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Paramount Studios presents
"I wanted to save her. But I just couldn't."
DVD ReviewTheodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy had already been filmed once, in 1931, when director/producer George Stevens asked Paramount to finance a new movie based on Patrick Kearney's stage version of the novel. Transposed to the post-war era, A Place in the Sun tells the story of ambitious young George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), who goes to work in a factory owned by the wealthier side of his family. On the shop floor he meets Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), a plain, honest working girl who becomes pregnant with George's child. Meanwhile, George's rise in the corporation and the Eastman social circle brings him into contact with vivacious Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). His job, his success and his blossoming romance with Angela are soon threatened by his ongoing entanglement with Alice, and George Eastman considers extreme measures.
A Place in the Sun is a dark story, an examination of human nature and the American personality in the can-do post-war years. George Eastman is not an evil man, reallyówe sympathize with him, we even like him, but we must also recognize his moral shortcomings, his frightening willingness to abandon his values in pursuit of his dreams. Alice Tripp, "in trouble" and desperate, becomes whiney and shrewish, further shading the issueódirector George Stevens leaves his audience little room for self-righteousness on that account. The story is a melodramatic potboiler in many ways, but Stevens finds tough meat beneath the soap-opera trappings, and provides no easy answers to George's moral dilemma. Clift, Winters and Taylor contribute solid performances, with Clift particularly well-tuned as the insecure, hungry George Eastman.
The physical production is very impressive, with sharply contrasting shadows and highlights lending a film noir, proto-Lynchian quality to many scenes. Innovative layered dissolves communicate complex thoughts and ideas with speed and confidence, and sound is used in sophisticated waysótelephones, car doors, and water splashes acquire great portent and meaning under Stevens' careful, deliberate guidance. Young Elizabeth Taylor is luminous, and George and Angela's kisses are exquisitely rendered onscreen, emphasizing George's conflict between the world of life and leisure she offers and the working-class world to which Alice irrevocably ties him. The film deals successfully with mature and sensitive subject matter, in an era when sexuality and abortion could not be addressed in a legitimate motion picture. Stevens' techniques are subtle but tremendously effective, earning the film its place in the American Film Institute's "Top 100."
A Place in the Sun is a tragedy of the commonplace, a story of a man undermined by his own desire for a better life. No facile morals or obvious conclusions are presented here; instead, we are treated to that rarest of Hollywood artifactsóa movie that questions our values.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Paramount presents A Place in the Sun in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio, as seen in movie palaces circa 1951. The source print is in nice condition aside from a few dust flecks, but the film's age and accompanying technological limitations are apparent. Interior scenes are noticeably soft and lacking in fine detail, although outdoor shots are crisp enough. The DVD image exhibits edge enhancement in a number of scenes, but the dual-layer transfer successfully preserves the high-contrast, deep-shadow look of the black-and-white cinematography, no mean feat.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: I have mixed feelings about Paramount's "Dolby Digital 5.1" audio presentation. The studio seems to have abandoned its previous policy of including "restored mono" as well as remixed 5.1 tracks on older titles. However, the "5.1" presentation in this case is almost entirely monauralóthe surrounds don't come into play at all, and the only re-engineering I noticed was a slight bit of spread across the front soundstage. Since "5.1" has become a marketing necessity, and the disc is chock-full of movie and supplements, this seems a reasonable compromise. Stevens' sound design is impressive, though the soundtrack shows its age technicallyóbass content is present but weak, music occasionally obscures dialogue, and there's a constant patina of low-level hiss and crackle. The DVD sounds as good as one could expect from a five-decade-old movie, but don't expect a modern soundtrack.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director's son George Stevens, Jr., and associate producer Ivan Moffatt
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:51s
The film's original trailer is presented in 1.33:1, Dolby 2.0 mono format, looking just as good as the feature attraction (though the print isn't nearly as clean). It's interesting from a marketing perspective, emphasizing the romance at the expense of the story's darker elements.
George Stevens and His Place in the Sun:
This 21-minute documentary about the making of the film is short on archival footage, but interviews help make up the difference. Associate Producer Ivan Moffatt, George Stevens, Jr., and stars Elizabeth Taylor (new footage) and Shelley Winters (from 1983) contribute memories about A Place in the Sun, and Taylor discusses what she learned from Stevens and co-star Montgomery Clift about the serious work of acting. Biographical information on Stevens rounds out the piece.
George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him:
What sounds like a shaky idea actually works quite well in this 45-minute 1983 collection of interviews with filmmakers who knew or worked with George Stevens. Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Rouben Mamoulian, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Alan J. Pakula, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, and Fred Zinnemann contribute memories of Stevens, and it's great to see some of these faces on film, many of whom have since passed on. The segments can be viewed individually, or as a collection with the handy "Play All" function.
The director's son, George Stevens, Jr., and associate producer Ivan Moffatt contribute a running commentary track. Stevens handles most of the screen-specific technical discussion, displaying a keen appreciation of his father's style and work, while Moffatt throws in amusing anecdotes and facts about the project's development. Long pauses interrupt the flow sometimes, but it's a worthwhile addition to the DVD.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsA Place in the Sun is a story of human greed, lust, and confusion, enhanced by George Stevens' deliberate direction and a stellar cast. Paramount's DVD features a solid transfer and excellent supplements. An AFI 100 selection, and well worth a spin.
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