Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Place in the Sun - 1951


Elizabeth Taylor-Angela Vickers
Montgomery Clift-George Eastman
Shelley Winters-Alice Tripp
Raymond Burr-Frank Marlowe
Lois Chartand-Marsha Eastman
Fred Clark-Bellows
Charles Dayton-Kelly
Ted de Corsia-Judge
Kathryn Givney-Mrs. Louise Eastman
Herbert Heyes-Charles Eastman
Frieda Inescort-Mrs. Vickers
William Murphy-Mr. Whiting
Anne Revere-Hannah Eastman
John Ridgely-Coroner
Walter Sande-Jansen
Douglas Spencer-Boatkeeper
Shepperd Strudwick-Anthony Vickers
Keefe Brasselle-Earl Eastman
Paul H. Frees-Rev. Morrison


George Stevens -Director and Producer
Charles C. Coleman, Jr-. First Assistant Director
Ivan Moffat -Associate Producer
Hans Dreier -Art Director
Walter Tyler -Art Director
William C. Mellor -Cinematographer
Franz Waxman -Composer (Music Score)
Edith Head -Costume Designer
William W. Hornbeck -Editor
Pat Moore -Additional Editing
Wally Westmore -Makeup
Harry Brown -Screenwriter
Michael Wilson -Screenwriter
Emile Kuri -Set Designer
Gene Garvin -Sound/Sound Designer
Gene Merritt -Sound/Sound Designer
Gordon Jennings -Special Effects


This film is based on the 1925 Theodore Dreiser novel and was originally filmed in 1931. This 1951 remake was directed by George Stevens under a new title. A PLACE IN THE SUN was the first of director Stevens' "American trilogy" of films - the other two films were the classic western SHANE (1953) and epic GIANT (1956). Production on this film started in 1949 and was not released until 1951. Location shooting took place in  Lake Tahoe, NV.

Montgomery Clift stars as George Eastman, poor relation to the rich Eastman family. His father is dead and his mother is a religious fanatic. George leaves religion behind and wants to be with the rich and beautiful people of the world. He works at menial jobs and the story begins with Monty hitchhiking to a big city to begin a new life. He wants his “place in the sun.” He had a chance encounter with his rich uncle and is offered a job at the family business (a women’s bathing suit factory). He starts off working on an assembly line where, against company policy, he starts a relationship with one of the factory girls, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters).  Before long, however, he is spending time with his wealthy relatives where he meets and is instantly smitten by the luminously beautiful Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). In her, he sees a future that embodies the good life. She is beautiful, rich, dresses impeccably and drives a nice car. What more could a man want? LOL!

Note: While watching this movie, look for a slow dissolve between scenes. It gives the film a ghostly quality.

At a formal party a few weeks later, Angela sees him shooting pool and strikes up a conversation. In the first minute of the movie she drives by him. She did not notice him hitchhiking in a t-shirt and jeans. In a nice suit, she now takes notice of the attractive ambitious George Eastman. Edith Head’s gorgeous famous white gown is showcased in this scene. It fits Elizabeth like a glove. It is probably one of the most famous scenes in 1950’s movie history.

George and Angela begin a love affair and now he is now caught in a love triangle. George's “place in the sun” seems assured, except that Alice doesn't want to let him go. Alice is also in “Trouble.” While dealing with Alice, Angela is constantly in his thoughts. Her image appears on billboards, newspaper articles and even a flashing sign outside of his bedroom window. While George tries to figure out how he can keep a charade going with Alice and still love his dream girl Angela, everything comes to a tragic head over Labor Day weekend at the Vicker's lakeside home.

My Review:

The acting in A PLACE IN THE SUN is spectacular. This moving romance captured the emotions of post-war audiences with its unflinching, painful depiction of one man's struggle to achieve the American dream, and the fates which conspire against him. Montgomery Clift does some of the finest acting of his career, he is especially convincing during several phone call scenes. He completely embodies the confused young protagonist of Theodore Drieser's novel. He is also very good in the beginning as the shy “outsider” of the family. His body language is very convincing. In many of the scenes you are supposed to be horrified by his actions and motives, but he plays for the audience’s sympathy and he wins. You yearn for him to succeed.

Liz Taylor plays Angela perfectly. She manages to make you believe she genuinely loves George Eastman. Her ability to be an angelic young girl and a voluptuous worldly woman at the same time was never more evident than in the scene where she comforts a troubled Monty Clift with the whispered utterance, "Tell momma." It's an incredibly screen moment. The camera cuts in so close, almost too close. She never looked more beautiful than she does in this film. She was only 18 and she glows. Elizabeth and Montgomery Clift would begin a close friendship that would last until his death. This is the first of their three movies. The second was “RAINTREE COUNTY” and the third was “SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER.”

She meet s Conrad “Nicky” Hilton while filming on location in Lake Tahoe, NV. He would become her first husband. Their marriage would last less than a year. He was addicted to alcohol and gambling. It was also rumored that he beat Elizabeth.                                                    
Shelley Winters is pitiful and annoying as Alice Tripp, which is exactly what the part calls for. At times, I wanted to slap her. Alice recognizes in George exactly what George sees in Angela: higher quality - someone made of finer material - and perhaps a way out of a dead-end life. She allows George to seduce her early in their relationship in an attempt to attach him permanently. Eventually,she makes a desperate attempt to force him the marry her. Shelly was nominated for an Academy award for this performance. It would also be one of the first movies that involve her getting in the water and swimming.  Her private life was a mess during filming. For two years, she had been datiing a married man. That man was screen icon Burt Lancaster. She ended the relationship when a Hollywood magazine annoucned that Lancaster's wife was pregnant.

This moving romance captured the emotions of post-war audiences with its unflinching, painful depiction of one man's struggle to achieve the American dream, and the fates which conspire against him. The only bad (over-the-top) performance comes from Raymond Burr (in his pre-Perry Mason days) as the overly dramatic prosecuting attorney. Just listen to the way he repeats, "Didn't you Eastman?" in an incredibly accusatory tone. This is the slowest part of the movie. It is still a great movie and worth watching. The sexual and class issues can be may seem outdated in the 21st Century, but that was the way life was in the 1950's.


Costumer Edith Head's designs for Liz in A PLACE IN THE SUN influenced "young miss" collections nationwide. It also earned her an Academy Award. Knockoffs of her party dress with a daisy-covered bust was the country's most popular prom dress that season. This silhouette has been popular ever since.In Edith Head's Hollywood, a biography on the groundbreaking fashion designer (she dressed Liz for A PLACE IN THE SUN, ELEPHANT WALK and more) and great friend of Elizabeth's, she had this to say about her:

Elizabeth Taylor is the most beautiful woman I've ever fit. She is not as easy to dress as Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn, because she is a short woman - only 5'2". She's also extremely curvaceous and has short legs. But, you see, those are the kinds of minor imperfections that make for classic beauty. A woman's individual beauty is created by little mars in the state of perfect beauty. Elizabeth's fascination lies in those little discrepancies. She has aged gracefully, despite what her detractors have said. She is beautiful when she is plump and she is lovely when she trims down. A faulty figure can be changed by foundations and the proper use of dark and  light olors. But no makeup can create a face like  Elizabeth's. She is exquisite.
 The dress that Elizabeth wore.

In her autobiography “Shelley (Also Known as Shirley)" Winters states that she provided Stephens with ideas for her character’s wardrobe. She tried out for Alice in disguise and George Stevens could not believe it her. She wore no makeup,flattened her curled hair and dressed really frumpy for her audition. She wore her sister Blanches clothes for the audition. She was meeting Stevens at The Hollywood Athletic Club. She was seated next to him for almost 20 mins before he noticed her. Shelley had been appearing in bombshell roles and she really wanted a change. After getting the part of Alice, Shelley would temporarily dye her hair brown to add to her dowdy appearance.


To prepare for his role as a condemned man, Monty actually spent a night on death row at San Quentin prison in California.


Alice-"I'm in trouble, George... bad trouble"


The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, and won six - Best Director (the first Oscar for Stevens), Best Screenplay (Michael Wilson and Harry Brown), Best B/W Cinematography (William Mellor), Best Dramatic Score, Best Film Editing, and Best B/W Costume Design (Edith Head).

Its other three nominations were for Best Picture (it lost to AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951)), Best Actor (Montgomery Clift) and Best Actress (Shelley Winters).


  1. There are so many interesting tidbits in your review, but the thing that made me want to see this movie again was your mention of the slow fading dissolves. It's been so long since I've seen A Place in the Sun; now I want to check out those dissolves!

  2. Thanks for the feedback! My blog has something for everyone. Or at least I try to cover all of the retro bases!


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