Tuesday, May 5, 2015

AFI Top 100, #92: "A Place in the Sun" (1951)

Movie Stats:
Released 1951 (USA)
American, in English
Director - George Stevens
Stars - Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

Plot Summary:
After growing up poor, ambitious social climber George (Clift) goes to work for his wealthy uncle and finds himself torn between two women: Alice (Winters), who represents the past he’s trying to escape, and Angela (Taylor), who’s everything he’s ever dreamed of.

Implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
I thought it dragged in the final third, where a lot of points from earlier in the movie were rehashed.

The romance between George and Angela was so overblown that it was difficult to take seriously. After one date, they’re declaring love. Parted for a day or two, they act like they’ve spent years apart. It was like watching a couple of 14-year-olds trying to prove they understand what love is all about.

Good Stuff:
I was pleasantly surprised that this film addressed a lot of social issues, many of which were certainly controversial at the time. I wouldn’t say that the class issue was handled very subtly, but the rest of them were. I particularly admired that the issues of [SPOILER] unwanted pregnancy and potential abortion [SPOILER] were shown with a tremendous amount of grace, compassion, and understanding. You don’t see that a lot, even in modern times, when we’re supposedly so much more advanced socially.

I really enjoyed Clift’s performance. George really shouldn’t have been a sympathetic character. The mess he lands himself in is entirely of his own making. And yet, we come to see that he is, in part, a victim of his circumstances. If he weren’t so desperate to escape the poverty of his youth; if the rules of the society he lived in were less restrictive; if he weren’t a human being with a natural, healthy desire for sex, perhaps then his life might have turned out better. Clift conveyed all of that without any help from the dialogue and he never chewed the scenery. In fact, he was so soft-spoken that I eventually had to turn on the subtitles.

The Verdict:
Man, this movie is dark. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I never knew anything about it before reading the blurb on the back of the DVD case, and that led me to believe that this was going to be a romantic melodrama. While some of the romantic portions are melodramatic, most of the rest is not. I thought it was great at raising a lot of questions about modern society without giving any easy answers. It’s much deeper than you might think, just judging by the cover. I’m not saying I’m ready to move it up to my top 10 list or anything, but it’s a pretty decent film. 

I give it 4 stars.


Patricia said...

I was intrigued enough about your review to put this on hold at the library. We shall see if my hold results in viewing this film. A lot of movies checked out from the library go back unwatched.

This movie makes me think of the song "Seasons in the Sun" and that's why I might think it's a cheery movie. Even if one doesn't have anything to do with the other.

balyien said...

I didn't really expect it to be cheery. I just thought it would be a sappy melodrama. I didn't think it would go so dark. I hope you do watch it! I think you might like it, so I'd be interested to hear if you do.