Monday, September 19, 2011

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Oscar winning director George Stevens produced and directed one of the most popular films of our time, “A Place in the Sun” starring Montgomery Clift, Liz Taylor and Shelley Winters.

Based on the novel “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser, the screenplay written by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown tells the tragic story centering around a young, ambitious yet financially poor man named George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) who leaves behind the religious missionary work his parents were a part of and moves out with the hopes of seeking some decent employment with his business tycoon distant uncle Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes). Initially perceived as socially “misfit” amongst the Eastmans, George is given a menial packaging task on the Factory floor. Early on, George seems to have developed the hots for a beautiful socialite and wealthy family friend of the Eastmans, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). But she hardly even notices him in the beginning, and believing her to be way out of his reach owing to his social status, George probably decides to leave it aside.

Meanwhile, breaking one essential rule of not mixing with the female co-workers, George gets romantically involved with one Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters).  Their romance heats up quickly enough and George also finds himself steadily climbing the ladder in the Eastman industry, thanks to his hard work and last name Eastman! Soon enough he finds himself shoulder to shoulder with some of the who’s who in an Eastman party and Angela Vickers finally notices him and predictably enough, falls for his boyish charms! George seizes the opportunity and gets involved in a passionate affair with Angela.  Things however take a turn for the worse when Alice declares she is pregnant with George’s child…….

“A Place in the Sun” is one of those rare motion pictures which unfold in a predictable fashion, yet manage to hold our attention, thanks to the riveting performances and the superbly written scenes full of exciting drama. So we all know how it’s all gonna turn out…at least initially! The romantic relationships build up most predictably and you know very early in the film how the love triangle will eventually take its shape. We all know then that there is bound to be some turbulence when Alice gets pregnant. Now it is post this point that the protagonist starts to take drastic decisions and we immediately begin to sense the outcome for his every action!

Yet George Stevens manages to give us a highly watchable film. A film that starts with sugar-candy-floss romance, soon turns into a bleak noir-like drama! The quality of the film is only enhanced by William C. Mellor’s Oscar winning cinematography and William Hornbeck’s crisp editing. Stevens takes the helm of this project and ably delivers a solid drama. Only one wishes the romance wasn’t as cheesily portrayed and the dialogs weren’t as excessively sappy! I mean how many times have we heard “I've loved you since the first moment I saw you”!! And this is said by the protagonist to Angela not long after he has confessed his “everlasting love” to Alice! It is only human to behave like that…succumb to ravishing beauty (especially when you have the likes of Liz Taylor eating out of your hand), but Clift’s portrayal of his character looks calm and gentle with a discreet charm, a far cry from being a suave, yet sly womanizer who would two-time two beautiful ladies. 

Clift was nominated for an Academy award for his portrayal, yet I felt something was certainly lacking, especially in later scenes where he is required to emote, more so for a person or character who finds himself in the sticky situation he is in! He has done a far better job in some of his other films.

Taylor looks ravishing enough as a high society girl, whose every move makes headlines in the local papers. So even if she goes on a boating trip somewhere, she is captured by the paparazzi and it appears in the morning papers! For a girl spoilt by the media like that, it is quite surprising that she turns out to be such a fool for love, falling for a man whom she hardly knows about and even being ready to marry him! One would think such a girl would have a jolly time with several young men dying to woo her and get close to her!

The only character that is the most realistically portrayed, then, is Shelley Winters’ Alice Tripp. It is a spectacular performance that deserved the Academy award nomination. Winters clearly understands her character, that of a poor girl working in a factory; one who’s afraid to bring boys to her humble rented apartment, for fear that she would be in trouble if her landlady found out. One who gives her everything to the man she loves; one whose angst is visible when she begins to sense betrayal, just as her lover gets a taste of the rich and famous (read Angela Vickers!). It is a solid performance that deserves most accolades.

Of the supporting cast, it is Raymond Burr’s portrayal of the limping District Attorney R. Frank Marlowe, that holds our attention, although he has but a few scenes to his credit.

“A Place in the Sun” is definitely worth checking out. The sappy romance and some unconvincing character traits notwithstanding, it is one of the most accomplished works in American cinema.

Score: 8/10

1 comment:

  1. Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor... total screen chemistry. A film for the ages.