Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Have I not blogged about A Place in the Sun before?

Tonight on TCM is a night of "Bob's Picks". Robert Osborne's first selection is A Place in the Sun at 8:00 PM. Apparently I've never done a full-length post on this one before, and the TCM schedule claims it's not available from the TCM Shop, so now might be a good time to recommend the movie

As the opening credits come up, we see Montgomery Clift hitchhiking along a highway trying to get to town. It turns out that the young man's name is George Eastman, and the place that he's going to is a business called... Eastman Industries. No, George doesn't own the place. Instead, it's his uncle Charles who owns the place, and George is looking for a job at the bottom of the ladder. Apparently, George's father and the rest of the Eastmans didn't get along all that well: Mom is working at the mission in one of the big cities in the midwest while the rest of the familiy is wealthy. It's not just that George's parents (Dad presumably died as we don't see him) are doing charity work; they really seem to belive the whole probably non-mainstream branch of Christianity stuff. But uncle Charles and his son Earl give George a job on the assembly line boxing shirts and blouses.

Most of the workers here are women, and Earl lets George know about the company policy in no uncertain terms: no romantic liaisons between the male and female employees. Not that they thought about sexual harassment back in those days; it was just easier not to have to deal with workplace romances. You can argue that it's good advice, but the policy is given so obviously that you just know George is going to fall in love with one of the workers there, which soon enough happens as he's walking home from work with Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). In theory, a workplace romance might not be such a bad thing if one of them can get a job someplace else or if they can get married and the woman can become the housewife as would have been the expected thing back in 1951 when the movie was released. But of course the movie isn't going to work out that way.

George, being the nephew of the factory owner, eventually goes to meet his uncle Charles at the Eastman estate. While waiting for Charles in the billiard room, in walks young debutante Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). She's taken by George's raw manliness gained from having worked blue-collar jobs instead of a life of leisure that all the other young men she's ever known would have had. George falls for Angela because, well, she's played by Elizabeth Taylor, who really was a stunning looker up until about Butterfield 8. Of course, there's a problem in that George already has that relatinoship with Alice Tripp, and probably another problem in that George isn't really the right social class for Angela and her family. That latter problem could probably be solved, or at least ameliorated, if George can get his uncle to give him a promotion.

But the former problem is about to get much bigger. Alice informs George that she's going to have a baby! George is trying to have a relationship with Angela now, but having knocked up one's ex really throws a monkey wrench in the works. And Alice is making no bones about it. Do something now, or I'm telling everybody about our relationship. What's a young man to do? George decides to take Alice up to the lake for Labor Day, where he's going to rent a canoe, and let nature take its course, or perhaps push nature along. The story strongly implies that George is planning to murder Alice, but the way the scene is played deftly makes it ambiguous as to whether he murdered her, or whether she really fell out accidentally and then George committed negligent homicide by doing nothing to try to save Alice. Either way, though, George is going to have to pay, thanks to the Production Code.

Even though we know where the movie is going to wind up thanks to the strictures of the Production Code, it's still an excellent movie even after is starts the path along that preordained denouement. The story before that is top-notch and the last third is not bad at all. Elizabeth Taylor is OK, although her character is for most of the movie given fairly little to do other than look good and make it obvious why George would fall for Angela. And when you look as good as Elizabeth Taylor did back then, that's not hard. But then Taylor gets her finale and shows that was was going to blossom into much more than just a juvenile actress. Montgomery Clift is very good, playing the difficult role of the man who's gotten himself caught between two women and between two worlds, and has made a complete mess of his life. I've never considered myself the biggest fan of Clift's work, and yet every time I see one of his movies I find that there's an extremely high-quality movie to be had, and it's not as if he's detracting from that one bit. The reveltion, though, is Shelley Winters, who is very, very good, up until she announces that she's pregnant, at which point she's fabulous. It's just too bad that her character has to die off two-thirds of the way through the movie. Winters and Clift were both nominated for Oscars, although they both lost (to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire respectively). The movie won several awards, however, for George Stevens' direction, the screenplay, and the lovely black-and-white cinematography, among others.

If you haven't seen A Place in the Sun before, I strongly recommend it.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Thank you for the recommendation and for highlighting this film; I have not seen this movie yet.