Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Film of the Week: A Place in the Sun, 1951

When George Stevens suggested to Paramount Pictures that he wanted to direct a film version of the 1925 Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy (which had also been adapted into a play of the same name by Patrick Kearney), they swiftly disapproved the idea on the grounds that the studio had already produced an adaptation of the property. Stevens, relatively new to Paramount fumed that he was unable to direct the picture (that he knew would be a tremendous success) and was forced to sue the studio. Stevens was triumphant, as, thankfully for Paramount, so was A Place in the Sun—the title Stevens gave to this screen version.
Paramount Pictures
The story concerns the pursuit of the “American Dream.” Here, it has been updated from the 1920’s to post-war America and tells the tale of a handsome, intelligent young man, George Eastman, who has struggled against poverty his entire life. George dreams of “the good life.” To him, this means a beautiful wife and wealth. He entreats a wealthy uncle to employ him and ends up with a job in the family factory where he encounters a shy, plain young woman named Alice.

Paramount Pictures
George is bored and restless—filled with youthful energy and passion. To pass the time, he engages in a flirtation with Alice despite the company policy against fraternizing with the factory girls. Through George’s hard work, he garners the attention of his uncle and finds himself introduced to the lifestyle about which he’d always dreamed. At a swanky party, he meets a dazzling debutante—Angela Vickers. George falls madly and instantly in love with Angela and vows that they will be together. However, the cost of his love will be more than he had imagined. When Alice announces that she’s carrying George’s child, the young man’s thoughts turn quickly toward finding a speedy means of erasing his problems without Angela’s knowledge.

Clift and Taylor enjoyed each others company
both on and off set.
Paramount Pictures
George Stevens was quick to cast twenty-nine-year -old Montgomery Clift as George Eastman. Clift had already had success in films and showed that he was a versatile and sensitive performer. For the key role of Angela Vickers, Stevens selected a seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor had only starred in family films. “Angela” would be her first adult role and she proved that she was more than up to the task. With her striking features and clad in Edith Head’s chic, yet virginal wardrobe, Taylor showed that she was ready to work with a leading man who wasn’t a horse or a dog. She and Clift developed a deep friendship during this period which would last until his premature death at the age of forty-five.

Stevens had a bigger task in casting the role of “Alice.” Shelley Winters—known for her platinum locks and glamour girl ways—was interested in the role, but Stevens deemed her to be too much of a beauty for the part. By dying her hair brown, dressing in frumpy clothes and acting shy and reserved, Winters was able to fool Stevens when he arrived to meet her. Upon finally recognizing her, he agreed to test her for the part. Thus began a new chapter in Winters’ career and the first of what seems like many movies in which she drowns.

Everything from the costumes and Franz Waxman’s famously haunting score work harmoniously in this glorious film which is punctuated with long, slow dissolves, and deep, loving close-ups. It’s part art-film and part love story with a lot of tragedy thrown in. The centerpiece of it all are the performances of the three main characters. Winters is surprisingly convincing as dull, whiny Alice while Taylor gives the first truly good performance of her career. Clift, as always, is appropriately tense and completely absorbed in his character. Plus, Clift and Taylor are just so darn pretty that it’s hard to resist the picture.

This is the ideal 1950’s film and is sure not to disappoint. 

No comments: