I don’t use the term “modern tragedy” lightly. To me, a tragedy invokes a Shakespearian-like character, one who is just and honorable, as his own good intentions ruin any hope of the world recognizing his admirable qualities. In the classic sense, a tragedy is simply a character ending in a worse place than they started, but the genre has grown and become more sophisticated since the classic Greek tragedies, and we’ve gotten to a point where the overwhelming luxuries of modern society have made us crave success to no end. Because in the end, all we really desire is a place in the sun.
While the story follows a young man down on his luck (Montgomery Clift) who gets a job at his rich distant families company in the big city and ends up falling for a quiet female coworker (Shelley Winters) while always pinning for the beautiful and elegant model (Elizabeth Taylor), the star of “A Place in the Sun” is George Stevens meticulous detail in every aspect. Stevens had his hands in costume design, editing, cinematography as well as directing, making this movie far more his vision than any other Hollywood movie at the time.
Stevens’ depiction of a tragedy is chilling and yet surprising authentic. Clift’s subtle performance is often quiet and calculating, like we can see the gears turning in his head, all while he tries to find some semblance of happiness in the world by following his basic temptations. It certainly helps that Taylor is at her most alluring, acting like the devil on Clift’s shoulder and she doesn’t even realize it. Rather than demonize this man for his actions, Stevens is understanding yet distant, giving everything a matter-of-fact tone while showing how the desire for success can corrupt the modern man.
Stevens makes a point to show that Clift can be any man, and that we’re all capable of the same evil.
Final Grade: A