Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Forgotten Films: A Place in the Sun

I was ten or eleven years old when I first saw A Place in the Sun. I'm sure I didn't understand it at, but I was bowled over by the beauty of Elizabeth Taylor and the sadness of the ending.

Later on I read Dreiser's An American Tragedy and saw the movie again. I liked it even more that time. I think of the book (along with Frank Norris's McTeague, which appeared not long before it) as proto-noir. The movie is shot in black and white (don't let that photo on the left fool you), so it has that in common with noir films along with its plot.

Montgomery Clift is George Eastman, a guy with little education and less money. He gets a job at a relative's factory, proves to be really good at it, and gets promoted. Eventually he's invited to a party with some of the biggies and meets Angela Vickers, played by Elizabeth Taylor. They fall in love. But there's a problem named Alice (Shelly Winters, and if you remember her only from her later years, you should see this movie for that reason alone). Clift has been going with her, and she's hard to shake. Especially when (insert shocking for the 1950's plot development). She threatens to Tell All, and if you've ever read a Gold Medal original, you know what that means. For Clift, it's all downhill from there.

This movie has it all: real movie stars giving fine performances, beautiful B&W photography, doomed love, a social message, and more. Okay, I lied. There are no explosions, no car chases, no zombies. Check it out anyway.

14 comments:

  1. You had my tired puzzler working overtime there with "porto-noir" (Brazilian? sweet wine? leftist/nautical?), till I realized "proto-noir' was probably what was meant...

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  2. Fixed. Thanks, Todd.

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  3. One of the most enduring opening shots for this old movie buff.

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  4. I've never seen this one. I have to remedy that.

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  5. Great book and great movie. Poor Montgomery Cliff.

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  6. Anonymous9:20 AM

    Raymond Burr played a great DA in this one, a role that Erle Stanley Gardner remembered when they were casting Perry Mason.

    John D

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  7. True. Supposedly his turn here won him the Perry Mason role.

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  8. Anonymous11:40 AM

    To be honest I've never been much of a Monty Clift fan, and this didn't change that.

    But that's just me.

    Jeff

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  9. Bill - that's a great idea. Rewrite this book with Zombies!!! It will be an instant best seller.

    Hey, if Scalzi can redo Little Fuzzy, Abe Lincoln can hunt vampires, and Jane Austen hunted the undead . . .

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  10. You know, I never knew this was based on AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY...I imagine it had to be cut to the bone to fit in the time allotted? But still effective.

    Interesting how noir and soap opera, certainly in the Grace Metallious literary sort, run along similar paths when one thinks about it.

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  11. I think Keefe Brasselle here might well be the guy Harlan Ellison writes about in THE GLASS TEAT, who kept getting one failed tv show after another for awhile out of what amounted to a Returned Favor of an unsavory sort.

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  12. Dreiser based AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY on a real murder case from the early 1900s: Chester Gillette murdered his pregnant girlfriend (who was several rungs below him on the social ladder) when his prospects with a richer woman seemed likely. Much of Gillette's life (including his religious family, his socially-prominent relatives, and the murder by drowning) were all used in Dreiser's fictionalized account.

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  13. I knew this was based on AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, but something tells me that the movie ending was changed substantially - but my memory could be failing me. I love this movie both for Monty's performance and for Liz's beauty. Their kiss on the balcony has got to be one of the most romantic of all film scenes. And wasn't Shelly Winters a whiner? I wanted to kill her too.

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  14. Todd: He was the same Keefe Brazelle. Protege of "The Smiling Cobra," James Aubrey.

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