It’s 1928 in oil rich southeast Kansas. High school seniors Bud Stamper and Deanie Loomis are in love with each other. Bud, the popular football captain, and Deanie, the sensitive soul, are “good” kids who have only gone as far as kissing. Unspoken to each other, they expect to get married to each other one day. But both face pressures within the relationship, Bud who has the urges to go farther despite knowing in his heart that if they do that Deanie will end up with a reputation like his own sister, Ginny Stamper, known as the loose, immoral party girl, and Deanie who will do anything to hold onto Bud regardless of the consequences. They also face pressures from their parents who have their own expectation for their offspring. Bud’s overbearing father, Ace Stamper, the local oil baron, does not believe Bud can do wrong and expects him to go to Yale after graduation, which does not fit within Bud’s own expectations for himself. And the money and image conscious Mrs. Loomis just wants…
Splendor all around!
This is a beautiful and powerful film – flawlessly acted, directed and written. It is easily the best of the sexual awakening movies that were so popular in the late fifties, early sixties. And why wouldn’t it be – with Kazan at the helm and an original screenplay by William Inge.
The film begins with a similar theme to “Rebel Without a Cause” – that is why won’t parents treat their children like human beings and really help them come to terms with becoming adults? But halfway through Inge does a clever turn-around and allows the kids to discover that their parents are human beings too, with all the weaknesses and frailties that go with being human. At the same time Inge portrays the coming of age of America as the joy of the roaring twenties moves into the gloom of the Depression.
The story is about how prejudice and blind morality destroys a great love – sex shouldn’t be such a huge issue between two people who love each other, but the enormous pressures from outside to either do it or refrain from doing it cause confusion, pain and hurt. Who will ever forget Natalie Wood leaping naked from a bath screaming at her mother that she is not “spoiled”? Wood gives the performance of her life here, convincingly portraying adolescent love, a nervous breakdown, and the blossoming into woman-hood. Beatty too is splendid as the confused Bud. And both are so achingly beautiful!
The supporting cast is superb down to the smallest role. Barbara Loden is particularly memorable as Beatty’s wild flapper sister, but Pat Hingle as his father, and Audrey Christie and Fred Stewart as Wood’s parents are also unforgettable.
This is a resonant film that I believe will be more and more appreciated with the passing of time.