And the local physician (Nicholas Pryor) functions as a kind of friendly psychiatrist.
Eventually, of course, we get to the message of the title. A class in 19th-century Romantic poetry is studying the Wordsworth ode on ”Intimations of Mortality”: Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind … Deanie, who has just found out that Bud is going with another girl, is called on to read the lines. In one of the production’s more unbelievable scenes, she begins sobbing almost uncontrollably. It takes several minutes for the startlingly dense teacher to inquire with sudden concern, ”Deanie, are you all right?”
Helped by the stock market crash of 1929, the story comes to no comforting conclusions. Happiness isn’t something the principal characters think much about anymore. ”You’ve got to take what comes,” one of them observes. Mr. Inge’s script, adapted for television by John Herzfeld, retains an ability to move us with its darkly simmering sweetness. The performances of Miss Gilbert and Mr. O’Reilly are exceptionally good. Richard C. Serafian’s direction is, unlike Mr. Kazan’s, sensitively unobtrusive.
Melissa Gilbert – Wilma Dean ‘Deanie’ Loomis
Cyril O’Reilly – Bud Stamper
Ned Beatty – Ace Stamper
Eva Marie Saint – Mrs. Loomis
Michelle Pfeiffer – Ginny Stamper
Todd Elliot – Bill Brown
Gail Rice – Terry Smith
Macon McCalman – Del Loomis
Richard McKenzie – Doc Smiley
Jim Youngs – Alan ‘Toots’ Tuttle
Nicholas Pryor – Dr. Judd
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Teleplay by John Herzfeld based on the screnplay by William Inge (1961)
Produced by Raymond Katz
Executive producer: Arthur Lewis
Associate producer: Hal W. Polaire
Original Music by John Morris
Photography by Ted Voightlander
Film Editing by Robert Florio
Art Direction by Kirk Axtell
Casting by Lynn Stalmaster
Warner Bros. Television
Runtime:100 min [USA:96 min]
Original Title: Splendor in the Grass
Spanish Title: Esplendor en la hierba
German Title: Träume zerrinnen wie Sand
» 1982 – Young Artist Awards, USA
Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress in a Television Special: Melissa Gilbert (Nominee)