Starring: Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle, Barbara Loden
Director: Elia Kazan
Kansas, 1928. Deanie (Wood) and Bud (Beatty) are two teens madly in love. He’s a football champ and she’s a darling good girl, and they plan on marrying each other some day. But outside pressures start to break in. First of all, social pressures mean that as Deanie is a good girl, she can’t sleep with her boyfriend, and is told that she shouldn’t even want to. They have only progressed as far as passionate kissing. It’s suggested by various men around Bud that is he needs to go further, he should sow his wild oats with a bad girl, and he breaks it off with Deanie to do so.
Deanie feels broken, and unable to get over the end of the relationship and goes so far as to try to become a bad girl, willing to do anything to get her man back. But he rejects her for being the kind of girl who would sleep with him, even though that’s actually what he wants.
Deanie’s mother is obsessed with status, and desperately wants Deanie to marry Bud, whilst Bud’s parents feel that she’s not from a wealthy enough family. With all of these mixed messages about how she should feel and what she should want, Deanie starts to break down completely.
It’s a film about the way in which repression twists the human psyche and ultimately destroys it. It’s a very 60’s film in that sense, an era when the younger generation was breaking with convention and rejecting old, repressed ways of doing things, and it makes some valid points about how awful those old attitudes are. But on the other hand, it’s also an interesting, melodramatic film with some fine method actors taking the high emotions just far enough.
I felt really sorry for Deanie, with her attempts to be all the right things and to reach impossible standards. I felt that Bud was far less sympathetic, he comes off as a bit weird to me, but that is part of what makes this film interesting. I did really love seeing Barbara Loden as the ruined flapper sister of Bud, Ginny, who is trying so hard to be free and making all the wrong mistakes. She’s such a firecracker. Barbara Loden was Elia Kazan’s mistress and later wife, and often existed in his shadow, but did manage to go on to be an arthouse film queen with her film Wanda, that shows the career she might have had, if things had been different.
All in all, this film is quite interesting to me in it’s direct dealing with sex in teen relationships, the different pressures on women and men, class divides, and how attitudes were changing and being challenged. This film feels a bit avant garde in that respect, and it feels like you can choose either to get caught up in the message of the film or the drama, and be entertained either way.
See It If: you love a doomed teen romance, this one has drama in spades. Also Beatty’s first film role, so a must for his fans.