“A Place in the Sun” (1951)
Running time: 122 minutes
Written by: Michael Wilson and Harry Brown based on An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Directed by: George Stevens
Featuring: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Anne Revere and Raymond Burr
George Eastman: “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.”
Recently released on Blu-ray is the George Stevens produced and directed “A Place in the Sun” (1951) that remains as vital today as it was over sixty years ago when it was initially released. When bonafide classics are released into the home market, especially those that were produced before the 1970s there is a tendency to view them two ways, firstly through the eyes of the present which means no matter how good they are there is a tendency to judge them through modern eyes which means they can come across as overrated and out of time. The second way is to appreciate them for what they are, where and when they are from and the technology that was available both in front of and behind the camera. I tend to opt for the second option, that means I am never let down and appreciate what I am actually seeing, where we as people have come from and how far we have to go. With “A Place in the Sun” which is a movie I really enjoy, there is much to enjoy from the all around performance, to the direction as well as the scope of the story, sure it can be melodramatic and some of the plot points may seem old fashioned but relating it to modern times is not difficult especially with the lack of upward mobility and the disappearance of an actual middle class.
There are many reasons to watch the movie, it is director George Stevens first ‘great’ film before he would direct James Dean in his last film the sprawling and magnificent “Giant” (1956) as well as a few years before the always watchable and often quoted “Shane” (1954), although Stevens was a very good director, up to “A Place in the Sun” he had directed twenty movies, it was this late career output he will be remembered for. “A Place in the Sun” is about love and class, which are still relevant but in 1950s America it was something else for young people to overcome. Because this movie is set up from the man’s point of view as well as his own ambitions which seem tame in today’s world the movie almost seems shallow as well as conformist in the very worst sense. In terms of plot it has aged not well at all, but thankfully when viewing movies there is so much more to look at, such as the performances of the three leads, Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters.
No matter what you may think, it is obvious Montgomery Clift is a star as well as a great actor, one who was all about method, much like the younger James Dean who was also on the scene. Both were incredibly talented men who both met with tragic endings, although Clift appeared in many more films it is sad that his star has faded while Dean’s has always been in ascendance. There is no doubt that all three actors were chosen for a variety of reasons, of course Winters and Clift were great looking, but had talent to burn. It would be unfair to say that Elizabeth Taylor was not a good actor but she was a star, she was eighteen when she featured in this, there was no real stretch for her to portray a pretty socialite without a care in the world, except whom she might marry. One of the main reasons to watch this film is for the performance of the three leads who are all doing vastly different jobs playing very different and particular characters which for a teen drama is a gift for any audience.
“A Place in the Sun”, set in 1950, concerns 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. This is the point where melodrama takes over, I will not spoil the ending or any further plot points but this general story has been told often so the ending should not be a huge surprise.
Extremely well directed and acted “A Place in the Sun” is well worth watching, it is an experience from another time that really shows how different life was once upon a time. It seems almost easy, relaxed and simple in a time following the War, it speaks to a generation attempting to find themselves not knowing what was to come with two more wars as well as unrest that they would only dream of. This movie is also throughly more enjoyable if watched with “Giant”, a film that would highlight how different the world was to come, especially in entertainment with stars being able to launch projects and new exciting talent coming to bear.
Many black & white classics from Hollywood’s Golden years found a new audience thanks to high definition, which in some cases revealed more stunning detail than their Technicolor counterparts. Imprint Films’ 1080pm presentation of A Place in the Sun comes from a 4K restoration by Paramount Pictures, which has yielded an impressive 1.37:1 image with a beautiful matte texture and a very radiant quality. However, there are brief moments scattered throughout when the quality dips slightly, taking on high contrast with less detail, but they’re usually toward the end of scenes.
Sound comes in 5.1 DTS-HD Surround with an optional LCMP 2.0 Stereo track, which really elevates the film with its sweeping romantically-styled score. Dialogue is very much front and centre with solid volume, not becoming blended with background sounds.
• Audio commentary with George Stevens Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat
• “George Stevens and His Place in the Sun” featurette (22:23)
• “George Stevens: The Filmmakers Who Knew Him” – Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, and others reminisce about working with Stevens (45:27)
• Theatrical Trailer (2:37)
• Photo Gallery (11:55)
• Imprint Trailer (0:26)
• Optional English subtitles