Natalie Wood received her second Oscar nomination for playing Deanie Loomis, a furstrated teenage girl in Elia Kazan's movie, Splendor in the Grass. Many people were supporting Natalie's win back then and yet I don't think that I would have bet on her back then. Hedda Hopper was raging in her vicious style and writing in her paper that Natalie Wood was robbed of the Oscar. Besides her performance, there were many things going for her, she starred as Maria in West Side Story, a movie that received 10 Oscars plus she was a real star back then. However, she didn't win the precursor awards.
Splendor in the Grass is a very good movie and yet I had some problems with it. Although it was very exceptionally directed and the screenplay was quite good (though not worthy of an Oscar win over La dolce vita and especially Ballad of a Soldier), somehow the whole thing didn't tie me down at all and I quite often found myself struggling to pay attention, mostly during Warren Beatty's scenes, which were quite boring, in my opinion and lacked the real emotional tension. Some things were too shallowly mentioned and not talked about enough.
However, that doesn't apply to Natalie Wood's scenes. Although Natalie Wood's reputation could be better, she's really great as Deanie in Splendor in the Grass. It's the kind of role that she had already played in Rebel Without a Cause but Deanie is quite different from Judy. In some of Natalie Wood's performances, I felt something quite artificial and it was obvious that she was a child actor. The latter could be observed in Splendor in the Grass, too. There was a scene where Deanie is breaking down to Warren Beatty's character, Bud. It was just like watching Elizabeth Taylor, even Natalie's voice was just like Taylor's. Both of them grew up in front of the camera and we can see the old Hollywood in them (and its acting style). However, that's not a serious problem for me.
Many consider this one to be Natalie Wood's greatest performance. Although I haven't seen enough from her to decide, I'm saying that this is indeed the best work that I've seen from her. She excells at showing Deanie's pain and fears without overdoing these emotions. I guess the fact that she had one of the best directors an actor could have (Elia Kazan) helped her a lot and many times I really saw her transforming into Deanie.
In the beginning, she seems to be little bit off and I felt that it was a bit shaky but her performance improved a lot in a very short time. Her presence became quite magnetic and I really just couldn't take my eyes off the screen. In each and every moment, there was such emotional tension in her and that was probably the best way to portray such a character. Right now, I cannot even think about any other actress who portrayed a teenage girl so well. I really can't. There's nothing sugary about Natalie, nothing was exagerrated and each of her choices were good. Again, the guidance of the director was very important but after all it was Natalie who put on this performance.
Deanie is madly in love with a boy named Bud but she's terrified of any sexual contact but in a much different way than Geraldine Page in Summer and Smoke. Natalie showed this fear with much realism and I really felt sorry for Deanie. After all, she gets to a mental institution and the scenes which show how she got to that point are played brilliantly. Deanie sinks deeper and deeper into desperation and Wood showed her transformation excellently. This development is really extraordinary because Wood doesn't look for the easy way, instead she was really fearless and wanted to create something very realistic. And she succeeded. Deanie became a very real character with whom you could easily identify.
Natalie Wood took on a very difficult role and despite some early mistake, she put on a wonderful performance as Deanie Loomis. She portrayed all the fears and the tension so realistically and exceptionally that she became a truly luminous presence on the screen. She develops the character excellently, avoiding all the traps and obviousness that could have ruined her work.
What do you think?