Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind."
Wood and Beatty are Deanie Loomis and Bud Stamper, two high-school sweethearts in a small town in 1928 Kansas. Bud's father (Pat Hingle) is the richest man in town, owning an oil company, while Deanie's parents are shopkeepers. The real conflict between the two is not the class difference, however, but their intense desire to have sex with each other, and the social guidelines in small-town America in The Roaring '20s that won't let them consummate their relationship. Bud and Deanie's sexual frustration impacts their lives and the lives of several people around them.
Splendor in the Grass marked Wood's arrival as a serious adult actress after starting out as a child actress and transitioning to "teenager" roles in films like Rebel Without a Cause; her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. (William Inge was also nominated, and won, for his original screenplay.) This film is also notable as Warren Beatty's film debut; he would become one of the cinematic heartthrobs of the '60s and '70s.
- Affectionate Nickname: "Deanie" for Wilma Dean Loomis.
- All Women Are Prudes: Deconstructed. 1920s American society expects women to be like that; when Deanie asks her mother if she ever felt "that way" about her husband, she explains that that no nice girl has sexual desires, and she never enjoyed sex with him (see Lie Back and Think of England below). This causes Deanie to feel guilty about her own desires and prevents her from consummating her relationship with Bud, which eventually leads to heartbreak.
- Auto Erotica: In the opening scene, Bud and Deanie are making out in Bud's car. Deanie won't let Bud go any further.
- Bathtub Scene: Probably the most famous scene in the movie, in which a mentally-unraveling Deanie has a confrontation with her mom while taking a bath. Besides providing some Natalie Wood fanservice, it also provides a big Natalie Wood acting moment, with Deanie's angry reaction to her mother's probing questions about whether Bud and Deanie ever had sex.
- Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Deanie tries this and fails. Apparently Bud is just not able to see her in that way, or maybe she just came on too strong. In any event, her effort to seduce Bud at the dance fails.Bud: Deanie, you're a nice girl.
Deanie: I'm not. I'm not a nice girl.
- Coincidental Broadcast: A well-timed radio bulletin about the stock market crash of October 1929.
- Creator Cameo: Screenwriter William Inge briefly appears as a minister.
- Date Rape: Seems to be part of the package of being a "bad" girl. Both cases double as Attempted Rape.
- At the New Year's party, a very inebriated Ginny stumbles into a car with a man she knows, who may or may not be her current boyfriend. He starts to force himself on her even though she says no, and they're surrounded by a group of men who seem to be enjoying the show. Bud manages to rescue her before things get too far.
- At the end of the year ball, after Bud turns her down Deanie ends up in a car at make-out point with her original date. She has to physically fight off his advances and runs away.
- Defiled Forever: Mrs. Loomis's view of sex before marriage, as revealed in her question to Deanie. "Did he...spoil you?"
- Did Not Get the Girl: At the end of the movie, Bud is married to someone else and Deanie is engaged to be married.
- Dramatic Irony: "Your father says that everyone at the Elks says stocks are going up higher", says Deanie's mom. Unusually, the Loomises escape destruction when they sell their stocks before the crash—but the Stampers don't.
- Driven to Suicide: Bud's father kills himself after he's ruined in the crash. Deanie attempts to drown herself after she fails to seduce Bud, but she's rescued just in time.
- The Flapper: Bud's sister Ginny, with her cocktail dresses and her bob haircut and her smoking and her dancing and her drinking and her extreme sluttiness and her ukulele-playing. A pretty negative example, however, as Ginny obviously has some deep psychological problems. (Toward the end of the film it's revealed that she was killed in a car accident.)
- Sometime in the fall of 1928, the Stampers and Loomises attend a church service where the minister notes that it's "a time of great prosperity for us all", but admonishes his flock by quoting Matthew 6:19-20 ("Lay not up treasures for yourself on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do break through and steal..."). A year later, both families are blindsided by the infamous stock-market crash.
- Shortly after said crash, Bud's father takes him to a New York speakeasy, where the hostess (played by Phyllis Diller, and based on real-life entertainer Texas Guinan) jokes about having to "dodge the bodies jumping out of windows" while trying to get a taxi. Later that night, his father kills himself by jumping from his hotel window.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Ginny is definitely not a good girl, as a rebellious Really Gets Around type, and she got an abortion in Chicago before the events of the movie began.
- Important Haircut: Deanie cuts her hair before trying to seduce Bud, to get rid of her "nice girl" looks.
- Lady in Red: Deanie goes to the end of the year dance wearing all red, symbolizing her newly vampish behavior and foreshadowing her attempt to seduce Bud.
- Lie Back and Think of England: Mrs. Loomis's attitude towards sex, as she explains while giving Deanie some very, very bad advice."I just gave in because I had to. A woman doesn't enjoy those things the way a man does."
- Literary Allusion Title: It's a quote from William Wordsworth's poem "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood".
- Love Doodles: Deanie spends one class period doodling in her notebook instead of paying attention. She writes her boyfriend's name over and over again, surrounded by hearts and in cursive as if in a wedding invitation.
- MadonnaWhore Complex: A major theme, and deconstructed throughout. Adults repeatedly tell Bud and Deanie that there are "two kinds of girls": one that's ok to marry, and one that's not. Bud's father explicity tells him that he shouldn't have sex with the first kind, and should seek gratification in the second. This causes a great deal of drama and distress for Bud and Deanie, who are in love and very sexually attracted to each other but are forced to repress their desires; these expectations eventually destroy their relationship.
- Make-Out Point: There's a road overlooking a waterfall which is popular for all the teens to go and make out/have sexual encounters. Deanie and Bud spend many evenings there, and many couples are interrupted when Deanie tries to jump off the waterfall.
- My Beloved Smother: Deanie's mother is very overbearing and hyperconcerned with her daughter's virginity. In one scene at the mental hospital, Deanie is in a great mood and seemingly doing great, until her mother's excessive judgement causes her to become mentally disturbed once again.
- New Year Has Come: Deanie tries to seduce Bud at the New Year's party for 1928-29.
- Nouveau Riche: Bud's wealthy-but-boorish father.
- Parental Favoritism: Bud's father blatantly favors him over Ginny, whom he considers a disappointment.
- Quirky Ukulele: Ginny is an early Unbuilt Trope example. She's a liberated Flapper girl who wants to be an artist and is far hipper than anyone else in her small town, and her main hobby is playing the Ukulele, which she plays along to Jazz records. She dates many men, who clearly see her as a fun breath of fresh air, but unlike in later examples she's not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead, her promiscuity ruins her reputation and is implied to stem from mental issues.
- Really Gets Around: Juanita Howard has a reputation for this, which is why a frustrated Bud starts dating her instead of Deanie. And then there's Bud's sister Ginny, who is this trope taken to an unhealthy extreme.
- Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Deanie is tortured by her desire for Bud, since she was taught that nice girls don't have sexual desires.
- Slice of Life: There really is no "story" in the traditional scene, with a conflict, rising action, and a climax. Instead it's a character study of Deanie and Bud, how society won't allow them to act on their urges, and the damage to their lives that this causes.
- Title Drop: The passage of the William Wordsworth poem containing the title phrase is read out in English class, and recited again by Deanie in voiceover at the end of the film.
- Toplessness from the Back: From Natalie Wood during the Bathtub Scene (see above).
- Uptown Girl: Gender-swapped example: Bud's family is much richer than Deanie's.