Well for my 150th post I have a real classic in Elizabeth Taylor/ Montgomery Clift outing A Place in the Sun. The AfI has this at 92 on its list of greatest movies, and yet while I really liked this film, and appreciated the performances, I struggle to call it great. Solid and very commendable yes, but not great.
I rented this film in a three box set called Screen Sirens. It also included Roman Holiday and To Catch a Thief. I seriously doubt if Audrey Hepburn would have considerrd herself a 'siren'. I myself don't consider her one. She was an attractive actress to be sure but 'siren' isn't quite what she was. Elizabeth Taylor and the simply devine Grace Kelly were definitely 'sirens' though. I rented the box set more for the Hepburn and Kelly films as I have never been a Taylor fan. Let me tell you why.
Until several nights ago I had only ever seen one Elizabeth Taylor movie, and that was in the mid-1970's!! It was National Velvet and since then I have almost religiously avoided her. It was more due to her many sham marriages than anything else as she began to represent for me the falsenesss of Hollywood. She just became a living joke and I felt quite repugnant whenever a new marriage was announced. It was just stupid that Elizabeth Taylor could be headline news round the world with another mariage when there was more important things to be aware of.
So to say I wasn't a fan is an understatement. It really is quite stupid when I think about it. We all have actors/actresses we have hate affairs with don't we? Whether we judge them on their screen portrayals or their lives offscreen we all have one or two we just come to loath. Taylor for me was one of several I have dis-liked over the years. The mantle has been passed to Vince Vaughn now. He makes me want to puke everytime I see him and I will never see another movie of his after the disgrace of The Dilemma.
Taylor even though she lead a sham life did do alot for charity, especially AIDS wise, and I will give her credit for that. But for me I can't shake the marriage angle and the more I think of it the more I realise how silly it all is. So it was with some trepidation that I slipped A Place in the Sun into the DVD player the other night. I wasn't fussed on the thought of it and yet by the end I was actually very pleased I took the time to watch only my second Liz Taylor film in my lifetime!
The film is an adaptation of Theodre Dreiser's novel, An American Tragedy. I think both film and novel titles very apt as the plot is a sad indictment of the American dream and its corrupting influences. The storyline revolves around George Eastman ( Montgomery Clift ), a poor working class boy employed by his rich uncle. He foolishly breaks a company rule of not becoming involved with the companies female employees, and gets a young naive Alice Tripp ( Shelly Winters ) in the family way. Meanwhile he meets beautiful, seductive, and innocent socialite Angela Vickers ( Liz Taylor ). The two fall in love and Eastman's troubles begin and lead to his demise.
George stevens the director cast Liz Taylor for her looks as he felt 'the audience would understand why George Eastman would kill for a place in the sun with her'. Taylor was 17 at the time and I must admit she was simply stunning!! It was a brilliant bit of casting and fit the whole moral of the story. In essence it is the story of class climbing and its pitfalls. Eastman is in a dilemma and dreams of killing off Tripp so he can safely marry Winters. Tripp fails in her bid for an abortion and forces Eastman to agreeing to do the honorable thing of marrying her. If he doesn't she would expose him to his uncle for the wrongful relationship. He is trapped and takes her out on a boating trip as he knows she can't swim. He battles his conscience which wins, but inadvertantly the boat tips over and she drowns. Eastman could have saved her but didn't as he saw it as the cure to his problems. Of course it all unravels and he ends up in court and found guilty of her murder. It is ironic because he had actually given up on the murder plan and yet fate seemed to fall his way when the boat tipped. The film ends with him confessing that he deserved the electric chair because he could have saved Trip and didn't.
Montgomery Clift as George Eastman is excellent and well deserving of his Oscar win. I have never seen a film of his before so it was nice to get one under my belt. He must have been a fine actor because his role in From Here to Eternity is legendary as is the film and novel it is based on. Shelly Winters is excellent as well as the naive Shelly Winters. She is easily lead astray by the good looking Eastman and the viewer can sympathise with her position. Hers is also another worthy Oscar winning performance. Liz Taylr is a knock out and perfect for her role. She is a pampered, spoiled, beautiful socialite that any male would be hard pressed to resist. She and Clift have a real on screen chemistry that makes it all work. This was Taylor's pivotal role and saw her come out from under the cover of child actress into the adult world. It is a fine performance and I doubt anyone else had the age and looks for the role except her.
A Place in the Sun when released was both a critical and commercial success. I think with both Taylor and Clift being young hearthrobs helped as audiences must have brought into the whole tragedy. It is a great story even though not original as such because three way love tryts have been done before. But it is a subtle look at the class system and how those without envy those who have, and how those with have nothing but scorn for those without. It reminds me very much of The Great Gatsby and parts of Les Miserables.
So why don't I regard this as a great film? It is certainly very good and the three leads are excellent, but the premise isn't original, and whilst beautifully filmed in black and white there is nothing spectacular or notable in it ( even though it won an Oscar for best B&W cinematography!! ). It is basically a very solid, classically made film, that relies on its star power's youthful good looks, and sentimentality to achieve its popularity. There is nothing wrong with this and it achieves it very well , but it doesn't lead it into the great realm for me personally. I can't escape the feeling of my heart strings being pulled but without anything else but looks and a sad ending to endure itself.
Elizabeth Taylor onset between takes as beautiful socialite Angela Vickers
A Place in the Sun is a very fine film, absolutely no question, and I do recommend it. Elizabeth Taylor is the obvious draw card and I must confess to have been impressed with her performance. She is perfectly cast for the role and fortunately had the talent to back up her extraordinary knock-out looks. If she didn't bring that talent to the role then the whole film would not have worked as her role is central to the socialite world she lives in and Eastmans desire to enter it through her. If you like classic movies then this will more than satisfy. For those of you, who like me were dismissive of Liz Taylor, I recommend you take a look at this as she did actually have real talent and this film proves it.
A really good example of 1950's film making which exploits the looks of both Clift and Taylor in a film that deals with the pitfalls of social climbing. Well worth a look and believe me Elizabeth Taylor was a genuine beauty in her day and I was just in awe of her! A genuine classic, and a film that has me re-appraising Liz Taylor! Enjoy!!