Sunday, November 26, 2017

An American Tragedy vs. A Place in the Sun

I finally got around to watching An American Tragedy off my DVR, having noticed that it's available on DVD courtesy of Universal's Vault Series, which is their MOD scheme. It's based on Theodore Dreiser's novel of the same name, which was probably more famously turned into a movie in 1951 is A Place in the Sun. So you probably know the story, but there are some differences.

Phillips Holmes plays Clyde Griffiths, the young man who gets a job at his wealthy uncle's factory, where he falls in love with a co-worker Roberta (Sylvia Sidney) against company policy. And then he meets the wealthy Sondra (Frances Dee) and falls in love with her (or probably her wealth), leaving Roberta up the creek without a paddle. And pregnant. So Clyde gets the idea to kill Roberta in a boating "accident", but chickens out at the last minute. Except that there's an accident anyway, leaving open the question of whether Clyde really did chicken out.

The first big difference is that we get to see Clyde's back-story here. A Place in the Sun opens up with Montgomery Clift playing the Clyde character (renamed George Eastman) hitching a ride into the town where his uncle's factory is located. We do learn that his mother ran the homeless mission, but in An American Tragedy we see it, and Clyde's life, in the opening scene. It looks even more run down than what studios put on screen in the 1950s, and you can see why Clyde would want to escape this life. More importantly, he has to leave as he and his friends got in a hit-and-run (Clyde was a passenger) and Clyde doesn't want to face the law. Already we see his moral cowardice which is a big theme of this earlier version.

Second, the wealthy girlfriend character is much bigger in A Place in the Sun> That's unsurprising, since that character is played by a 19-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, who looked stunning at the time and was a much bigger star than Frances Dee ever was. Of course they'd expand her character. But the meeting between her and Clyde/George is more natural in the later movie. George was over at his uncle's house to talk business, and thw young woman shows up for a party; sparks immediately fly. In An American Tragedy, the two meet on the sidewalk and you wonder why the young woman would give the time of day to Clyde.

The trial is also much more histrionic in the earlier movie, with a humorous scene of the DA and defense attorney nearly coming to blows! Yeah, I can't imagine that happening in a courtroom. There's also way too much histrionics and objections or lack of them in odd places. The DA gets the dead girl's age wrong and the defense attorney doesn't file an objection.

Still, I liked both versions, although I do prefer A Place in the Sun. It's probably because I saw it first. But An American Tragedy has a bit of a perfunctory feel to it, while A Place in the Sun has something special. Since I blogged about it, A Place in the Sun has received a DVD release, so now you can judge both side by side.

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