Starring: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelly Winters
Director: George Stevens
Distributor: Paramount Golden Classics
Uncomfortable insinuations about abortion are not the sort of things you’d expect to hear in a movie from the early ’50s but A Place In the Sun has this and much more: lust, murder and a dead man walking are just some of them. And then there’s the cast; 29 year old Montgomery Clift stars as George Eastman, an awkward yet ambitious man who leaves his God fearing mother to find employment at his rich uncle’s swimsuit factory. On the production line he meets Alice Tripp (Shelly Winters) and against company policy starts up a relationship with her. But when a promotion sees him suddenly fit to be invited into the inner sanctum of high society, his heart is drawn towards the gorgeous Angela Vickers like iron filings to a magnet.
At just 17 years of age, Elizabeth Taylor is simply exquisite in this, her first adult role. In her DVD interview she recalls how up until this point her leading men had been dogs and horses. She confesses that she’d only just received her debut off screen kiss and that she was eternally thankful for it when it came to shooting her unforgettable melting moment in the arms of Clift. Just before their lips collide, George is grappling with his emotions about double life he’s leading so Angela, in the full thrall of love’s passion, delivers one of the most memorable, if strangely incestuous lines in the whole film; “Tell Mama,” she sighs, like a warm marshmallow, “Tell Mama all.”
The original story, An American Tragedy written in 1925 by Theodore Dresiser, was based on an actual murder trial that had taken place in Herkimer County, New York in 1906. In 1931 director Josef von Sternberg made the first screen adaptation, a controversial work that was banned in several countries. Twenty years later the material remained confronting but in the hands of director George Stevens and his stellar cast, the psychological drama proved a huge hit winning six Academy Awards. Stevens uses what was then a most unconventional, even groundbreaking technique of juxtaposing images over the top of one another and cross-fading scenes ever so slowly to emphasise the polarity between the two worlds of George Eastman. Verging at times on the melodramatic, the film nevertheless still has the power to make you squirm for the lead character and ponder his central dilemma while feasting your eyes on some of Hollywood’s brightest stars in their prime.