Based on Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy, A Place In The Sun has an interesting love triangle with three Hollywood stars. The poor relation George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) looks up rich uncle Charles (Herbert Heyes) for a job. Other Eastmans are George’s mom, Hannah (Anne Revere), upper crusty cousin Earl (Keefe Brasselle), and matriarch Louise (Kathyrn Giveney). On the job he meets “scrimp and save” Alice (Shirley Winters), but he’s really taken with society girl Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), whom he meets at a swanky family party.
The story for the most part concerns how George shifts from Alice to Angela on his way up the Eastman food chain. He uses Alice completely; at best she’s a convenient distraction, more ominously, just as extra baggage.
Angela steals the show at George’s first visit to the mansion despite the fact that he isn’t even introduced to her. In the factory, there’s a weird juxtaposition of the company’s fashionable clothing (along with the glamorous models on the posters) against the assembly-line drudgery that actually gets the product out.
George is naively two-faced from the very beginning; seeing Angela reposing languidly (how else does Elizabeth Taylor do anything?) in her car outside the plant, he ignores Alice, whom he’s walked out with, to unabashedly gawk at Angela.
Soon, the good uncle gives him a boost “it wouldn’t hurt to give that boy a little position”, along with that comes the invitation to the next Eastman shindig. So, finally, a decent introduction to Angela. She’s plenty flirty right off the bat. George has such a whispy, understated delivery that it almost seems that Angela makes a sociological project of him. He ditched Alice to go to the party–pretty bad karma, especially since they had planned stuff for his birthday. So, attempting to dig his way out of the doghouse, he ends up lying profusely to her.
This is also when he learns of her pregnancy. Soon, he’s going around with Angela, making a mark with the swells. Not only that: they profess love for each other. She wants him to come up to her family’s lakeside place. Back in George’s more pressing domestic life, Alice goes to a doc to get out of her ‘fix.’ But, he isn’t willing to ‘help’. She insists on marrying George–to him it seems like a death sentence.
Why doesn’t he tell Angela about Alice? He doesn’t love Alice, that’s the issue; but he’s responsible for her pregnancy. Meanwhile, he’s living it up with Angela, waterskiing, horseback-riding, etc. In a back-handed way, he proposes to her. Back in town, Alice sees a society-age photo-op of George hanging out with Angela. Another promotion is in store for George, too. But, with Alice, a demotion, and a surprise: she’s come up to see him.
He’s stuck now. They go to get married, but the courthouse is closed for Labor Day. So, Plan B. On the trip up to the lake, he fakes running out of gas; that enables him to get her out on the water, as a way of killing time (and other kinds of killing opportunities). Another weird juxtaposition: the beautiful lake in the wilderness, and his evil intent. The crucial question is: does he really kill her? She’s wishing on a star while he’s sweating it out with his conscience.
“You wish that I was dead” she tells him, with an accurate sense of foreboding. That conversation initiates the sequence when they both stand up in the boat and fall overboard. Clearly, he didn’t push her. It’s already established that she’s unsteady in the boat; she’s the one who stands up first–she accidentally fell out.
In any case, back at Angela’s place, he wants to elope with her. But, ironically, as her folks are warming up to him, she doesn’t see the need. Well, now he’s a wanted man. Trying to run away, he finds himself face to face with the law.
The D.A. (Raymond Burr in his Rock of Gibraltar mode) interviews Angela and her family. Interestingly, her dad and his uncle foot the bill for his defense. His attorney (Walter Sande) believes George when he says that, although he set out to kill Alice, he couldn’t go through with. As his attorney says he’s on trial for the act, not the thought of murder.
All in all, even with good exposition, and Burr’s theatrical Perry Mason warm-up, the courtroom scenes are overdone and illogical. It seems strange that the jury finds him guilty when there were no witnesses, and not a lot of evidence. The worst you could say is that he’s guilty of not saving her. Burr’s smashing the oar in the courtroom is not something that would be appreciated. Even the D.A.’s own reconstruction of the incident highlights only the fact that George didn’t save her–not that he forced her out of the boat.
As nicely-done as this production is, particularly Taylor’s and Winters’ performances, A Place In The Sun has a few weak links. As mentioned, the legal case against George seems flimsy–maybe more a reflection of the novel than than screenplay–and Clift seems much too passive to capture Taylor’s attention. If, say, Clift’s role had been slightly tweaked so that he came off as a psychopath, then it would’ve somewhat explained his growing hostility towards Winters’ character.
But that would take the subtlety out of his character too. On the other hand, if he starts off closer to Taylor’s status he wouldn’t have met the likes of an Alice Tripp anyway. It’s a difficult role. The way it’s presented here, though, I can’t why either woman would want him.
Farmermouse really dug the wooden speedboats, so he gives this eight pine cones. 8/10