Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema gem, A Place in the Sun, stars the impossibly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and the equally striking Montgomery Clift (before the car accident that marred his face). Taylor and Clift were never lovelier.
The movie is worth the price of admission, if only for the chemistry between Clift and Taylor. Both give moving performacnes in their starry-eyed, star-crossed romance. And while some of the plot is dated at times, this is 1950's reality. Shelley Winters is brilliant as the pathetic, cloying, gnawing girlfriend. So much so you'll find yourself rooting for Clift.
"That mega clos-up of a kiss, which broke records of erotic imagery at the time."
The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, and won six -- Best Director (the first Oscar for Stevens), Best Screenplay (Michael Wilson and Harry Brown), Best B/W Cinematography (William Mellor), Best Dramatic Score, Best Film Editing, and Best B/W Costume Design (Edith Head). Its other three nominations were for Best Picture (it lost to An American in Paris (1951)), Best Actor (Montgomery Clift) and Best Actress (Shelley Winters). It has been noted that A Place in the Sun was the first of director Stevens' "American trilogy" of films -- the other two films were the classic western Shane (1953) and epic Giant (1956).
...."the film is stylistically dark, almost with film-noirish qualities, yet it has some of the most romantic and passionate sequences ever filmed - between the radiant debutante, 18 year-old Elizabeth Taylor (in her first adult role) and 29 year-old Montgomery Clift, who stars as a laboring wage slave."
Although the term "remake" is, for some strange reason, shunned by the Coast's artisans as something vile, a stigma better left unheralded, Hollywood, Paramount, and George Stevens, producer-director, in particular, can point with pride to A Place in the Sun. For this second screen edition of Theodore Dreiser's monumental novel, An American Tragedy, which was unveiled at the Capitol last night, is a work of beauty, tenderness, power, and insight. And, though Mr. Stevens, his scenarists, and cast have switched its time and setting to the present and avoided extreme concentration on the social crusading of the book, A Place in the Sun emerges as a credit to both the motion-picture craft and, we feel reasonably certain, the author's major intentions.
One may argue that Mr. Stevens has given only surface treatment to the society which appears to propel George Eastman to his tragic end and accentuated his love affairs and groping for a higher rung in the social ladder. That, it becomes apparent, is basically captious. George Eastman is obviously an intelligent youth whose background has not equipped him for anything better than menial endeavor. So it is not surprising that he grasps at the opportunity to work in his rich uncle's factory. And it is not surprising that the lonely, brooding young man, ignored by his rich relatives, will find an answer to his crying need for companionship in his drab, unlettered, and equally lonely coworker, Alice Tripp.
The forces pushing young Eastman to the final, horrible retribution are obvious and a tribute to the naturalism of Dreiser as the youth is suddenly exposed to the overwhelming opulence of his family and Angela Vickers, to whose love and beauty he succumbs. Since his basic upbringing—a composite background of unbending Evangelism and slums from which he chose to escape—does not permit him to callously desert Alice—now frantic with the knowledge that she is bearing his child—he takes surreptitious steps to remedy his untenable position. This phase of his ordeal (and Alice's) is a wholly tasteful and compelling handling of a delicate situation. The questions of his morals and intrinsic cowardice here are placed squarely in the eyes of the viewer.
With similar integrity, the drama depicts Alice's drowning and the subsequent mounting terror and confusion of her lover, faced with the enormity of the tragedy and the reiteration of the insidious thought that while he did not commit murder he must have willed it. And George Eastman, grappling with a transgression he cannot fully comprehend, is a pitiful, yet strangely brave individual as he explains his act and convictions in court. Despite his weaknesses he is a strong figure who admits in his death cell that "I wanted to save her but I just couldn't." He takes on stature as does his love for Angela whom he tells: "I know something now I didn't know before. I'm guilty of a lot of things—of most of what they say I am."
There may be some belief that Montgomery Clift, as the tortured George Eastman, is not nearly the designing and grasping youth conceived by Dreiser. But his portrayal, often terse and hesitating, is full, rich, restrained, and, above all, generally credible and poignant. He is, in effect, a believable mama's boy gone wrong.
Equally poignant is Shelley Winters's characterization of the ill-fated Alice. Miss Winters, in our opinion, has never been seen to better advantage than as the colorless factory hand, beset by burgeoning anxieties but clinging to a love she hopes can be rekindled. Elizabeth Taylor's delineation of the rich and beauteous Angela also is the top effort of her career. It is a shaded, tender performance and one in which her passionate and genuine romance avoids the bathos common to young love as it sometimes comes to the screen.
And, under Mr. Stevens's expert direction, Raymond Burr, as the doggedly probing district attorney, and Anne Revere, as Clift's mother, a mission worker who feels that the blame for her son's crime is partly hers, as well as most of the supporting players, contribute fitting bits to an impressive mosaic. Despite the fact that this version of Dreiser's tragedy may be criticized—academically, we think—for its length or deviations from the author's pattern, A Place in the Sun is a distinguished work, a tribute, above all, to its producer-director and an effort now placed among the ranks of the finest films to have come from Hollywood in several years.
A PLACE IN THE SUN (MOVIE)
Produced and directed by George Stevens; written by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, based on the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser and the play by Patrick Kearney; cinematographer, William Mellor; edited by William Hornbeck; music by Franz Waxman; art designers, Hans Dreier and Walter Tyler; released by Paramount Pictures. Black and white. Running time: 122 minutes.