Thursday, January 23, 2020

#2020PopCultureResolution - A Place In The Sun

A Place In The Sun

Director: George Stevens

Length:  122 minutes

Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters

Release Date: August 14, 1951

Synopsis: In this film, handsome young George Eastman goes to work in a relative's factory. He has a brief rendezvous with assembly-line worker Alice Tripp, but he forgets all about her when he falls for dazzling socialite Angela Vickers. Alice can't forget about him, though: she is pregnant with his child.

** Spoilers for real life events and the movie**

It's a tale that any Murderino has heard a million times before: a woman is murdered because her very existence is deemed an inconvenience to a man. A Place In The Son is based off of a novel called An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. The novel is a fictional account of a real murder that took place in July of 1906. Chester Gillette killed his pregnant girlfriend Grace Brown as he was not interested  owning up to his responsibilities like she was asking him to. He certainly wasn't interested in marrying her. He, it was said, had higher ambitions of marrying a wealthy woman. There was even another woman, Harriet Benedict, that he was involved with. One summer day, he took Grace out on a lake in the Adirondack mountains area, hit her over the head with a tennis racket, and let her drown in the water. He was quickly arrested after her body was found and found guilty and sentenced to death by electric chair.

The real events are only loosely accounted for in both the book, and the movie made from it. We do have the main participants in Montgomery Clift's George Eastman (Gillette), Elizabeth Taylor's Angela Vickers (Benedict) and Shelley Winters' Alice Tripp (Brown). The events that unfold are showcased as not quite as sinister and malicious as the ones in real life, but it still offers a harrowing look at what someone will do for love, and their own selfish desires.

All three actors, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Shelley Winters, turn in mesmerizing performances. Clift's George oozes enough charisma and charm to have the audience conflicted about the events that unfold. He's ambitious in a lot of ways, but there is a vulnerability that comes through because of the way Clift plays this character. Taylor is luminous and beguiling as Angela. The chemistry between the two is undeniable, and it paints the story in a much more romantic light that it perhaps should be. Shelley Winter's Alice is shown as a woman who is broken, betrayed and discarded by a man who only seems to think about himself.

The romance really is the central part of the story. The events that happen later can only work if you believe in the romance that is being spun. The audience has to believe that George would do anything to keep not only Angela, but the world she represented to him. She's a wealthy, high class lady versus the working woman Alice offers. It's this fact, and their connection, that spurs his motivations.

The movie makes the choice to not paint George as an outright villain. The death is one that paints George as a coward, selfish, and opportunistic. His hands may not directly murder her, but he is still responsible for her death. What starts out as an accident turns into a choice, and that is what ultimately makes the audience no longer root for the man who had previously presented as our romantic hero. He's definitely not a saint, but he isn't quite the monster you want him to be either.

The movie's back half is tense and well constructed. The ramping up of the tension and pressure on George is felt through the score, and ringing telephones that sound like alarms. That tension continues right through to the end. It's a fantastic directing choice, and makes the movie compelling from start to finish.

A Place In The Sun is a tragic story, and one that feels all too familiar. It is a story that could easily be set in modern times with little change. It's filled with haunting performances that I certainly will be thinking about for quite a long time.

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