Retro Reels: A Place In the Sun (1951)

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In the drama A Place in the Sun, Montgomery Clift plays George Eastman. Though related to a rich industrialist named Charles Eastman, George is looked down upon because his family is poor. Still, that doesn’t stop him from taking a job in his uncle’s factory. George hopes his work ethic will impress his uncle so he can work his way up, and also work his way into his uncle’s upper crust world.

Though dating co-workers is strictly verboten, George starts dating fellow factory worker Alice Tripp (Shelly Winters). Alice is plain-looking and poor but truly smitten by George and his connections to his wealthy uncle even though George’s connections seem to be in name only.

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Despite dating Alice, George falls in love with Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor in her first adult role) after meeting her at a party. Angela is not only beautiful she is also from a wealthy family. Dating Angela brings George closer to the upper crust world he always desired.

hqdefaultHowever, Alice is hardly out of the picture, and it isn’t before long she announces she is pregnant with George’s child. She believes this will prompt George to marry her. Not surprisingly, George is not happy with this idea, especially since he is in love with Angela. He tells Alice to have an abortion but she refuses. She figures since George is getting closer to his uncle’s world of wealth, he’ll have no problem supporting a wife and child.

Alice soon sees a newspaper of photo of George and Angela and realizes he is cheating on her. Alice confronts George, threatening to tell everyone about what is going on between them and about the pregnancy. He better marry her or else.

To save face, George takes Alice to the local city hall for a quick elopement. However, it is Labor Day week-end and city hall is closed. Instead of ditching Alice, George convinces her they should visit a nearby lake. Not quite realizing what George has in mind, Alice agrees.

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While renting a boat under a false name, George acts nervous. Finding out there are no people on the lake George thinks this might be a good time to murder Alice and dispose of her body. With Alice out of the picture George is free to continue dating Angela and free from marrying Alice.

However, once Alice tells George how excited she is about their future and the upcoming birth of their child. George has a change of heart. He can’t murder Alice. He must do the right thing and marry her. But when Alice stands up in the boat, the boat capsizes, and Alice does drown.

816full-a-place-in-the-sun-screenshotGeorge, however, is safe, and he swims to shore. He goes to Angela’s family lake home and struggles to keep the story of Alice’s drowning a secret. But before long Alice’s body is discovered, her drowning is ruled a homicide.

With a great deal of evidence stacked against him George is arrested for Angela’s death. This happens just as George is going to ask for Angela’s hand in marriage.

Though George is innocent, the evidence is overwhelming. He tries to explain what lead up to Alice’s accidental drowning, but the prosecutor (Raymond Burr) aggressively pulls apart George’s testimony. The prosecutor convinces the jury that George committed first degree murder and the jury finds him guilty. George is sentenced to the electric chair.

As George faces his last days he pours his heart out in a letter to Angela. He claims he did not kill Alice but her drowning was perhaps his only way to leave his poor, underprivileged past behind and start fresh with Angela.

A Place in the Sun is lushly filmed in black and white, and its romantic scenes are unbelievably passionate and erotic. Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty is beyond compare and she and Montgomery Clift have electric chemistry that leaps off the screen. A Place in the Sun was nominated for nine Oscars and won six, including a best director Oscar for George Stevens.

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Based on the Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy, A Place in the Sun highlights the huge gap between rich and poor, even among family members. It also conveys how one’s ambitious desires, and obsession with money and status can make people consider doing horrible things. A Place in the Sun also shows how people can be victims and victimize others.

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