Okay, say it is 1951. You have this choice between a wealthy Elizabeth Taylor or assembly line worker Shelley Winters. This is a no-brainer, right?
The 1951 film A Place in the Sun was a remake of the 1931 film An American Tragedy, based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser. I have never seen the 1931 film, nor have I read the book, but apparently there are huge differences between A Place in the Sun and the novel and movie An American Tragedy. And why not? When novels are translated directly into film and the director tries to stay faithful to the original story it rarely works out that well. A Place in the Sun works marvelously as a true piece of Hollywood at its Hollywood best.
Montgomery Clift is disturbing as George Eastman, a poor fellow with rather wealthy relatives. His mother is involved in some Christian charity work and prays for George every night as she works to make sure the underprivileged are clothed and fed and get Bibles to read. George, who seems to have no dreams or aspirations to speak of outside of having a better life than the one he had with his parents, takes to the road, heads into the big city and looks up those relatives. George Eastman is so nervous and unsure of himself throughout the movie that you begin to wonder if this is a fine acting job or if Montgomery Clift is really that uneasy in front of the camera.
Well, his uncle is glad to see him and gives him a job at the Eastman garment manufacturing plant. Of course, they don't give him a nice family job, they put him down on the assembly line to watch his progress. And well, there are some important rules. No fraternizing with the other employees. That is the one rule they are very certain they make George understand. Well, George gets a little testosterone rising problem and takes a fancy to Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), a girl who works with him on the assembly line. He keeps her up all night, gets her into trouble with her landlady and gets her pregnant. George Eastman is pretty good at following directions, especially seeing as this is more than just a job and he is trying to impress his rich uncle.
Well, George is about to get his break. His uncle invites him up to the house and then to a party where all the young socialites are gathering to pose for the society pages. The best and the brightest. The pretty people on parade. Well, George doesn't seem to fit in and he goes off to play pool with himself in the billiard room. I mean, watch this guy, he has less self-confidence than that kid in your math class who cried every time the teacher called on him. George Eastman is a mess.
Into the billiard room strolls Elizabeth Taylor as Angela Vickers, one of the most sought after young debutantes in the entire city, and guess what, she takes a shine to George. Yes, and we are talking about Elizabeth Taylor in her heyday, not the post-Richard Burton model. She asks George to dance and she wants him in the worst way. Somber, stare-down-at-the-ground George Eastman is smiling. He can't believe this turn of events. His ship has come in.
Well, not so fast Georgie boy. First, he has to impress
Angela Vickers' family, and even though he has the blue blood
of his uncle, he is a poor man who works on an assembly line and whose mother darns socks in an orphanage. He manages to win them over, mostly by being a humble
fool with good intentions
. He loves Angela and he intends to make something of himself and do right
by her. They are willing to give him a chance, and during his interview on a weekend getaway
with the Eastmans and the Vickers, George is on top of the world. Romance
of the highest order. If you do not believe that you can film eroticism
without shooting below the neck, there are some scenes here you need to see. George and Angela are thunder and lightning
together. She is a magnet and he is steel
. This is the kind of magic most of us sit around waiting
for and think will never happen.
Well, lets not forget all about Shelley Winters and the little issue with Georgie boy not being able to keep his little elmer wrapped up in his knickers. She is not pleased with this weekend getaway, nor is she pleased with the photos of George and Angela that show up on the society pages almost immediately. She wants to know what is going to be done. George proposes convincing a doctor to help them get an abortion (remember, this is 1951), a step that fails and results in Alice insisting that George do the right thing and marry her. She will not be denied and she will destroy everything for George if he doesn't. She is not a happy camper.
Well, George is developing an idea in his head. He comes up with a scheme to get rid of Alice by taking her out on for a canoe ride to "celebrate" their pending marriage. George intends to drown Alice and takes careful, yet careless, steps to cover his tracks. He convinces her of his intentions and everything is going according to plan until George realizes he cannot do it. He cannot kill her.
Well, Shelley Winters gets up in the canoe to confront George and loses her balance. She falls into the water and drowns. She is eliminated. That should solve all of George's problems, right? Not so fast. No one told George that Raymond Burr was in this movie. The courtroom ending presents us with some intriguing questions. George planned to murder Alice. She died out on the lake he intended to drown her in. George did not kill her, she fell on her own accord. Did George do anything to save her?
A Place in the Sun was directed by George Stevens
Nominated for 1951 Best Picture Oscar
In total nominated for 10 Academy Awards, Winning Six
Including Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay
Also selected as one of the 100 Greatest American Films