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USA 1951
Directed by
George Stevens
122 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Place In The Sun, A

Director/producer George Stevens' lugubrious Oscar-storming melodrama (it won Best Direction, Screenplay, Score, Cinematography, Editing and Costume Design) was a remake of Josef von Sternberg's 1931 film An American Tragedy.

Based on the novel 'An American Tragedy' by Theodore Dreiser and the play by Patrick Kearney which in turn was based on a real life murder case in New York in 1906, in this version Montgomery Clift plays George Eastman, the poor countrified relative of a rich New York family who becomes the victim of his over-weening ambition when he falls for pretty socialite, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), and needs to rid himself of his factory girl squeeze (Shelly Winters).

There is much of value in the film, most of it due to Dreiser's original text which is here reduced to a standard cautionary tale about unmanly behaviour. Stevens' juxtaposition of the main thematic contrasts (commonly in the form of fade outs/fade ins, for instance of George's sainted mother and George dancing the night away with his betters) is far from inspired but the most insistent problem is with the casting of Clift as the central character.

As the diffident, socially awkward but neurotically ambitious young man he is very good but as a man in the throes of love, far less so and  there is nothing in his portrayal to account for the sophisticated Angela's attraction to him. Here James Dean's or Paul Newman's skill with the taciturn, chip-on-the-shoulder persona would have made for a much more credible transgressive appeal than Clift is able to provide with his little-boy-lost-cum-frightened-rabbit demeanour (in one remarkable scene Taylor urges him to "tell Mamma all").

On the other hand a 17 year old Taylor is commanding, during the film's course making the transition from frivolous party girl to a woman mature through sorrow whilst Shelley Winter's turns in what was to become her stock-in-trade characterisation of a shrill, grasping frump who would turn the thoughts of any man who fell into her clutches to murder. 




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