Elia Kazan’s production of William Inge’s original screenplay covers a forbidding chunk of ground with great care, compassion and cinematic flair. Yet there is something awkward about the picture’s mechanical rhythm. There are missing links and blind alleys within the story. Too much time is spent focusing on characters of minor significance.
Inge’s screenplay deals with a young couple deeply in love but unable to synchronize the opposite polarity of their moral attitudes. Their tragedy is helped along by the influence of parental intervention. The well-meaning parents (his father, her mother, both of whom completely dominate their more perceptive mates), in asserting their inscrutable wills upon their children, lead them into a quandary. The children cannot consummate their relationship, either sexually or maritally.
Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty (whom the picture ‘introduces’) are the lovers. Al- though the range and amplitude of their expression is not always as wide and variable as it might be, both deliver convincing, appealing performances. The real histrionic honors, though, belong to Audrey Christie, who plays Wood’s mother, and Pat Hingle, as Beatty’s father. Both are truly exceptional, memorable portrayals.
Barbara Loden does an interesting job in a role (Beatty’s flapper sister) that is built up, only to be sloughed off at the apex of its development. Fred Stewart is excellent as Wood’s father.
Exteriors for the picture were shot in New York State, and the countryside looks a little lush for Kansas, which is the setting of the drama. David Amram’s romantic theme is hauntingly beautiful. There’s an exceptional job of costuming by Anna Hill Johnstone. The clothes are not only faithful to the two eras (late 1920s, early 1930s) covered, but they are attractive on the people who wear them.
1961: Best Original Story & Screenplay.
Nomination: Best Actress (Natalie Wood)