The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Place in the Sun

Alfred Hitchcock’s influence and impact on movies is as strong as ever some 30 years since his death. Even this weekend in reviews of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island comparisons are being made in terms of directorial style. But in 2010, that’s all they are…comparisons. What about movies made when Hitchcock was still alive? I’m guilty of it too, but when you don’t know much about a movie or its background, you go to what you know.

So in my head, I see a thriller based in personal reactions and relationships, my mind goes right to Hitchcock who made classic very personal thrillers like Vertigo, Notorious, Rear Window, and many others. Yesterday, I watched 1951's A Place in the Sun which parts of distinctly reminded me of a Hitchcock-esque thriller. Sorry, George Stevens – the actual director of the movie – but isn’t it a compliment that I thought your movie was from the master of thrillers himself? Well, maybe not.

Quitting his job as a bellman at a Chicago hotel, George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) moves west and gets a job at his uncle’s clothing factory. George quickly hits it off with another employee, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), but they have to be discreet about their relationship (dating fellow employees is a no-no). Growing up in a poor family, George loves nothing more than the decadent lifestyle his uncle and his family have, including a young family friend from another rich family, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor).

George is smitten with Angela from the first time he sees her so when the beautiful young woman shows an interest in him he forgets anything and everything about his life. His mind goes blank, and all he can see is Angela. They quickly fall in love, but that’d be just too easy, wouldn’t it? Alice tells George she’s pregnant, and she wants him to marry her so they won’t cause a stir. If he doesn’t, she threatens to go to the elder Eastman’s house and blows George’s “cover” wide open. Seeing a future with Angela, his mind starts to race, even going as far as murder.

Stevens’ movie is easily broken down into segments, some stronger than the others. The first hour or so is George adjusting to his new life, especially his relationship with Alice. The two individuals are very similar in terms of background, but George wants something more of his life and aspires to reach the heights his uncle has. It’s not the most exciting segment, but Clift and Winters make it worth watching. The middle segment is the best as George meets Angela and begins to think about killing his pregnant girlfriend.

This middle part of the movie is what was reminiscent of a Hitchcock thriller, especially George’s plan being put into action. SPOILERS Alice dies, but we don’t see if George could have saved her. He takes her out on a row boat, and Alice – who can’t swim – actually capsizes the boat when she stands up. Stevens makes the choice not to show us the aftermath, only George swimming up to shore. END OF SPOILERS We don’t know what actually happens until the very last scene. This middle portion is Stevens’ movie at its best, full of tension and anxiety with a sense of coming doom. Is George capable of the thoughts racing through his head? 

This builds and builds, including the aftermath as Clift tries to cover things up, and then there’s a huge letdown. He’s caught by a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr as a district attorney and sent to trial for first-degree murder. This last 30 minutes lacks a certain energy when it should be the most exciting part of the movie, especially after all the build-up. Instead of sprinting to the finale, ‘Place’ sort of limps to its finish in the final scenes. The reveal as to George’s intentions doesn’t really come as a surprise because let’s face it…this story is not going to have a big twist ending.

Even with the problems concerning the story, the three leads make the most of it no matter how good or bad some of the story is. Clift isn’t the slimiest of guys, but the situation he puts himself into doesn’t make it easy to root for him. I'd like to think George loves both women in one way or another, but he's out of his mind, physically, mentally in love with Taylor's Angela.  As basically the ideal woman, Taylor is perfect, beautiful, smart, funny, and makes you understand what Clift sees in her. Now in her 80s, Taylor has made some news for some off-the-wall statements and relationships, but early in her career, she was a great actress and one of the most beautiful ones at that.  The two have a definite chemistry that extended offscreen where they were incredibly close as friends.

Winters is the woman just looking for happiness, only to end up with a guy who would drop her at the first sign of something better coming down the road. Definitely watch this one for the acting which makes the lapses in story less obvious.

A Place in the Sun <----trailer (1951): ** 1/2 /****

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