Winter Falls on Clift and Taylor's Place in the Sun
I love you. I've loved you since the first moment I saw you. I guess maybe I've even loved you before I saw you - George Eastman
"A Place in the Sun" is it has to be said an impressive movie with an intelligent story, brilliant performances from Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters and despite it's age is still remarkably engrossing. But unlike many who think "A Place in the Sun" is a 5 star master piece I am a little less impressed mainly down to the slowness, heavy handed dramatics and the occasional over acting. It makes me wonder if those who are so in love with "A Place in the Sun" are those who are aware of its history, it's origins in Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" and that prior to this version a previous adaptation of his novel was made with considerable issues.
Having travelled to the city to work for his rich Uncle in his Eastman swimwear business, the working class George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) finds himself starting at the bottom working in the packing factory. Although warned about dating members of the staff George ends up romancing Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters - Winchester '73) who works on the packing line and soon they end up as lovers. But when George is given a promotion and is invited to an Eastman family party he meets the gorgeous Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor - Courage of Lassie) and before long he finds himself falling for this attractive young woman with a rich family. When George is invited to spend his summer vacation with the Vickers family at their home on the lakes it seems that all is going well, that is until Alice threatens to turn up and tell all about their affair.
It's sort of amusing the way that "A Place in the Sun" unravels with a set up which wouldn't be out of place in any romantic comedy. You have George Eastman working his way up from the bottom in his Uncle's swimwear firm falling for one of his co-workers, Alice Tripp, but as his status improves he falls for someone of equal status, Angela Vickers, whilst still carrying on with Alice. But whilst the set up maybe now more reminiscent of a variety of romantic comedies "A Place in the Sun" is most certainly no comedy in fact it is at times a dark social drama one which is now a little dated due to the way systems and social issues have changed since the early 50s when it was made but still a fascinating viewing. It has an intelligence about it in the way the story unravels with George Eastman stuck in the middle of a mess caused by himself but in an almost innocent way.
It also throws up the good girl/ bad girl side on things with George in the middle and it does it in such a way it makes you question your loyalties your perception of right and wrong. You have Alice Tripp the complete innocent party, the good girl who just happens to fall in love with George and then you have Angela Vickers the rich girl who likes to take risks such as trying to outrun cops when she is speeding, yet she is just as innocent unaware of George's other woman. And then you have George himself who does get himself in the mess of dating two women with the stress of keeping one from the other pushing him to the edge of irrational thought. Do you feel sorry for him, well in a strange way yes because although you wonder if he loves the Vickers affluent lifestyle a little too much at his heart he does love Angela. You end up feeling for him as his past comes back to haunt him causing the stress of the situation to make him consider irrational actions.
As such it has to be said that Montgomery Clift's acting as George Eastman is brilliant especially in those high pressure moments where he tries to keep Tripp from spoiling his happy life with Vickers. You really get a sense of the pressure he is under as beads of sweat form across his brow and his eyes dart back and forth as he has to think quickly to keep matters at bay whilst dealing with those irrational thoughts. In fact Clift isn't bad in those earlier scenes either because he plays the working class George brilliantly, the outsider in the rich Eastman family and you get a real sense that he is just a good guy trying to make something more of his life.
Alongside Montgomery Clift is Elizabeth Taylor as Angela Vickers and at just 19 Taylor is stunning not only because she is beautiful but because she acts well above her belt. She delivers a character with raging sex appeal as she not so much flirts with George but falls completely in love with him, staring longingly at him and holding him close. As well as Elizabeth Taylor there is also Shelley Winters as the innocent working class Alice Tripp and although it almost feels like a stereotype Winters brings a rawness and emotion to the character who finds herself forced into fighting for the man she loves and protecting herself in the act.
But then there are the issues and most notably is that "A Place in the Sun" is slow going, it takes time to build things up delivering long moments of almost artsy silence which makes it feel a little heavy handed. The heavy handedness extends to some of the more dramatic moments which feel overly manufactured forced to deliver intense drama and emotion yet failing because the manipulation of the audience is too obvious. Plus there is Raymond Burr who basically over acts his way through ever scene he appears in as District Attorney Frank Marlowe, although thankfully it's not many. But these issues stop "A Place in the Sun" being the 5 star movie which it could quite easily have been.
What this all boils down to is that "A Place in the Sun" is a good movie, it has a fascinating storyline surrounding love, innocence and betrayal and features some brilliant performances most notably from Montgomery Clift who is impeccable as the young George Eastman pushed to the edge of reasoning. Clift is not alone because Elizabeth Taylor is right up there as well with a seductively good performance. But "A Place in the Sun" is spoilt by some over dramatics and a slow pacing which makes it quite heavy going.
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