7:30am PST – A Place in the Sun (1951) – An ambitious young man wins an heiress’s heart but has to cope with his former girlfriend’s pregnancy. Cast: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Anne Revere Dir: George Stevens BW-122 mins, TV-PG
When you hear the word “nuanced” from Hollywood today, dollars to donuts they mean “immoral,” as in, we’re going to appease some terrorists and sexualize young children and call it “sophisticated.” Whether they know it or not (and I think they do), those particular plot points don’t represent “subtle shades of meaning,” they represent appeasing terrorists and sexualizing young children.
True dramatic nuance, the idea of exploring the complexity of the human condition (as opposed to excusing repugnant behavior), can be found, not too surprisingly, in those old-fashioned, black and white flickers – and today’s pick is one of the finest examples you’re likely to come across.
The power of George Stevens’ masterpiece is that no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you keep hoping a fit of cinematic magic will force events to unroll differently. Based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel “An American Tragedy,” which itself was inspired by a true story, “A Place in the Sun” would win six Oscars, including screenplay, cinematography, and director.
In other words, Montgomery Clift wuz robbed.
As George Eastman, Monty Clift performs a miracle on screen, retaining our sympathy even as he paints himself further and further into a dark corner with increasingly desperate and ultimately monstrous acts. The genius of the film is that while we’re never asked to excuse his behavior, by the time Eastman’s gone too far he’s so captured our sympathy we can’t help but hope for some kind of fate to step in and give him a do over.
Part of our sympathy may also arise from the fact that the idea of committing terrible deeds in order to be with Elizabeth Taylor at the pinnacle of her raven-haired beauty doesn’t seem altogether unreasonable, especially when the alternative is dowdy, grasping, needy Shelley Winters. Both actresses are terrific, especially Winters, who was actually something of a sex symbol at the time. In her entertaining autobiography. Winters blames this role (which she aggressively pursued) for typecasting her forevermore.
A one of a kind film. Not exactly Valentines Day material, unless your idea of celebrating the holiday is with a knot in your stomach slowly tightening over 122 expertly paced minutes.