Movie Notes: A Place in the Sun (1951)

The director is George Stevens. The lead parts are by Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.

OK, I didn’t like this one at all and didn’t finish it. It’s really bad. The only good thing about this movie is that Elizabeth Taylor is gorgeous. Especially when she stands completely still and days nothing.

The movie is based on Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, which as everybody here knows I consider to be the great American novel. Dreiser’s book isn’t impossible to bring to the screen. There was a very nice Soviet movie based on it. But the script writers for A Place in the Sun completely botched it. Nothing makes sense. People behave in weird ways for no reason.

And it’s poorly filmed. In the scene where “Alice” (Roberta in the original) tells “George” (Clyde) that she’s pregnant, she’s filmed from the back and we never see her face. The actors all behave like they are from Finland in terms of their extremely subdued affect. They are tortured by flights of sexual fancy but nothing else.

Sexuality is portrayed in a very bizarre way. A very rich and beautiful girl suddenly gets so overcome with desire for some obscure guy she once saw in passing that she hunts him down and practically jumps on him in public. I can see a mature woman in her thirties today doing that, and it’s still a rare woman. But in 1951?

This Montgomery Clift fellow is such a bad actor that even the talentless Taylor looks like an acting genius by his side. But she’s beautiful and has amazing outfits. That’s the only nice thing about the movie. Montgomery Clift would be great for movies about the Italian mafia in New York. But I’m guessing it wasn’t a thing in 1951, right?

I really wanted to finish it because I read that later in the movie an actress appears who was a descendant of Paul Revere. But even that wasn’t enough to entice me to keep watching.

3 thoughts on “Movie Notes: A Place in the Sun (1951)

  1. The movie’s screenplay was so restricted by the then-current censorship code that you’d never even know that Cliff and Winters were having sex if she hadn’t told him (quoting from the movie), “I think I’m in trouble.” Dialogue like “pregnant” or “even having a baby” wasn’t allowed.

    I saw the movie on television in 1968 and mentioned to my mother how ridiculously tame and coy it was by late 60’s standards. She told me that back in 1951, it had been considered shocking and scandalous.

    You missed the best part of the movie: Cliff on death row having a vision of Elizabeth Taylor while he walked the last mile to the electric chair.


    1. I didn’t feel like sex was missing from the movie. I wish it had something except for sex.

      But I’m stunned that you can remember something you watched in 1968. I forget the characters’ names 30 minutes after watching. Sometimes I forget them while watching.


  2. Clarissa, you may enjoy “National Velvet” starring Elizabeth Taylor as a young girl. Anne Revere, Communist Party member, plays her mother. An excellent film your daughter may enjoy watching with you.


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