Monday, 5 August 2013

A Place in the Sun (1951) - ★★★½

Director: George Stevens
Writers: Theodore Dreiser (Novel), Michael Wilson, Harry Brown
Stars: Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Taylor, Anne Revere, Raymond Burr

A Place in the Sun is a beautiful film, and its story is chock-full of controversial topics. Sex before marriage, abortion and murder are highlighted here, yet somehow the story was only lukewarm to me. I didn't see any fiery moments of anger or passion, it was all very methodical. Even though it has such interesting subjects to talk about, nothing really piqued my excitement or curiosity. The performances were really good, but not masterful. The set production and clothing was fantastic, but not breathtaking. The music by Franz Waxman is gorgeous, but not very memorable. It's definitely an above average film, but to me it wasn't 'great.'

George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) is a poor, handsome young man who manages to get a job at the Vickers company through association. He had good ties to the family, but before he rises up the ranks in the company, he must start at the very bottom and assist in packaging the products. It's here that he meets the naive but kind Alice (Shelley Winters), who he courts and goes steady with for a little while. At a party at the Vickers, he meets the drop-dead gorgeous socialite Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), who he immediately falls for. Here's where it gets complicated. Alice gets pregnant, which would ruin George's chances at being with Angela. The rest of the story is pretty dark, and I don't want to give anything away.

Shelley Winters acted rings around Clift and Taylor!
The best performance by far comes from Shelley Winters, who was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards. It's flat-out disgusting to me that Taylor gets billed before Winters, and that her face is all over the posters. This is George and Alice's story! The greatest scenes in this movie come from Winters, who has more screen-time than Taylor anyway. She did a great job at collecting my sympathy and affection at the start of the film. She was even better as a hysterical and despairing pregnant girl out of wedlock. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have cared much for the film. The golden years of Hollywood produced some great movies, but they were too superficial to give first-billing to an average-looking woman. They just had to plaster the bombshell Taylor over the posters, even though she was the supporting actress.

Montgomery Clift gave a fine performance, but at times he was stilted in his delivery. On his own, he gives great facial expressions. With the leading ladies, he couldn't make me believe he felt a damn thing for them. Winters could display love and devotion towards him so well, but there was no reciprocation on his part. I guess I should chock that up to 'he's just not that into her.' On the other hand, I thought Taylor's character was pretty deplorable. It wasn't so much her performance, but the stupid things her character said. It all came across so ridiculous and phoney. She speaks with a soft, defenceless voice and has ZERO personality and independent thoughts. In short, she's completely one-dimensional. What's worse is that Clift and Taylor had no chemistry whatsoever. It was methodical acting at its finest, and I couldn't bring myself to give a damn about their relationship. If it wasn't for Winters, this whole story would be a bust.

I take comfort in knowing that Taylor blossomed into a great actress.
I do give a huge thumbs up to the story itself though! I can't help but wonder whether it would have been a masterpiece had they cast different actors to play George and Angela. I'm thinking Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland would have been perfect for the parts (had this been made in the 1930s). This film wasn't boring at all, but it never had its high-points. Sure, the lake scene was eerie, but it never gave me chills or any REAL emotional reaction. I think they kinda screwed up the execution of this film.

The best scene of the film couldn't capture my film fanaticism.
Overall, this really is a GOOD film. There's just nothing that screams 'great' to me other than its controversial plot. Many hail A Place in the Sun as a masterpiece, and I have no problem with that. It has all the makings of a masterpiece, but director George Stevens couldn't mould it into a fluently believable and effective movie. Any lover of classic cinema will probably tell you that this is great, but there's nothing all the memorable about it. To be honest, I only just remembered to review this movie. I saw it last week and it keeps escaping my memory!

1 comment:

  1. George Eastman didn't get a job at the Vickers company by association, he got a job at the Eastman company because his uncle was the owner.