Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Five Best Natalie Wood Performances

1. Splendor in the Grass (1961) - Natalie Wood gives a heart-wrenching Oscar-nominated performance as the emotionally fragile Deanie in William Inge's potent tale of young love. The scene where Deanie stands in front of her English class and discusses the meaning of William Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"--as she tries to hold back her emotions--is masterful. Elia Kazan brought out the best in Natalie in this poignant classic.

2. West Side Story (1961) - One can argue that the role of Maria should have gone to a Hispanic actress or that Marni Nixon deserves more credit for dubbing the singing vocals. Neither of those detract from the fact that Natalie Wood provides the heart and soul of West Side Story. Her scenes with Richard Beymer make one believe that Maria and Tony become soulmates as soon as they spot each other on the dance floor. Watch her expressive face during the climax as she throws herself protectively over Tony's corpse and if you don't sniffle, you're not human.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - At age 9, she gives one of the best child performances of Hollywood's Golden Era in this holiday classic. Her incredibly natural acting never comes off as artificially cute and she holds her own in the charming scenes with Edmund Gwenn, one of the great character actors.

4. This Property Is Condemned (1966) - I'm not sure why this film and Natalie's performance aren't better known. She stars as Alva Starr, a Southern belle (of sorts) who lives with her manipulative mother (Kate Reid) and idolizing younger sister (Mary Badham) in a railroad boarding house during the Great Depression. Alva could easily have come off as a shallow character, but Natalie turns her into a hard-edged young woman that strives to hide her dreams and insecurities. (By the way, Mary Badham is as good here as she was as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird).

5. Rebel Without a Cause (1958) - While this is now regarded as, first and foremost, a James Dean film, it launched the "young adult" phase of Natalie Wood's film career. It also earned her the first of her three Oscar nominations for her performance as Judy. Ironically, director Nicholas Ray initially considered Natalie too wholesome and naive for the role. She captures Judy's teen angst beautifully, especially her difficult relationship with her father.

Honorable Mentions: Love With the Proper Stranger (1963), her third Oscar nomination and a fave among her fans; Gypsy (1962); and The Searchers (1956).


  1. Very good list! I would add in INSIDE DAISY CLOVER. Not the greatest film but Nat's performance is excellent.

  2. I would like to have seen your first HM moved into the main list, but for the life of me, I don't know which film I'd bump down. Excellent reminder of just how talented an actress was Ms. Wood.

  3. I'm 100% with #3...she's the boss. When I was that age I was TOTALLY in love with her, and, in an entirely appropriate manner, I still am. :)

    Clayton @ Phantom Empires.

  4. Great tribute to Natalie Wood in your Top Five. These are definetely all greats. For the honrables I too like Daisy Clover, and for a really fun film and comedic turn, The Great Race.

  5. I think Natalie Wood had some of the most gorgeous and expressive eyes of any actress on the big screen. Excellent list, Rick!

  6. She was utterly radiant and thoroughly lovely in her last movie "Brainstorm". Too bad she wasn't able to complete her performance.

  7. I have been a big fan of Natalie Wood since a saw West side story, and then I had to see all her films.when she died, I remember where I was and it hit me more than any other celebrity,singer,etc. Wish she were still here