Sunday, February 28, 2010

1951: A Place in the Sun (George Stevens)

1951: A Place in the Sun (George Stevens)
Goddamn Shelley Winters is annoying in this movie!  Okay now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's have a quick discussion.  

I first saw this one in the same theater in Paris, Rue Mouffetard, where I saw You Only Live Once and The Blue Angel.  It's not even that great of a theater, but for some reason almost every time I went there, I saw something that became a favorite.  I wonder if others experience this phenomenon.  Even when I was living in Los Angeles, it happened. Some theaters I would go to, I almost always disliked the movie I saw. Other places were almost batting a 1,ooo.  Anyway, this theater on Mouffetard still holds one of the best records for me.

I guess if I had to boil down my reasons for loving this one as much as I do, I would say it has almost all to do with Montgomery Clift's vulnerability meeting Elizabeth Taylor's staggering beauty.  Paired with one of these doomed romance stories (based on Theodore Dreiser's famous novel An American Tragedy), this one becomes an incredibly powerful concoction for me.

I have a thing for tragedy in general, I almost always love Clift, and Taylor's beauty at this point in her career is about as convincing as anything I've ever seen.  George Stevens, the director,  just confidently delivers the goods.  The emotions are there, and I'm along for the story from almost minute one until the very end.

Other contenders for 1951: A year, like any other, where there are some things I still need to see.  These include:  Anthony Mann's The Tall Target, Federico Fellini's The White Sheik, Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet, Mikio Naruse's Repast, Georges Franju's Hotel des Invalides, Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, and Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I really like Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain (yes, Mom, that pick's for you :), Vittorio De Sica's Miracle in MilanElia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire, and Nicholas Ray's Flying Leathernecks.  I love Raoul Walsh's Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.  However, my closest runner-up would be another Ray film, On Dangerous Ground.

11/10/10 I watched Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still.  An incredibly useful tool to see the mindset of our country in the early fifties and full of Wise's extremely solid craftsmanship.  Michael Rennie suggests Tony Perkins circa-Psycho, and this film certainly wasn't lost on Spielberg and his Close Encounters.

11/11/10 I watched Federico Fellini's The White Sheik.  The director's sensibility is already large and well on display in this, his second feature.  The acting and Rota's music are both superb, but the story's not always entirely captivating.  Fellini shows promise that will produce greater work in the years that follow.  

11/17/10 I watched Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet.  Fuller's expressionistic style and inventiveness under constrained circumstances elevate this film to great interest.  Raw and full of engaged subtext, it's maybe not as thoroughly engrossing as his Pickup on South Street, but it's still an incredibly original film for its time.  

11/25/11 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's Early Summer.  Ozu mixes up the approach a little, adding more music than usual and quite a number of incredibly expressive tracking shots.  The cumulative effect though is about the same as I have to come expect with Ozu's cinema - piercing and majestic as anything the cinema has ever produced.  Feeling rattled or a bit adrift, I would think anyone coming in with the right amount of patience would leave Ozu's cinema, (this work definitely included), reminded of the lyrical beauty of life.  Ozu has gotten short shrift, too, when it comes to a reputation as something austere and wholly cerebral.  There's a nice playfulness at times with this one, as well as a real lively spirit.     
3/2/13 I watched Alexander Mackendrick's The Man in the White Suit.  A great little film I never knew much about.  Alec Guinness is wonderful as the vulnerable scientist.  And Mackendrick keeps things suspenseful, fun, and heartfelt.  One of those films that will be great fun to watch for years to come.

3/8/14 I watched Joseph Losey's The Prowler.  Shot by the great Arthur Miller, Losey brings a western, expansive aesthetic to noir.  Full of Losey's typical psychological discomfort, Heflin is spot-on as the sociopathic stalker.  Nothing is rosy here and trouble is announced nearly at second one.  Working its story more psychologically than viscerally, it is up there with the upper shelf artistic noirs. 

10/18/14 I watched Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.  A stately film with Cardiff behind the camera and a bit of the Powell-Pressburger aura is a bizarre work that is part confounding, part moving.  Gardner seems more exposed than ever and you can't help but think about the Cardiff-Gardner collaboration a few years later.  I liked this one less than I had hoped but am glad to have finally caught up with it.  

4/24/16 I watched Ida Lupino's Hard, Fast and Beautiful.  Possibly the first Lupino feature I have seen in its entirety impresses with its expressionistic camerawork and unconventional emotional passages such as the film's poetic final few frames.  Lupino has a big reputation as a marginal, early independent American filmmaker and after seeing this it is obvious why.  

1/19/19 I watched Sacha Guitry's La Poison.  Another excellent performance from Simon but Guitry's style just feels a little too cute to me.

12/30/21 I watched Jacques Becker's Edouard et Caroline.  It's the ninth of his thirteen features I have seen and what impressed me more than anything is how modern the narrative construction still feels today.  The film consists of only two sets and bears more resemblance in its scope to many low-budget American indies than to the other films of Becker.  It seems to have lots to say about the importance of art in post WWII French society.  

9/30/23 I watched Anthony Mann's The Tall Target.  The text is interesting in how similar it still speaks to the political landscape in this country 72 years later.  But the film itself and the way it unfolds is not very visceral or entertaining.  


  1. YES! I am not alone in rating it this high... I think John and I were the only ones who even considered it in my countdown! I love this movie, pretty much for the exact reasons that you point out: Monty Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. I also really love From Here to Eternity, but I still think of A Place in the Sun whenever I picture Clift. He was such a great actor. This is just superb melodrama, with some noirish elements, and is easily my choice for 1951. Other favorites:

    - The Steel Helmet (my favorite Sam Fuller)
    - Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock)
    - Ace in the Hole (Wilder)

  2. You're most definitely not alone in this one, Dave (and Jeff). This is also my favorite film of 1951.

  3. Dave, great comments! Yes, you and I are in total agreement on this one. I share your love for Clift and this film. I also really love him in THE HEIRESS, among other things.

    I don't love the Wilder as much as everyone else, for some reason.

    And the Hitchcock I like, but not as much as my other favorites from this year.

    Thanks, Dave, as always, for the wonderful perspective!

  4. Tony, great to hear, and always great to see you here. Thanks!

  5. My #1 Film of 1951:

    Repast (Naruse; Japan)


    Ace in the Hole (Wilder)
    On Dangerous Ground (Ray)
    L'Auberge Rouge (Lara; French)
    A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan)
    Early Summer (Ozu; Japan)
    An American in Paris (Minnelli)
    Death of a Salesman (Benedek)
    The Tales of Hoffmann (Powell/Pressberger; UK)
    A Christmas Carol (Desmond-Hurst; UK)
    Bellissima (Visconti; Italy)
    The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise)
    The Lavender Hill Mob (Crichton; UK)
    The Thing From Another World (Nyby)
    The Red Badge of Courage (Huston)
    The Steel Helmut (Fuller)

    Jeffrey, I'm sorry to say I always had some serious issues with A PLACE IN THE SUN, but I greatly repect both your and Dave's and Tony's view here. But I know this film has a lot of support, and there are certainly aspects of it I do love, including Clift's performance. The Naruse film I have chosen is one of his greatest, and I caught it a few years ago at the Naruse Film Festival at the Film Forum. It's a powerful drama that showcases the director's most prevalent themes, and it's beautifully filmed. Wilder's ACE IN A HOLE comes within a hair of the top spot, and admittedly it depends on what day you ask me. Similarly, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, one of my favorite noirs of all-time comes into play too for the top spot. This existential piece boasts one of the greatest scores of all-time by Bernard Herrmann.

  6. Sam, thanks so much for the wonderful comments! I know that you and I agree, more than anything, on "personal taste trumping everything else". And, when something works for you, I say great, because it doesn't always happen. And when something doesn't work, that's completely great, as well.

    I really want to see this Naruse film. In fact, as I think I might have stated before, I've never seen any of his work. That's something I definitely want to rectify moving forward.

    You and I feel similarly about ON DANGEROUS GROUND. I really love it, too.

    Thanks, Sam, as always for the fantastic perspective!

  7. Jeffrey, my favorite is "Ace in the Hole", one of the most cynical works ever put on celluloid. Kirk Douglas is always at his best when he plays an SOB. 1951 was actually a tough year to choose with great Hitchcock, great Kazan and great Fuller. In "A Place in the Sun", Shelley Winters is so wonderful and effectively annoying, I wanted to drown her myself (LOL). From your comments, I see I am not the only one to think so. Clift is one of my favorite actors and so tragically vulnerable, here as in "From Here to Eternity" where he played one of the screens great anti-heroes.

    # Ace in the Hole

    Runner Ups!
    Strangers on a Train
    A Place in the Sun
    The Steel Helmet
    On Dangerous Ground
    A Streetcar Named Desire
    The Day the Earth Stood Still
    The African Queen

  8. John, great comments! At some point I'll need to re-visit the Wilder film. For some reason, I didn't have a great experience with it the first time, although it could be for the very reason you mention, its cynicism might have rubbed me the wrong way. But I know it's a film with a major following.

    Yes, it sounds like we feel similarly about Winters' performance. It's extremely effective here.

    And Clift, what an amazing presence! I've really loved him so many times, including here, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and on and on. A wonderful actor.

    Thanks, John, always fantastic to hear from you!

  9. Wonderful film and what an incredible performance by Monty, one of my all-time favorite actors. This film also started my absolute hatred for all things Shelly Winters. Annoying is absolutely the right word for her...annoyance times 100.

  10. Jeremy, totally agree all around! "...annoyance times 100". Now that's funny! :)