Search

5. A PLACE IN THE SUN, 1951

A classic film with breakthrough performances

"A Place in the Sun" is a classic from one of the greatest of the Hollywood directors, George Stevens. A riveting drama about class struggle and the pursuit of the "American Dream”, and a visual masterpiece. It is based on the novel "An American Tragedy" by Theodore Dreiser. It was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, winning 6. It is a captivating film, and often makes it onto “Top 100 Movies of All-Time” lists.


"A Place in the Sun" is one of those great films filled with so much detail in the performances, the cinematography, the editing and directing, that you can watch it over and over again, and always discover something new. And just a reminder, if you've already seen any of these films, but not in the past 6 months or so, I highly recommend watching them again. You are bound see new things, and will probably gain a deeper understanding, or different take on the film.


Like “Notorious”, "A Place in the Sun" contains one of the most iconic kisses in screen history. Filmed in a close-up, the kiss is intense, intimate and filled with passion. Such an electric moment!


George Stevens

George Stevens, who produced and directed this film, won a “Best Director” Academy Award for it. It is one of two Oscars he would win, with a total of five career nominations. He started out as a cinematographer in silents and early sound films, and in the early 1930s directed many short films starring the comedy team of “Laurel and Hardy”. He went on to direct feature films, many of which have become classics, including "Giant", "Shane" and "A Place in the Sun". His directing in this film is nothing short of brilliant. In addition to his incredible composition (a George Stevens’ trademark), one of the exceptional technical aspects of this film is the use of slow dissolves from one shot to another. They add so much meaning juxtaposing different story lines and emotions throughout the film. I had seen this film at least a dozen times before seeing it in a movie theater. Even though I knew the film inside and out, I was in shock at how different it was on the big screen. It was literally like seeing it for the first time. Watching it in the theater, the two things that stood out were the details in the acting and the dissolves - neither of which I had truly appreciated before.


Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift is the lead, playing “George Eastman”. Also known as “Monty”, he is an important figure in screen acting. He was one of the first to bring a new kind of acting to the screen, “The Method”. “Method” acting, which became the rage in the 1950s, was made famous by “The Actor’s Studio” acting school. It had actors draw upon their own life experiences and emotions, and as a result came a naturalism and emotional depth not seen in screen acting at that point. Marlon Brando (who we will soon watch) hit the screen just a few years later, and became the face of the “Method”. His favorite actor was Montgomery Clift. You can see in all of Monty’s work (including “A Place in the Sun”), that he brings an extraordinary inner life to his characters. Even when he walks into a room before he speaks, there is so much clearly going on inside him. It is hard to appreciate now, but his acting was something new. He appeared in many classic films, including "From Here to Eternity", "The Heiress", "Red River", and several more which will appear on this blog. He was originally known for his good looks as well as his talent. He started his career on Broadway, and moved to Hollywood in the mid 1940s, and was a leading actor from his start in films. He became known for his naturalistic, sensitive and moody portrayals. Compared to other stars, he didn't make a lot of films in his career, as he was very particular about the roles he would take. In 1956, at the height of his career, he left a dinner party at Elizabeth Taylor’s house and had a serious car crash, breaking his jaw and nose, fracturing his sinus, and receiving several facial cuts which required plastic surgery. Elizabeth Taylor rushed to the crash and pulled a tooth from this throat on which he was choking. His face would never look or move the same way again. He began to rely on alcohol and pills to help with the constant pain, which slowly lead to his deterioration and eventual death from a heart attack in 1966 at 45 years old. It has been called “the longest suicide in Hollywood history". Clift was nominated for 4 Academy Awards (including one for “A Place in the Sun”), never winning, and is sadly somewhat overlooked these days. Montgomery Clift is tied with Cary Grant for being my favorite all-time actor.


Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor, who plays “Angela Vickers”, was 17 when this film was made. She is one of the great Hollywood actresses, biggest stars and icons, and was considered one of the world’s great beauties. She was voted number 7 of the women on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Stars” list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends”. She was known for her violet colored eyes. Born in London to American parents, she moved to Los Angeles when she was 7 and was in her first film when she was 10. She is one of the few stars to have different screen personas, due to her starting as a child star, and growing up before the camera. She portrayed everything from the adorable and sweet young girl, to classy, bawdy, dramatic, and comedic parts. Her role in “A Place in the Sun” was pivotal in her career. It was her first adult role, and she credits her experience working with Montgomery Clift in this film as the first time she took acting seriously. They became instant close friends on this film until his death, and made a total of 3 films together ("A Place in the Sun", "Raintree County" and "Suddenly Last Summer"). She said in an interview regarding Monty and “A Place in the Sun”, “I’ve got to find out what it is inside him that moves him so completely, emotionally. That can get him to that state as George Eastman, not Montgomery Clift, to make the sweat literally come out on his body. And I began to think about acting. And I think that’s when I first began to act". She is gorgeous to watch, and fantastic in this film, and she continued to give some outstanding performances in her career (and in my opinion, one or two of the screen’s all-time great performances). She won two “Best Actress” Academy Awards in the 1960s, with a total of 5 nominations during her career. We will definitely see more of her films, as she appeared in many classics, including "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "Giant", and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". In the 1960s, at the zenith of her career, she was the tabloid magazine favorite, starting with a paparazzi photo taken of her with her then co-star Richard Burton on a yacht (both of them were married to other people at the time). She was famously married eight times, to seven men (twice to Richard Burton), had several serious illnesses, led a movie star lifestyle, collected diamonds, was friends with Michael Jackson, was a great humanitarian, and a major voice for awareness and fundraising for AIDS when no one else would dare mention the disease. She remains one of the top screen legends of all time, and was so before and after her death. She died in 2011, at age 78. She is one of my very favorites.


Shelley Winters

Shelley Winters plays the plain and frumpy “Alice Tripp”. Casting her in this role was daring, as up to that point, she was a glamour girl appearing in mostly "B" films. “A Place in the Sun", was pivotal for Shelley (as well as Elizabeth Taylor). This film showed a new depth to her as an actress, and earned her a “Best Actress” Academy Award nomination. She didn’t win, but would later be nominated for 3 “Best Supporting Actress” Academy Awards, winning two. She, like Monty, was a “Method” actor, studying at the famous “Actors Studio”, which was founded by director Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis, and later employed its most famous teacher, Lee Strasberg. My first acting teacher, Gordon Phillips, studied with Strasberg and was in class with Shelley (and Marilyn Monroe) among others. I remember him mentioning that Shelley once scrubbed the floor and added some of her personal belongings to a stage apartment of a play she was in before it opened, to help familiarize herself with the space, and make her feel like she lived there. Shelley was an actor’s actor dedicated to acting, and she became a great character actress often playing the second lead. She appeared in several classic films which will be recommended in later posts, including "The Diary of Anne Frank", "Night of the Hunter", and perhaps her most memorable role in "The Poseidon Adventure". Outspoken, she published a scandalous best selling autobiography, in which she told of her “conquests” with several leading men. She was also Marilyn Monroe’s roommate at one point. Shelley sat near me in a restaurant in Los Angeles just before she died, and I was beside myself with excitement at sitting so close to such a legend and great actress whom I love! She died in 2006. She is a top notch actress, and one that I particularly love to watch.


Ann Revere

Also to be pointed out in the cast is Ann Revere, who plays “Hannah Eastman”, mother of Monty’s character, “George”. She was a very interesting and notable character actress, often appearing (as in this film) as the star’s mother. She appears in several classic films, was nominated three times for “Best Supporting Actress” Oscars, winning one for the classic 1944 film, “National Velvet”, a film that also made child actor Elizabeth Taylor, a star. Revere was blacklisted during the Hollywood, “Red Scare”, which I’ll write about in an upcoming blog entry.


Raymond Burr

Raymond Burr, who plays “District Attorney R. Frank Marlowe”, is a character actor who appeared in about one hundred films (often playing the villain). He appeared in a couple classic films, which will be added to this blog at some point. He is best known for his Emmy award winning role as TV’s “Perry Mason”, and in the TV series “Ironside”.


Edith Head

The costumes in “A Place in the Sun”, were designed by Edith Head, one of the most famous and awarded costume designers in history. She won an Academy Award for her costume design in this film - one of her eight wins, out of 35 total nominations. Up to this day, she holds the record for the most Oscar wins of any woman. She designed costumes at Paramount Studios for 44 years, and then moved to Universal Studios until her death in 1981, designing costumes for countless classic films, including "The Heiress", "The Greatest Show on Earth", "Roman Holiday", "The Sting", and “All About Eve” (which was the first film you saw on this blog). She was especially known for her designs for female stars, and top female stars often requested her. Her personal trademark was wearing dark glasses, which were blue lensed (used to get a sense of how colors would look in black and white). The white dress in “A Place in the Sun”, worn by Elizabeth Taylor when she first meets Monty’s character, became a trend setter, especially for ball gowns and proms.


So sit back, and get ready to enjoy the compelling and wonderful, "A Place in the Sun"!


YOU CAN STREAM OR BUY THE FILM ON AMAZON:

OTHER PLACES YOU CAN BUY THE FILM:
Ebay
Deep Discount