Making it: A Place in the Sun
Written: Jun 25, 2007
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
- User Rating: Excellent
Pros:Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Direction, Story, Score
Cons:Needs recognition: This is what cinema is all about
The Bottom Line: A real classic. Timeless performances by Clift, Taylor, and Winters; a great story with superb direction and scoring.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
A Place in the Sun (1951)
I dont know why it took me so long to watch A Place in the Sun; actually I thought it was a syrupy chick-flick for some reason, probably associated with the (gag inducing to me) song by Stevie Wonder. How wonderful it was when I finally plugged the DVD into my player and saw a fine dark drama that borders on film noir.
George Stevens (1904 - 1975) directed, and he is one who hasn't gotten a lot of paeans but deserves recognition just the same. Some of the most iconic imagery ever recorded has populated George Stevens' films, not the least of which are the iconography associated with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in the work under discussion.
Stevens tastefully used extreme close-ups and lengthy dissolves and montages to create a lyrical atmosphere that resonated in counterpoint with the dark twists of the screenplay, which came from the aptly titled "American Tragedy," a novel by Theodore Dreiser. These exact photographic techniques had not been seen before and their impact is undeniable. Obviously, anything this good has been copied to death since, but you need to realize that George Stevens was the innovator and his shots of Liz Taylor probably generated lots of male dreams.
The story concerns a young man (Montgomery Clift) from the wrong side of the tracks seeking out his rich relatives and getting a job in their swimsuit factory. He is cautioned not to fraternize with the female workers, who make up about 85% of the staffing. When he shows promise, they boot him up the ladder and the poor boy meets Liz Taylor, another privileged child descended from industrial might.
Eventually, he gets kicked up the ladder again and Taylor notices him, in fact falls for him, but what has he done but up and got one of the factory girls (Shelley Winters) pregnant. Now he's on the verge of entering in to high society and the inconvenient girl decides to make his life interesting. Will Monty do the right thing or something else? - I'll let you watch how the story plays out, but rest assured, it's worth your time!
Montgomery Clift shows a fine restrained style in his performance as the conflicted protagonist, and makes the choices seem to be his own - even the ones that work against him. He has a dark, worried quality that seems to be very attractive to women. Clift was definitely the bedrock performance in the movie and that caused the rest of the performances to gel around his. The story plays out like a film noir with Clift screwing up and fate stalking and waiting for the opportune time to strike -
Shelley Winters plays the wronged woman and even though she does it annoyingly well, you know that she is right and that colors your view of Clift and his subsequent actions. Shelley was top billed along with Clift and Liz Taylor, so there were three stars, all of whom did well here.
Elizabeth Taylor is probably the best looking woman you've ever seen in this role; a real dream come true. I never thought of Liz Taylor as a great actress, other than looking e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y g-o-o-d, but here Clift (and Stevens) seems to bring a little bit more of her out; it is still not a career performance but better than average for her. Anyway, nobody can look any better than she does here.
The only other performance I remember Taylor rising to the occasion was with Richard Burton in the slam-bang drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? where she was cast against type, performing brilliantly as the blowsy and shrewish "Martha" - not a glamor girl by any stretch. Burton made an interesting observation on Liz and her pals Clift and Brando, whom he felt had come to fame too early in life and were attracted to each other based on this common experience. Later, you will remember Liz became a great friend and advocate of Michael Jackson, another person who came to fame early, so maybe Burton was on to something.
Supporting cast is uniformly good with Anne Revere (as Clift's mom), and Raymond Burr (as the prosecutor) making significant contributions to the story.
A Place in the Sun has something that both men and women will enjoy, a torrid romance but a dramatic trajectory that leaves all the main characters lost.
The Paramount DVD has been restored and the picture (B&W) is pristine. I must also mention the superlative Franz Waxman score that is such an integral part of the atmosphere of the movie. There are a number of extra features, the best of which is an interview with eight famous moviemakers - Capra, Zinnemann, Mankiewicz, etc., on the impact of George Stevens - very enlightening comments that should raise George Stevens' work in your consciousness.
Some more George Stevens Masterworks -
The Greatest Story Ever Told
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie