Top 100 Movie Review: No. 070: A Place in the Sun (1951)

Ranked 070 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as May 2017).
Watched April 2019.

Cast: Montgomery Clift (George Eastman), Elizabeth Taylor (Angela Vickers), Shelley Winters (Alice Tripp), Anne Revere (Hannah Eastman), Keefe Brasselle (Earl Eastman), Fred Clark (Bellows)
Director:  George Stevens
My rating: 6.0 / 10

In 1950, George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), the poor nephew of rich industrialist Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), arrives in town seeking a job. Despite George’s family relationship to the Eastmans, they regard him as something of an outsider and his uncle only gives him an entry-level job at his factory.

George however hopes to impress his uncle with his hard work and progress. Against company rules George starts dating fellow factory worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Alice is naive girl who is impressed by George and slow to believe that his Eastman name brings him no advantages. His follow workers also don’t believe this either.

George slowly moves up the corporate ladder into a supervisory position in the department where he began. He has submitted recommendations on improving production in his department, which finally catch the attention of his uncle, who invites him to their home for a social event. At the party, George meets Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), whom he has admired from afar since shortly after arriving in town, and they quickly fall in love.

Being Angela’s escort thrusts George into the intoxicating and care-free lifestyle of high society that his rich Eastman kin had denied him. However a problem arises When Alice announces that she is pregnant and makes it clear that she expects George to marry her but George is more interested in Angela and the people in her well-heeled world.

An attempt to procure an abortion for Alice fails, and she renews her insistence on marriage. George is invited to join Angela at the Vickers’s holiday lake house over Labor Day and excuses himself to Alice, saying that the visit will advance his career and accrue to the benefit of the coming child.

George and Angela spend time at secluded Loon Lake, where Angela tells George the story of a supposed drowning there, with the man’s body never being found.

Alice finds a picture in the newspaper of George and Angela boating with friends, and realises that George lied to her about his intentions. Just as George appears to be on the verge of getting acceptance in high society and a major promotion at work Alice calls him while at the Eastman home telling him that she is at the bus station and that if he does not come to get her, she will come to where he is and expose him.

Shaken George announces that his mother is ill and that he must leave, but promises Angela that he will return. The next morning, George and Alice drive to City Hall to get married but they find it closed for Labour Day. George is relieved. Remembering the story Angela had told him about the drowned couple, and knowing that Alice can’t swim, George suggests spending the day at the nearby lake; Alice unsuspectingly agrees.

When they get to the lake, George pulls the car’s choke to feign it being out of gas in order to hide the car in the woods. He acts nervously when he rents a boat from a man who seems to deduce that George gave him a false name; the man’s suspicions are aroused more when George asks him whether any other boaters are on the lake (none are). While they are out on the lake, Alice confesses her dreams about their happy future together with their child. As George apparently takes pity on her, Alice tries to stand up in the boat, causing it to capsize, and Alice drowns.

George escapes, swims to shore, suspiciously confronts campers on his way back to the car, and eventually drives to the Vickers’ lodge. There, he tries to relax, but is increasingly tense. He says nothing to anyone about having been on the lake or about what happened there. Meanwhile, Alice’s body is discovered and her death is treated as a murder while an abundant amount of evidence and witness reports stack up against George.

Just as Angela’s father approves Angela’s marriage to him, George is arrested and charged with Alice’s murder. George’s actions before and after Alice’s death condemn him and he is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. Near the end, he agrees when the priest suggests that, although he did not kill Alice, he did not act to save her because he was thinking of Angela. The priest then states that, in his heart, it was murder.

Later, Angela visits George in prison, saying that she will always love him, and George slowly marches toward his execution.

What’s to Like
The movie dealing with subject of abortion, the cinematography, the examination of ambition, want and jealously.

What’s not to Like
The protagonist is very hard to like after the first 30 minutes, in fact only Alice Tripp is likeable by the end but she is so naive to the world and ends up paying with her life.

I found the exaggerated melodrama, and the very outdated social commentary difficult to enjoy especially with no one I could identify with, just a lot of characters who put themselves first.  Seeing the two struggling characters, the protagonist George and his factory worker girlfriend both die doesn’t send at great message about the working class.

At best this is just an okay movie to watch if you want to understand what was good and insightful entertainment of this era.

Academy Awards

  • Best Director (George Stevens) – winner
  • Best Writing, Screenplay (Michael Wilson and Harry Brown) – winner
  • Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (William C. Mellor) – winner
  • Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (Edith Head) – winner
  • Best Film Editing (William Hornbeck) – winner
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Franz Waxman) – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Montgomery Clift) – nominee
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Shelley Winters) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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