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A Place In The Sun

A Place In The Sun

By Patrick Samuel • August 19th, 2013
Paramount Pictures

Original release: August 14th, 1951
Running time: 122 minutes

Director: George Stevens
Composer: Franz Waxman

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

Tell Mama. Tell Mama all: 00:39:28 to 00:42:22

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

A Place In The Sun

Truth be told, there’s no other picture I hold in higher regard than this one, A Place In The Sun, directed by George Stevens and based on the epic novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. That’s it’s also a remake, goes to show that some things are better the second time round as well. Described as a vivid reflection of Middle America’s attitude towards money and social status, it’s the timeless story of a poor boy, George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) who starts work at his rich uncle’s factory.

George meets Alice (Shelley Winters), and despite the factory’s rules about co-workers dating, they strike up a romance. While at a party at his uncle’s house, he then meets the rich socialite Angel Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) and it’s immediately clear they share a chemistry that the dowdy Alice can’t compare to. Angela, along with her lifestyle, is what George has always dreamed about.

As he falls deeply in love with her, there’s bad news when Alice reveals she’s pregnant and expects George to marry her. Feeling trapped and wanting only to be with Angela, he plans to get rid of Alice during a boating trip on a secluded lake. It’s a story that doesn’t end well for either of its main characters and it’s melodrama at its best, most tragic and beautiful. Stevens immortalised on film two of the most beautiful faces to have ever graced the big screen and this is not more evident anywhere else in the film than the party scene. Filmed entirely with six-inch lenses, this one scene alone has been described as luscious, sensuous, romantic, electrifying and even erotic. James Dean would visit the cinema over and over just to see those luminous faces looming at him, soaking up Clift’s method acting and Taylor’s natural instincts as the scene played out.

A Place In The Sun

At age 29, Clift’s career was going from strength to strength. Having come from Broadway, he had already impressed audiences and critics with his performance in The Search (1948) and starred alongside John Wayne in Red River (1948) and Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949). Taylor, at age 18, was just graduating from being a child star and this was her first real adult role, although this wasn’t to be her first on-screen kiss. Paired with Clift for the first of their three movies together, they sizzled in every scene, but this particular one is just perfection. We look at it and there’s nothing else before or since then that compares.

It’s Friday night and Angela has invited George to a lavish party. He’s dressed in a tuxedo and she’s wearing a long gown with a white mink which she removes once they’re inside, revealing her bare shoulders. They’re the most beautiful people in the room. They walk past the buffet table and onto the dancefloor where the dreamy music from the score by Franz Waxman is playing. They embrace and this is where it begins.

We fade into a close-up of Taylor’s face as her head rests on Clift’s shoulder, holding him, and he holding her. Her eyes look down and then up, off into the distance. We then fade into Clift’s close-up, he’s distant. Taylor turns her face and looks at him and they stop dancing.

Aren’t you happy with me?

Happy? The trouble is I’m too happy tonight.

Their eyes soak in each other’s as Stevens captures them both from the side now. Their lines are about to become a little more frantic as they’re about to throw them at each other.

You seem so strange, so deep and far away. As though you were holding something back.

I am.


A Place In The Sun

They go back to dancing, he presses his nose to her forehead, she smiles and presses him to tell her what’s wrong, what he’s feeling. She’s persistent but maternal and he’s her child-like lover. He confesses his love and she’s about to confess hers but she’s suddenly aware that her parents might be watching and drags him by the hand out of the room and onto the balcony terrace where the rest of the scene plays out. They’re now in the shadows, almost hidden by the silhouettes of plants from the garden.

I’d better. This is nice. I don’t want to spoil it.

You’d better tell me.

I love you. I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you. I guess maybe I even loved you before I saw you.

And you’re the fellow that wondered why I invited you here. I tell you why. I love…Are they watching us? I love you, too! It scares me. But it is a wonderful feeling.

Clift’s shoulder partially blocks her face but we see her eyes clearly, searching his face. We then turn to see his face, filled with emotion. We switch back and forth with these magnificent close-ups as they make their plans and as Clift breaks into a sweat it glistens on the side of his forehead. His body unaware of his own acting.

It’s wonderful when you’re here. I can hold you, I can see you. I can hold you next to me. But what’s it going to be like next week? I’ll still be as much in love with you. You’ll be gone!

But I’ll be at the lake! You’ll come and see me. It’s so beautiful. You must come. I know my parents will be a problem. But you can come the weekends when the kids are there. You don’t have to work weekends. That’s the best time. If you don’t come, I’ll drive down here to see you. I’ll pick you up outside the factory. You’ll be my pick-up! We’ll arrange it somehow, whatever way we can. We’ll have such wonderful times together, just the two of us.

A Place In The Sun

At this point Clift becomes overwhelmed, almost distressed that this is too perfect, his head begins to sink down but she reaches out, clasping it in her hands as he twists and turns like a helplessly lost child, but she never lets him go. She holds him by the mouth and her eyes are half closed, urging him until their lips meet. Locked together in the most passionate embrace I’ve ever seen on screen.

I’d be the happiest person in the world

The second happiest.

Angela, if I could only tell you how much I love you. If I could only tell you all.

Tell Mama. Tell Mama all.

Fade to black.

As the pictures dissolve again and again into each other, it’s just such a sumptuous scene and it remains one of the most famous romantic scenes in film history today. Patricia Bosworth, in her biography on Clift, notes that when Stevens was editing the scene:

“He did not use a movieola. Instead he set up two projectors and viewed the reels of Monty’s close-ups and Taylor’s close-ups simultaneously on a projector screen which covered an entire wall, then spliced the film in such a way that the camera seemed to roll from Monty’s face to Taylor’s face “thus creating a tempo – with the thing in which as fast as it could be said it was said. Monty had that kind of emotion – he got all steamed up,” Stevens said. Taylor dissolved when she looked at him and spoke. “I wanted to get the feeling of them both being totally lost in each other.”

  • [1] Bosworth, P (1978) Montgomery Clift A Biography, Limelight Editions
  • [2] Hyams, J (1992) James Dean, Little Boy Lost, Warner Books Inc
  • [3] Walker, A (1990) Elizabeth, Orion

As for Taylor, despite her star quality which had already been established with films such as National Velvet (1944), Little Women (1949) and Father of the Bride (1950), something changed with A Place In The Sun, it was this scene. Taught by Stevens to play for an audience of one – the camera, and taking notes from Clift, her performance is compelling as she moves from spoiled rich girl to a kind of mother figure to this hopeless young man in the space of mere minutes.

Stevens created a scene so powerful that he recalls the images in the final scene as Clift walks to meet his fate. Whenever it’s screened at the BFI or anywhere else for that matter, I’ll be there, because like James Dean and countless others who’ve seen the movie over the past decades, I wait for that moment when those luminous faces loom before me.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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