Tuesday, June 26, 2007

6/27/07- A Place in the Sun- Movie Review


In 1951, Theodore Dreiser's classic novel, "An American Tragedy" was remade into a movie that was destined to become one of the greatest Hollywood movies ever made. The movie's name was "A Place in the Sun."

The movie, which was directed by legendary film director George Stevens served as a contemporary (by 1951 standards that is) retelling of Dreiser's novel as well as another retelling of the famous Chester Gillette murder case that happened 45 years before this movie was made.

The movie centers on a character named George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), a young drifter who is taken in by his rich uncle and given a job at his bathing suit factory in California (a scenery change from both the novel and the Gillette case, both in which took place in Central New York.) Although he pines for the beautiful Angela Vickers (played by Elizabeth Taylor), he soon falls for fellow co-worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), in contrary to the factory's no-fraternization policy. All goes well for George until he finally meets and falls in love with Angela while at the same time, he learns that Alice is pregnant and demands that he marry her or else. Sound familiar?

From there, the movie more or less follows the story written by Dreiser and, to some extent, the Gillette case. After Alice threatens to tell all to his family, George brings her to a secluded lake with the intention to kill her, but like Clyde Griffiths in "An American Tragedy," he fails to go through with it.However that doesn't stop the boat from tipping over accidentally, killing Alice.

After several days of freedom with Angela and her family, George is arrested for murder and is forced to confront the fearsome district attorney (a pre-"Perry Mason" Raymond Burr) who is really intent on destroying George to further his own political ambitions. And of course if you've seen the movie and/or followed both the original story and Dreiser's novel, you can guess what happens after that.

I had seen the movie six times and I thought that it was pretty well done. The performances by Monty Clift as George (Chester) and Elizabeth Taylor as Angela (modeled after Harriet Benedict, one of Chester's rumored lovers) are so wonderful and so believable that you actually sympathize and care about them. Raymond Burr also gave a very powerful and convincing performance as the volatile district attorney. He was based on George Ward, the Herkimer County District Attorney who prosecuted Chester in 1906 despite the fact that the real Ward was nothing like the character in the film.

Shelley Winters was believable as Alice, the poor factory girl who was modeled after Chester's lover/victim Grace Brown. However, Alice's character follows the characterization of Roberta Alden (Grace in "An American Tragedy") and is portrayed as too whiny, too easy, and too unsympathetic, all of which the real Grace wasn't.

When the movie came out in 1951, legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin called the film "the best film Hollywood ever made." It was a big hit and went on to win several Academy Awards including Best Director for George Stevens. Out of the four major stars of the film, Elizabeth Taylor is the only one who is still alive today. Shelley Winters died in January 2006.

Although the 1931 film is not yet available on DVD, this movie is available on DVD and can be found either at your local video store, local department stores or online at either Amazon.com or eBay.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your blog seems very interesting but I find the style of 'all caps' to be nearly unreadable. Is there a reason for the all caps?

TIM H. said...

Not really. That was my original blogging style back when I first started blogging over a year ago. I had since gone on to create two other blog sites and one of them (not related to this site) is written w/ no caps. It can also be found on Blogger by going to this link:

http://blackcatloner.blogspot.com.

Sparkle Plenty said...

I realize this is an old post, but I feel the need to say I think George's guilt or innocense is much more ambiguous in Dreiser's book and the film. George himself doesn't know how intentional her death was, which suits Dreiser's themes about the actuality of moral consequences, and who is subject to them, perfectly.

"A Place is the Sun" beautifully captures the conflict between George's desires and the moral strictures inherited from his family.

I love that you're researching the real story -- something I've always fantasized about doing, though the closest I got was a quick stop at Big Moose lake on my way up to Vermont. It was early spring, I've no idea whether the place we pulled in was anywhere near the old hotel or the drowning site, but just being there in the off-season quiet gave me chills. The struggle between American ambition and morality truly haunts us all.

Good luck with your book.