Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 16, No. 18. September 18, 1952
"Acting Surprisingly Brilliant"
"Acting Surprisingly Brilliant"
George Stevens, producer and director of "A Place in the Sun," has come right out in to the open and reveals his true talents. I've seen only "The Talk of the Town," one of his earlier films—but that picture gave no indications of the things to come. Now we have a picture that surely must be ranked as one of the best of the year, but, alas, hardly one of the best to come out of Hollywood. Why?
"A Place in the Sun" is based on the Theodore Dreiser novel "An American Tragedy." a dramatic story with overtones reflecting on the social set-up of the American scene during the 1920's. Always a superb novel for en adaptation to the screen, and if the producer had had the guts to remain in the 20's and retain all the social implications of the novel, this "A Place in the Sun" would have been an excellent film. All we getf however, is a realistic love story (there are a few attempts at something deeper, but they are very half-hearted) that Hollywood has produced before.
Let me give a few examples of this regrettable "watering down." In the novel George (the name has been changed) was the son of a couple of poor Preachers for God who spent more than half of their time working themselves up into passions of piety than they did looking after the body or soul of their son. First watering: Apart from a few glances the producers never let us see George's early life, so when he gets to the higher and wider life (socially) we never see the full strength of his social dilemma. Second watering: Ambitious George's reception at the Eastman residence is far from hostile whereas in the novel it is, which causes his ambition for a higher social status to become even more tense. So, in the novel when confronted with a pregnant factory worker on his bands, George "murders" her because nothing must hinder his social climbing. The "murder" that is committed by the George of the novel was what has been described as a "biological accident" or a crime of the nation. Can one say that of the "murder" by the film's principal? No! Love for Angela is the main motive here.
And, finally, for the last "watering down": Angela has a last passionate scene with George before he departs, declaring her love. This was impossible in the book, because an affair with a working girl was almost worse than the crime itself. But it in good to see that the moral question of willing or committing an act of murder is retained and bravely dealt with.
Thus, "A Place in the Sun" is not an "American tragedy." Perhaps, the producers have overcome any difficulties of American propaganda by bringing the story forward to a time when there is less class distinction; but I wish they had stayed back in the twenties where they could have made a greater job of this film.
Producer Stevens has not been entirely successful, but I can say without hesitation that Director Stevens is the best director of the year. He has given us a film that has moments of great beauty, intellectual excitement, and technical audacity. His technical virtuosity never replaces sincerity and a real passion for the subject, and, according to an American friend. Stevens' picture of American life—even to the love-habits and the trial scene—is the most faithful and penetrating he has seen. But what impresses me most is Stevens' use of the camera for emotional power. The most successful device is the connection of events isolated in narrative and time by long-lingering dissolves, a device which emphasises the emotional unity and symbolical retention of the sequences. Long-shots are frequently used, with actors facing away from the camera, which remains stationary throughout the scene, like someone eavesdropping. George's birthday party with Alice, and Alice's interview with the doctor, when she is seeking an abortion, are fine examples of this technique. The finest piece of the cinema is the "murder" sequence where both the slow dissolve and long shot devices are used. Glimpses of the events of the day and evening are bound together to the beat of mood-music and everything adds up to a great suspense uncommon in films. But there is much in this picture that Is unusual. Barking dogs during telephone conversations, for example. Also an effective use of contemporary popular music (my American friend says the piece was not "Mona Lisa," but one prior and similar to it) of the "40's to show the universality of the young couple's love. However, I did not care for the huge close-ups which seemed to show more of the sebaceous glands than anything else. And for me, the trial scene did not ring true, especially the magnificent leap into a rowboat by the crippled prosecutor.
The acting, to be quite frank, is surprisingly brilliant. Top place goes to Shelley Winters as the lonesome factory worker, her scene with the doctor being the finest acting I've seen since "Streetcar." Montgomery Clift as the weak, confused, and ambitious youth is almost as good as Miss Winters and better than his performance in "The Heiress." If it weren't for Brando in "Streetcar," Clift would get my prize for the best actor of the year. Elizabeth Taylor succeeds in conveying real passion and love in difficult sequences.
A lot of artistry and talent have been spent on a film that could have been great but for its lack of faithfulness to the social realism of Dreiser's novel. But shall we give it the rare privilege of calling it an almost great love story with a unique moral twist? "A Place in the Sun" has some watery patches, but it is very well worth seeing.