Splendor in the Grass 1961 Directed by Elia Kazan. Novel and screenplay by William Inge (Academy Award Best Screenplay) based on people he knew growing up in Kansas. 1928. Parents of Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Natalie Wood) and her rich boyfriend Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) both have advice for their kids. Deanie is told by her repressed/conservative mom to resist sex. With the example of promiscuous sister Ginny (Barbara Loden) overshadowing, Bud is pressured to discretely satisfy his desire with professionals, go to Yale, then think about marriage.
Confusion reigns in the minds (and hormones) of the young people. There’s a rape, several almost-consumations, attempted and successful suicides, an incarceration, a great deal of lying and ultimate resignation. Also with Pat Hingle (terrific), Audrey Christie, Zohra Lampert. Bosley Crowther called it “frank and ferocious.” Pour yourself a drink.
The title comes from William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollectioms of Early Childhood” : …nothing can bring back the hour/ Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;/ We will grieve not, rather find/Strength in what remains behind…Both Warren Beatty and Sandy Dennis made their screen debuts with this film. Critics picked apart the screenplay, but the center holds. Rent on Amazon Prime.
West Side Story 1961 An adaptation of the Broadway musical inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Music and Lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (his first Broadway outing-lyrics only). Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, who created choreography for both stage and screen. Directed by Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise. Ten Academy Awards including Best Picture.
You know the story. American and Puerto Rican gangs – the Jets, lead by Riff (Russ Tamblyn), and Sharks, lead by Bernardo (George Chakiris) – agree to rumble. Tony (Richard Beymer), who co-founded the Jets, has stepped away and gotten a job. Hoping to talk them out of it or at least temper the situation, he agrees to negotiate terms at a local dance. There he sees Bernardo’s sister, Maria (Natalie Wood). It’s love at first sight.
When Maria insists he stop the rumble, Tony confronts both gangs. Tragedy ensues. Chita Rivera is marvelous as Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita. Elvis Presley was approached to play Tony (?!), but his manager turned down the role. Broadway’s Maria, Carol Lawrence was thought to be too old. Much beautiful music, though Sondheim went on to create better lyrics. Great cinematography. Filmed in tenements where Lincoln Center now stands. We await Steven Spielberg’s version with bated breath. Rent on Amazon Prime or Netflix.
Gypsy 1962 Based on the stage musical adapted from Gypsy: A Memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee. Music and Lyrics, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Stage mother Rose Hovick (Rosalind Russell) will do anything to make her daughter June (Suzanne Cupito, then Ann Jillian) a star on the vaudeville circuit, while less talented daughter Louise is dragged along in the chorus of every show. Then June elopes. With the help of smitten manager, Herbie Sommers (Karl Malden), Rose directs her high beams on Louise.
At a rundown burlesque house in Kansas where Louise’s clean performance is meant to keep away cops, Rose volunteers her daughter to step in for an absent stripper. Herbie realizes Rose will never commit to him. Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee) never takes it all off, but a unique blend of come-on and class gradually makes her a star. She finally confronts her mother. Cue 11 o’clock number. Reconciliation.
Russell’s gravelly singing voice was blended with that of contralto, Lisa Kirk, while unlike West Side Story, Natalie Wood sang her own songs. Good score. Russell and Malden are swell. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Love With the Proper Stranger 1964 Directed by Robert Mulligan. A little kitchen sink genre story. Macy’s salesgirl Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood) has a one night stand with musician Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen) and shortly thereafter finds herself pregnant. Her brothers (Herschel Bernardi and Harvey Lembeck) are pushing her to marry a restaurant owner (Tom Bosley-film debut) for whom she has no feelings.
Angie and Rocky scrape together the money for an abortion, but the practitioner turns out not to be a doctor and in a sudden show of maturity, Rocky refuses to let her go through with it. The push-pull of their relationship and Angie’s standing firm for what she wants make up the rest of the film. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Inside Daisy Clover 1966 Based on the novel by Gavin Lambert. Directed by Robert Mulligan. Tomboy teenager Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) lives with her eccentric mother Lucile (Ruth Gordon) in a broken down trailer. Aspiring to become an actress, she submits a demo recording to studio head Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer). He takes over every aspect of her life, even putting Daisy up in his home. Lucile is tucked away in a mental institution. Daisy’s first film is a huge success.
Hiding from a party, the burgeoning star meets fellow Swan protege, charming, cynical Wade Lewis (young Robert Redford), either gay or bi-sexual depending on your interpretation. They commiserate. She naively marries him and is abandoned in a desert motel. Success takes its toll but Daisy eventually (dramatically) breaks free.
The Hays Code toned down homosexual references. Redford reportedly insisted that his character, gay in the original novel, had some interest in women. Likewise the studio, fearful of the potential controversy, insisted that the film only acknowledge the character’s bisexuality through a few bits of dialogue. A failure when released, this has gained a cult following. It is, in fact, oddly intriguing. Also featuring Roddy McDowall. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Brainstorm 1983 Directed by Douglas Trumbull. A research team in brain-computer-interface is developing a system by which one person can inhabit the sensory and emotional experiences of another, replaying them as recorded. The team consists of estranged husband and wife Michael and Karen (Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood) and Michael’s colleague Lillian (Louise Fletcher-terrific).
Lillian is pressured to add a representative of the military to the team alerting its creators that the project will be co–opted for government use. The system is both abused for amusement and sexual satisfaction and positively employed to assure Karen of Michael’s true feelings. Louise suffers a heart attack and records it. Michael and Karen’s son Chris (Jason Lively) inadvertently taps into things of which he’s unaware with damaging results. A fascinating premise with enough thriller aspects to keep one riveted for both reasons.
The film was nearly scuttled by Natalie Wood’s death in November 1981. By this time, the actress had completed her major scenes, but due to mounting financial problems, MGM took her death as an opportunity to shut down the already troubled production. Lloyds of London provided sufficient funding to complete principal photography. When other studios expressed interest, MGM revised its decision and worked with Lloyd’s to put out the film. Trumbull used Natalie Wood’s younger sister Lana for Wood’s few remaining scenes. It was finally released two years after Wood’s death. Rent on Amazon Prime.
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