Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1961. Warner Bros., Newtown Productions, NBI Productions. Screenplay by William Inge. Cinematography by Boris Kaufman. Produced by Elia Kazan. Music by David Amram. Production Design by Richard Sylbert. Costume Design by Anna Hill Johnstone. Film Editing by Gene Milford. Academy Awards 1961. Golden Globe Awards 1961.
Though this film doesn’t always succeed on its dramatic turf, how many other films were being made in the sixties about women suffering from society’s double standards? Natalie Wood is fantastic as a Depression-era school girl who is constantly being pressured by her football star boyfriend (Warren Beatty in his starring debut) to go all the way. The conflict between being pushed by the boys to be friendlier and by her parents to be more respectable eventually unhinges this young woman and leaves her in the hands of psychiatrists who try to help her out of a nervous breakdown. William Inge’s script has great dialogue but tends to be overly melodramatic, but Elia Kazan fights throughout the whole two hours-and change running time to keep everything as real as possible. He succeeds best when he lets his lead actress shine, for there’s no denying that Wood does some of the best work of her career in showing how the Madonna/whore dichotomy that women are subjected to is false and eventually damaging. On the other hand, the movie completely undermines itself by taking place in the 1930s, as if the issues being dealt with had nothing to do with contemporary audiences; there’s nothing that the financial situation of the country can add to the story that justifies its being a period piece (with very unconvincing period details to boot). Again, not one of Kazan’s best films, but certainly one of the best examples of how much he did for his actors.