|A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)|
|Time: 122 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Director, Film Editing, Score and Screenplay. Nominations for Best Actor (Clift), Actress (Winters) and Best Picture.
George Stevens' puts young love to the ultimate test in this melodrama that shows how one youthful indiscretion can ruin your whole life. Clift plays George Eastman the white trash nephew of a prominent family given the chance to better himself by working his way up in the family business. After one brief encounter, he dreams of dating local socialite Angela Vickers (Taylor), but is nowhere near her league. So, despite warnings to the contrary, he begins to date fellow employee Alice Tripp (Winters), a shy, single girl looking for true love. Since they could both be fired if they're caught together, they keep their relationship a secret. George's dreams of a promotion finally come true after months of hard work, seemingly giving the young couple a bright future. However, after spending an evening with Angela, George's affections find a new home and it's not in the arms of poor, clingy Alice.
Unfortunately for him, his lust did take seed and Alice is not about to face this major social disaster alone. Since she can't return home in this condition and is unable to get rid of the baby, her condition leaves very few options. Plus, she's desperately in love with George and wants him to marry her. The one kink in the plan is that George is in love with Angela, who amazingly reciprocates his feelings despite the disapproval of her parents. He is on the verge of total happiness and if it weren't for Alice he'd have the life he always wanted. His desperation to be rid of the problem and her unrelenting pressure, lead George and Alice down a path of dark intentions that proves both of their undoing. Their youthful indiscretion forces them to pay a heavy price, one neither of them could have imagined while they were sharing those stolen moments in the dark. If it weren't for the first class acting by all involved, A PLACE IN THE SUN would be an unbearable, moralistic tale about the dangers of succumbing to one's baser impulses. It practically equates premarital sex with murder or, at the very least, the death of one's future.
Though it has a soap opera vibe, and plot for that matter, the subtle and poignant performances of the three young leads brings the high melodrama down a few notches. No one plays the hurt outsider with a heart of gold better than Clift. He's the puppy beaten down by life women just have to hold and nurture. His brilliant blue eyes and dark, good looks only complete the whole package. Though his behavior throughout this film is less than admirable, you want him to find happiness with Angela. Sure, she only likes him once he's not a stock boy, but she's rich, sweet, smart and beautiful. Who could turn that down? On the other hand, Alice was a comfort in those first lonely months in a new town. So what if she's a little needy? She loved him when no one else did and that should count for something. As annoying as she becomes, her demands stem from a place of love and a fear for her future. Winters gives a heartbreaking performance as this simple girl who pays a very high price for trusting her heart. The final confrontation in the boat is devastating to watch as both she and Clift struggle with their darkest fears and secret desires.
There's a sudden switch in tone after this sequence that's a little disconcerting and was completely unexpected. What starts as a complicated love triangle takes a Hitchcockian turn down a path of deception, desperation and death that's pretty hard to swallow. What holds the story together is Clift's pained and earnest performance. Did he mean for the situation to take such a nasty turn? Not really...but what else was he supposed to do? He never meant for Alice to get hurt, she just got in the way of the life he always wanted. Despite his actions and the fact that he meant them, Clift still makes you think that George got a raw deal, which is saying something about his power as an actor. The ladies aren't too shabby either. Both are sweet and loving, yet are two very different sides of the love coin. Taylor and Clift would go on to make several other pictures together (and become great friends), but I find their connection here to be the most enduring and pure. You have to believe it's true love in order to stay on his side and they leave no doubt. Stevens' unpretentious directing style focuses one's attention exactly where it should be at the raw emotions exuding from his actors faces. This may be pure 50s pulp, but it's power is undeniable. A film that shows why Taylor and Clift became household names.