A Place in the Sun

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A Place in the Sun (1951 poster).jpg

A Place in the Sun is a 1951 American drama film based on the 1925 novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser and the 1926 play, also titled An American Tragedy. It tells the story of a working-class young man who is entangled with two women: one who works in his wealthy uncle's factory, and the other a beautiful socialite. Another adaptation of the novel had been filmed once before, as An American Tragedy, in 1931. All these works were inspired by the real-life murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette in 1906, which resulted in Gillette's conviction and execution by electric chair in 1908.

Why It Rocks

  1. The lead actors' performances from Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters are incredibly well-done and still manage to hold up even to this day.
  2. Aside from being a powerful social drama, it's also a great romance story.
  3. It's a massive improvement over Josef von Sternberg's adaptation of An American Tragedy in 1931, as this version updates the novel to the postwar period to show a society that promised freedom and advancement for returning veterans, yet offered the same poor wages and limited chances that characterized the Depression. Another new element is the sexual enticements increasingly prevalent in culture.
  4. While the film follows the general outline of the novel and previous film adaptation, this version strips away almost all of George Eastman's background, and most of Tripp's story. Here, the relationship between Eastman and Angela Vickers is concentrated on.
  5. The film plays on the audience's emotions, by involving and drawing them into complicity with the tragic resolution. Methodically, the film is stylistically dark, almost with film-noirish qualities, yet it has some of the most romantic and passionate sequences ever filmed.
  6. The film's theme emphasizes the wide gap between the frivolous rich and the downtrodden, outsider poor, and how fate heavy-handedly can control life. An aspiring, upwardly-mobile, lonely working-class protagonist with evangelical roots is obsessed with getting ahead and 'making it.' He mixes with a different upper social class through a passionate romantic relationship with a beautiful rich girl, and begins to climb the social and professional ladder. But then he becomes victimized by his environment, circumstances, the society of the time, and the loss of his own morals when he impregnates a lowly, disenfranchised, clingy, and plain co-worker.

Bad Qualities

  1. Modern audiences may not be as impressed with the production, (aside from maybe the performances of the lead actors), as for some it may be slow-paced and/or lacking in depth or social relevance compared to other films of the era.