A Place in the Sun (1951)

Seventy years ago today, the film A Place in the Sun premiered at Cannes Film Festival. Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift were never more beautiful than they were in this movie. This movie is phenomenal. Upon seeing the film, Charlie Chaplin called it “the greatest movie ever made about America”. It also won 6 Oscars and several other awards.

A PLACE IN THE SUN, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters, 1951

Title: A Place in the Sun
Directed by: George Stevens
Produced by: George Stevens
Screenplay by: Michael Wilson, Harry Brown
Based on: An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser; An American Tragedy by Patrick Kearney
Starring: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters
Music by: Franz Waxman, Daniele Amfitheatrof (uncredited)
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Edited by: William Hornbeck
Costumes: Edith Head
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release date: April 5, 1951 (Cannes Film Festival); August 14, 1951 (Los Angeles)
Running time: 122 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $2.3 million
Box office: $7 million
Academy Award Best Director for George Stevens
Academy Award Best Screenplay for Michael Wilson and Harry Brown
Academy Award Best Cinematography – Black-and-White for William C. Mellor
Academy Award Best Costume Design – Black-and-White for Edith Head
Academy Award Best Film Editing for William Hornbeck
Academy Award Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for Franz Waxman
Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture – Drama

In 1950, George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), the poor nephew of rich industrialist Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), arrives in town following a chance encounter with his uncle while working as a bellhop in a Chicago hotel. The elder Eastman invites George to visit him if and when he ever comes to town, and the ambitious young man takes advantage of the offer. Despite George’s family relationship to the Eastmans, they regard him as something of an outsider, but his uncle nevertheless offers him an entry-level job at his factory. George, uncomplaining, hopes to impress his uncle (whom he always addresses formally) with his hard work and earn his way up. While working in the factory, George starts dating fellow factory worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), in defiance of the workplace rules. Alice is a poor and inexperienced girl who is dazzled by George and slow to believe that his Eastman name brings him no advantages.

Over time, George begins a slow move up the corporate ladder into a supervisory position in the department where he began. He has submitted recommendations on improving production in his department, which finally catch the attention of his uncle, who invites him to their home for a social event. At the party, George finally meets “society girl” Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), whom he has admired from afar since shortly after arriving in town, and they quickly fall in love. Being Angela’s escort thrusts George into the intoxicating and care-free lifestyle of high society that his rich Eastman kin had denied him. When Alice announces that she is pregnant and makes it clear that she expects George to marry her, he puts her off, spending more and more of his time with Angela and his new well-heeled friends. An attempt to procure an abortion for Alice fails, and she renews her insistence on marriage. George is invited to join Angela at the Vickers’s holiday lake house over Labor Day and excuses himself to Alice, saying that the visit will advance his career and accrue to the benefit of the coming child.

George and Angela spend time at secluded Loon Lake, where Angela tells George the story of a couple’s supposed drowning there, with the man’s body never being found.

Meanwhile, Alice finds a picture in the newspaper of George and Angela boating with friends, and realizes that George lied to her about his intentions for wanting to go to the lake. During a dinner which is attended by the Eastman and Vickers families, George appears to be on the verge of finally advancing into the business and social realm that he has long sought. However, Alice phones the house during the dinner party and asks to speak with George. She tells him that she is at the bus station and that if he does not come to get her, she will come to where he is and expose him. Visibly shaken, he announces to the families that his mother is ill and that he must leave, but promises Angela that he will return. The next morning, George and Alice drive to City Hall to get married but they find it closed for Labor Day. George is relieved. Remembering the story Angela had told him about the drowned couple, and knowing that Alice cannot swim, George suggests spending the day at the nearby lake; Alice unsuspectingly agrees.

When they get to the lake, George pulls the car’s choke to feign its being out of gas in order to hide the car in the woods. He acts nervously when he rents a boat from a man who seems to deduce that George gave him a false name; the man’s suspicions are aroused more when George asks him whether any other boaters are on the lake (none are). While they are out on the lake, Alice talks about her dreams concerning their happy future together with their child. As George apparently takes pity on her, Alice tries to stand up in the boat, causing it to capsize, and Alice drowns.

George escapes, swims to shore, behaves suspiciously when he comes across campers on his way back to the car, and eventually drives to the Vickers’ lodge. There, he tries to relax, but is increasingly tense. He says nothing to anyone about having been on the lake or about what happened there. Meanwhile, Alice’s body is discovered and her death is treated as a murder almost from the first moment, while an abundant amount of evidence and witness reports stack up against George. Just as Angela’s father approves Angela’s marriage to him, George is arrested and charged with Alice’s murder. George’s furtive actions before and after Alice’s death condemn him. His denials are futile, and he is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. Near the end, he agrees when the priest suggests that, although he did not kill Alice, he did not act to save her because he was thinking of Angela. The priest then states that, in his heart, it was murder.

Later, Angela visits George in prison, saying that she will always love him, and George slowly marches toward his execution.

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