Splendor in the Grass: Narrative Structure of Kazan’s Masterpiece

Playwright William Inge won the 1961 Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Splendor in the Grass.


Detailed Synopsis: How the Action Unfolds Chronologically

The tale begins in 1928 in Kansas.

The central protagonists, Deanie and Bud, are high-schoolers, though both Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood were older (he 24; she 23).

Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Natalie Wood) is a teenage girl who follows her mother’s advice to resist her desire for sex with her boyfriend Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty), the son of the town’s more prosperous families.

For his part, Bud reluctantly follows the advice of his father Ace (Pat Hingle) to find another kind of girl with whom to satisfy his desires.

Bud’s parents are ashamed of his older sister Ginny (Barbara Loden), a flapper and sexually-promiscuous party girl who smokes, drinks.  She has recently been brought back from Chicago, where her parents had a marriage annulled to someone who married her solely for her money, But rumors around town is that she actually had an abortion.

Disappointed in their daughter, Bud’s parents pin all their hopes on him and pressure him to attend Yale University. The emotional pressure is too much for Bud, who suffers a physical breakdown and nearly dies of pneumonia.

When classmate Juanita (Jan Norris) shows sexual interest in him, Bud has a liaison with her.

Shortly afterward, depressed that Bud ended their relationship, Deanie attends a party with classmate Toots Tuttle (Gary Lockwood); trying out Ginny Stamper’s behavior, she goes outside with Bud and comes on to him.

When Bud rebuffs her, shocked because he always thought of her as a “nice” girl, she returns to Toots, who drives her to a private spot by a pond that streams into a waterfall. While there, Deanie realizes that she can’t go through with sex, at which point she is almost raped.

Escaping from Toots and hysterically driven into madness, she attempts to commit suicide by jumping in the pond, but is rescued just before reaching the falls.

Her parents sell their stock to pay for her institutionalization, which actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise, because they make a profit prior to the Crash of 1929 that leads to the Great Depression.

While Deanie is in the institution, she meets another patient, Johnny Masterson (Charles Robinson), who has anger issues targeted at his parents, who want him to be a surgeon. The two patients form a bond.

Meanwhile, Bud is sent to Yale, where he fails practically all his courses but meets Angelina (Zohra Lampert), the daughter of Italian immigrants who run a local restaurant in New Haven.

In October 1929, Bud’s father travels to New Haven in an attempt to persuade the school’s dean not to expel Bud from school. For his part, Bud tells the dean that he only aspires to own a ranch.

Father takes Bud to New York for a weekend, including to a cabaret nightclub. Later on, he send up a girl to his room; Bud thinks it’s an error.

The stock market crashes while Ace is with Bud.  A second knock on Bud’s door informs him that his father committed suicide; Bud must identify the body.

Deanie returns home from the asylum after two years and six months, “almost to the day.”  There are more changes in fracturing the families.  Ace’s widow has gone to live with relatives, and Bud’s sister Ginny has died in a car crash.

Deanie’s mother wants to shield her daughter from any potential anguish from meeting Bud, so she pretends to not know where he is. When Deanie’s friends from high school come over, her mother asks them to feign ignorance on Bud’s whereabouts. However, Deanie’s father refuses to coddle his daughter. A weakling for most of the tale, he finally rises to the occasion and defies his wife’s wish.  He tells Deanie her that Bud has taken up ranching and lives on the old family farm.

In the very last scene, Deanie’s friends drive her to meet Bud at an old farmhouse. deglamorized and down to earth, he is now dressed in plain clothes (overall). His marriage to Angelina produces an infant son named Bud Jr. and another child on the way.

Deanie tells that she is going to marry John, who is now a doctor in Cincinnati–I think you will like him.”

During their brief reunion, Deanie and Bud realize that both of them must accept what life is throwing at them.  As Bud says in his own inarticulate manner, “What’s the point? You gotta take what comes.”

They each agree that happiness is temporary and limited, claiming that “I don’t think about happiness very much anymore.”

As Deanie leaves with her friends, Bud only seems partially satisfied by the direction his life has taken. After the others are gone, he reassures Angelina, who has realized that Deanie was once the love of his life.

Driving away, Deanie’s friends ask her if she is still in love with Bud. She does not answer them, but her voice is heard reciting four lines from Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”: “Though nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower / We will grieve not; rather find / Strength in what remains behind.”

As music plays, the final scene fades out, but significantly, the customary Hollywood words THE END do not appear on screen, reaffirming the moral ambiguity and emotional ambivalence, the notion that ultimately any love might necessarily be compromised.