Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Abbynormal's Review of "A Place in the Sun" aka (in my world) "Make your holiday Death's holiday too" (Direct quote from the film, believe it or not)

Stunning Elizabeth Taylor and ... well, Montgomery Clift too

This film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Angela Vickers, Shelley Winters as Alice Tripp (not pictured here) and Montgomery Clift as George Eastman.

I have to tell you up front, that I am not much of a fan of Montgomery Clift. You may have guessed that from my captioning of the picture. I think it is because I don't find him even remotely attractive. I know, that is very shallow - I can't help it. It is my blog and I can be shallow if I want to. I think of him as an adult version of James Dean, but I realize that is very unfair to him. James Dean, I mean. I do believe Montgomery Clift to be a good actor, I just don't enjoy watching him do it. In this film, I would say he does a great job of fever acting. He acts by shaking and sweating a lot. Oh, and the ever popular brooding technique. I have never seen a more superior example of brooding while sweating and shaking. Marvelous. I am sure I have upset someone out there. All you Montgomery Clift fans, feel free to tell me off, er set me straight, and explain what you see that I don't see in him.

As for the film, from the moment George Eastman saw Angela Vickers speed by in her white convertible, he was a goner. An obsessive stalker was born. This is a classic love triangle story of sorts, brought about by a man's fantasy and loneliness. George loves Angela who epitomizes everything he wants out of life - wealth, position and glamour. George settles for Alice, in the meantime, who is frumpy, poor and plain. He settles out of loneliness as he believes Angela will never even notice him. Eventually, he does catch her eye (why, I don't know) and she even falls in love with him too (again, why?). This would be a happy ending and the realization of his fantasy if it weren't for that pesky Alice. Apparently, she managed to go and get herself pregnant by him and expects him to do the "right" thing. If he does not, she threatens to go to the papers with the story and scandalize his family. That is the setup of the movie in a nutshell. I will go no further with the plot as I do not wish to ruin it for anyone who has yet to see it.

One of the themes of this film is class division. George's parents were poor missionaries focused on religious gains instead of monetary gains. George has very little education, but has enough ambition to burn. He fantasizes of a rich, glamorous life like that of his Uncle and his family. This class division theme is so brilliantly setup by a long shot in the beginning of the movie (which I love) where the camera is behind the "well to do" Eastman family as George Eastman walks down a long corridor to enter the room and stand opposite them. "Them vs. George" or "Rich vs. Poor" is so clearly setup without a word being said. This theme of him trying to fit into rich society and trying to accepted by his Uncle's family and friends, while the dalliance with Alice drags him back to the lower class, is present throughout the entire film.

I pondered why he ever got involved with Alice anyway. I ran through theories of forbidden fruit since he was told he was not allowed to date any women that worked at his Uncle's factory where he was employed. In the end, I think it had less to do with forbidden fruit and more to do with simple loneliness. He had been in the town for months without a date and Angela, whom he was pining for, had yet to even notice him. From Alice's standpoint, I feel gutted for her in the beginning. Here is this poor working girl, just another face on a factory floor of dozens upon dozens of girls. Yet, the man whom she believes to be another rich Eastman, looks her way. He notices this plain and frumpy Alice and smiles at her. He even asks her out. Of all the girls, he picks her. I am sure this was intoxicating and for one of the few times in her life, she probably felt special. She believed his advances were sincere. Sadly, I think she was wrong. I believe he was just using her to fill the void till something better came along.

And boy, did something better come along (no offense intended towards Shelley Winters here). Elizabeth Taylor as Angela is just stunning. The camera eats her up. The film was shot in B&W to help hammer home the dark themes of the movie. Many of the scenes with Alice and George are done with heavy shadows. All of the scenes with George and Angela, on the other hand, are beautifully lit and gorgeous. The light on Angela's face makes her glow. Every time she appears, the film literally turns from dark to light. The scene where George professes his love to Angela and she does the same in return is breathtakingly romantic and not to be missed - even if it is Montgomery Clift instead of, say, Cary Grant. :-)

Towards the end though, my sympathy stays strong with the beautiful Angela. She accepted this lower class man, fell in love with him and did absolutely nothing wrong. My sympathy for Alice waned a bit when she went from just being a sad character to being a shrill, demanding and desperate woman who decides to blackmail to get what she wants. I understand that she is in a terrible spot, but still, by the end of the scene where she threatens him and is such a witch - I too just wanted her to go away and so we could get back to the charm of Angela. As for George, well, I never had much sympathy for George so I never lost or gained any there.

I believe if you like a movie, one viewing is not nearly enough. Upon first viewing, if you are like me, you are in total plot lust. You are dying to know what happens next, almost to the exclusion of being able to pay attention to anything else other than .. what's going to happen? Upon second viewing, you can calm down a bit and begin to enjoy all of the parts of the film, not just the plot. For instance, if you already know the arc the characters are going to take, you can enjoy watching masterful actors use their skill to get there. Also, you can pay more attention to how shots are set up and notice those nuggets in a movie that make it great, that you couldn't possibly even recognize on the first viewing. An example from "A Place in the Sun" would be, for instance, a foreshadowing device. There are many of these sprinkled through the film, but my favorite has to be the Ophelia painting on the wall in George's room at the boarding house. I love that painting and I love the use of it in this film.

My last though on this film is not one that is originally mine and I won't dissect it too much. I wanted to briefly point out how much I love that "The Talented Mr. Ripley" seems to be so closely tied to the themes of this movie. If you have seen both, I think you will see what I mean.

In summary, if you haven't already guessed, I highly recommend this film. It has it all - drama, romance, suspense - so it has a little bit of something for everyone.

Now, discuss :-)


Jennythenipper said...

"I have never seen a more superior example of brooding while sweating and shaking." bwahahaha.

I don't like Monty much either. I like this movie though. Excellent observations. I hadn't noticed the movie changing from dark to light when Angela is on screen. I didn't notice the Ophelia picture either.

Shelley Winters is a genius at playing unpleasant people in a way that you hate them but you still feel they are human and deserve your pity.

Yeah you are very right about it sharing a lot of plot points with the Talented Mr. Ripley. Right down to where the um incident takes place. George is the same sort of sociopath as well. He has a talent of ingratiating himself to people by presenting exactly what they want to see.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I have to admit, I didn't read much of your review. :)

You know how I feel about old movies and while I'm sure some of their plot lines are good and there are some fantastic old movies out there, I'm just not interested in getting into them. I've watched my fair share (my mom has made me), but not something I'd pick up as a first choice.

ANYWAY, that being said, Ms. Taylor looks AMAZING in that photo. What a beauty. Monty... Eh, not so much. His eyes are kind of pretty...

I will go back and read your review at some point, but I have to be in the mood :)


AbbyNormal said...

D - I still have hope for you in regards to classic movies. :-)

Jenny - Since I hold your opinion in such high esteem, I am secretly pleased that you are not a fan of Monty too. I thought I was missing something that everyone else somehow "got" with him.

kda0121 said...

Monty isn't in my top ten or even top twenty list of favorite actors, but I do like several of the movies he was in. His George Eastman in A Place in the Sun is probably is most archetypal role. He certainly does brood.

I also like him a lot in From Here to Eternity, though I must admit, I'm more drawn to Burt Lancaster's character. He was also very interesting as the priest in Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess.

I think my favorite Monty role was in The Search. He played a G.I. in post-war West Berlin and takes in a Polish refugee boy. If your eyes don't get misty at the end of this one, you are a cold, cold person or your tear ducts have been welded shut.