Classic Movie Review: A Place in the Sun (1951)


TitleA Place in the Sun
Release Date: August 14, 1951
Director: George Stevens
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

This movie made my list because I’ve liked the song by The Clash “The Right Profile,” which is a tribute to Montgomery Clift, and I wanted to watch one of his movies.  Clift stars opposite Elizabeth Taylor in one of her first films after transitioning from a child actor to more mature material.  There’s definitely an essence of a new generation of “hot, young stars” powering this movie.

A Place in the Sun is based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel An American Tragedy, although the story is updated to the 1950s. Clift plays George Eastman, a young man who grew up poor with a mother who serves as an inner-city missionary. He attracts the attention of an industrialist uncle and at the beginning of the film arrives to take a low-level position at his uncle’s swimsuit factory.  While the 1950s are often imagined as a time when “a woman’s place is in the home,” it is significant that the vast majority of employees in this factory are women.  Against the company rules, George dating fellow factory worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), and soon she finds herself “in a family way.”

At the same time Alice is dealing with unexpected pregnancy, George is rising through the ranks in the factory and beginning to socialize with his Eastman relatives.  At a party he meets the beautiful heiress Angela Vickers (Taylor) and they swiftly fall in love.  George is caught between two potential futures: poverty and an unhappy marriage with Alice or continuing his ambitious climb up the corporate ladder with his dreamgirl Angela.  His solutions prove deadly.

The movie is admirable in addressing issues such as premarital sex, abortion, class wars, and capital punishment within the bounds of the Hayes Code.  But overall the story plays out as a soapy melodrama.  Clift, Taylor, and Winters all put in excellent performances (the former two making odious characters somewhat sympathetic) in what is, by and large, a bad movie.

Rating: **

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