A Place In The Sun – George Stevens
From its opening shot, in which George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) is drawn by twin images of luxury—a billboard beauty reclining in her bathing suit and Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) driving past in her convertible—A Place in the Sun identifies George as a man virtually without a will of his own. His life is made up of women and the demands they make on him. His mother wants him to be a good God-fearing boy, and his girl friend, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), wants him to marry her so that their child will not be illegitimate. Angela, too, wants to be his wife and to ease him into her life of privilege and security.
It is easy to understand George’s predicament. A poor boy of no innate gifts who takes a job in his uncle’s factory and who makes his way along the management chain while simultaneously ascending the social ladder, he is an apt victim of twentieth century venality, a prime candidate for the way of life offered by his milieu. But George has already made his first mistake when the opportunity of marrying Angela is presented. He has become involved with Alice and gotten her pregnant, not only in contravention of society’s laws, but of the plant’s “no fraternization” rule as well.
From then on the dual images are those of Alice, spilling out of her clothes, pig-eyed and frightened, and of Angela, voluptuous, rich, and gorgeous. The choice is made before George knows that he has made it. Here director George Stevens is very subtle. In ‘George’s room there is a picture, a sort of Maxfield Parrish representation of Ophelia drowning. A shot which was cut from the release print shows George looking speculatively at the picture. As the film stands, it is in the background, a morbid decoration for George’s cheerless room. The idea is that the print inspires George to commit murder, but the George Eastman that Stevens gives us is without conscious volition, a man as incapable of killing as he is of taking charge of his own life.
George is not, however, without blame. Stevens’ film does not specifically indict American mercantilism and the work ethic to censure George, but these themes are in the background. They are the forces which have molded him and from which he is powerless to escape. The film was made in 1951, making George Eastman a member of the mid-century “silent generation” that elected Eisenhower and allowed Joe McCarthy to run rampant. Insofar as he is without a will of his own, George is part of that group; inasmuch as he is a fictional creation of Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, not to mention Theodore Dreiser, he is “Everyman,” rootless and drifting until he is taken in tow by Angela and his uncle and made into something he could not have become without them.
In fact, George is colorless and uninteresting. If he were not played by Montgomery Clift at the height of his good looks and talent, he would be a bore. The circumstances surrounding the filming of A Place in the Sun are germane to what is visible on the screen. Clift coached Elizabeth Taylor into giving an extraordinary performance. She had previously starred in Father of the Bride (1950), the first film in which her breathtaking beauty was in full bloom; but her great performance in Stevens’ film resulted as much from Clifts’s efforts as from Stevens’ direction.
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