A Place In the SunAFI Rank: #92
Year Released: 1951
Director: George Stevens
Actors: Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Taylor
There's a number of emotions with A Place in the Sun. Clearly Clift is doing something wrong here, stringing along a poor, pregnant woman while also falling deeply in love with Taylor. But both women adore him. He never meant to do any harm. He has done his best, all his life, to do what's right and to care for his family. Somehow things just go horribly awry for him and even in the depths of his despair he tries to do the right thing.
It's amazing that Taylor was only 17 when she played this role, and that this, her first on-screen kiss, came only a few weeks after her first in-real-life kiss. Winters, up until now cast as a bombshell, desperately wanted the "plain Jane" role to show she had merit within her as well as without. And Clift shows his range of acting ability as he plays his desperation, his adoration, and his humanity.
So many one-night decisions we all make in life have ramifications that follow us for the rest of our years. How do we handle them? How do we react to pressures? It was just one night that Clift crossed over the edge into passion, and it was going to affect every step he took from that day forward. In 1951 the topic of abortion and unmarried women carried a lot of weight. Winters has to lie to the doctor about her state, and she feels the shame of it. Look at how the workers in the factory refer to the "girls" and how the "supervisors" (men, of course) are not allowed to fraternize with them.
And on the other hand, there are some amazingly forward-thinking issues here. One of my favorite films is 12 Angry Men which has, of course, 12 men on a jury. But here there are women on the jury and it's considered normal and proper. Taylor, a woman, is off at college, something that the women in American Grafitti (set in 1962) weren't even considering. Now, that being said, when Taylor is at college the lecture is incredibly insipid, about how the silly little girls in class probably have "harshly adopted opinions" of infancy that won't survive the real world.
And also, Clift is made to "solemnly swear before God" that he is finally telling the truth, as if before that he would readily lie.
But, unlike almost every other movie made, A Place in the Sun gets great kudos for actually having a conversation between women. It is stunning how many movies feature women but they only exist to talk to men and support them. Vast numbers of movies never have two women talk to each other - they only are there to respond to men and adore them. In A Place in the Sun, it may be short, but there is an actual conversation between Taylor and Clift's aunt, where Taylor is rhapsodizing about her new summer home she's building. It is such a small thing, but so amazing! It is sad that to even see a short conversation between women is so rare that it needs to be commented on. And it's sad, too, that it can happen in 1951 but rarely happens even in modern day films.
The movie shows us both how far we have come - and still how far we have to go.
Highly recommended. Just as powerful now as it was then.
Buy A Place in the Sun from Amazon.com
AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100