Posted: 02/20/2001

 

A Place in the Sun

(1951)

by Wayne Case



A classic of the American cinema returned to the big screen recently, thanks to American Cinematheque and The Egyptian Theater.


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Late in the afternoon of Sunday, February 11, 2001, I had the pleasure of seeing a fifty-year-old movie in a nearly eighty-year-old theatre.

The film is A Place In The Sun (1951) and the theatre is Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, located in Hollywood, California. The theatre is now booked and operated by American Cinematheque. Both the venue and the film are as good as it gets.

The three elements of this article will be, the organization called American Cinematheque, the Egyptian Theatre, and this particular film. Brief comment on each follows.

The American Cinematheque is a non-profit organization in Hollywood that owns and operates the historic Egyptian Theatre. Their stated objective is to bring unique film experiences to the Hollywood community and to provide opportunity for filmgoers to interact with filmmakers. General admission tickets are available to the public at the door or at the theatre boxoffice. Advance tickets may be purchased by phone at 323-466-FILM. Most films are only shown once, and, often, a person associated with the particular film will attend for a Q & A session afterward. A film program/calendar covering six weeks or so is printed and available at the theatre and through the mail.

Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre was built on Hollywood Boulevard back in 1922, and is located a few blocks from Mr. Sid Grauman’s other famous theatre, the Chinese. When I first moved to Los Angeles in the early sixties, it was a major first run theatre and exhibited the best films available. Unfortunately, as Hollywood Boulevard suffered urban blight, the theatre was allowed to deteriorate, and closed in 1992. When I saw My Fair Lady (1964) and Funny Girl (1968) there, the auditorium had approximately 2000 seats and the presentation was outstanding. When remodeled and restored at a cost of almost $13 million dollars by the American Cinematheque for its 1999 reopening, the auditorium’s seating capacity became an appropriate 650 seats, these being 650 of the best (and most comfortable) seats anywhere. Currently, the presentation is state-of-the-art, and there is even a real live projectionist in the booth. This venue provides a chance to see a film as filmmakers intend for their work to be viewed.

As part of a series celebrating “Method Acting” (February 2001), I got to revisit one of my Top 100 Films of all time, A Place In The Sun. The print was in decent condition, but did contain a few bad splices, which the projectionist was able to correct by quickly reframing the image. Released in 1951, it received 9 Academy Award nominations & went on to win 6 Oscars including the richly deserved best director nod for George Stevens. 1951 was a year of fierce competition; other contenders included: An American In Paris, A Streetcar Named Desire, Quo Vadis, and The African Queen.

Set in the present at the time of filming in the early 1950s, be reminded that birth control pills were not easy to get, and abortions were far more difficult to arrange than they are now. George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) has a chance encounter with his wealthy uncle and the uncle offers to help by getting him work at the manufacturing plant that he owns. George agrees and quickly moves to the area where the plant is located. While working on the assembly line, he becomes friendly with a co-worker, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters) even though fraternazition between an Eastman and any of the regular workers is forbidden. On a visit to his uncle’s mansion, George meets Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) and it is a life altering experience. Soon, George is promoted to a better job at the plant and his relationship with Angela blossoms. While he does like Alice, there is no comparison between her and Angela. Before he can end his relationship with Alice, she learns that she is pregnant with his child and insists that they marry. Although he desperately wants Angela and all that life has to offer with her, he agrees to take responsibility for his actions and to marry Alice. Through a series of fateful events, Alice is killed and George stands trial for her murder.

The three stars of A Place In The Sun are Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters. Four-time best acting Oscar nominee, Clift was never to receive the gold. Among my other personal favorites films of his, count From Here To Eternity (1953), Raintree County (1957), The Young Lions (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Judgment At Nuremberg (1961) and The Misfits (1961). A heart attack cut his life tragically short in 1966 before his 46th birthday. From all reports, he was never able to overcome his personal demons; perhaps he channeled that personal unhappiness into his art.

His three-time co-star and close personal friend, Elizabeth Taylor is a two time best actress Oscar winner. This film marks her first major adult part. She is quite effective and breathtakingly beautiful. My favorites from her include Giant (1956) and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958). She is my favorite non-musical actress.

Shelley Winters is a double acting Oscar winner and also received two more nominations for other performances. In addition to her work here, out of her approximately 125 films, I am especially fond of Lolita (1962), A Patch Of Blue (1965), and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Ms. Winters had hoped to attend this particular screening, but a problem with a separated shoulder forced her to cancel. Based on all I’ve read and heard, I’m sure that she would have been most entertaining; I look forward to seeing her at another event.

Few lists of the best directors would exclude George Stevens. He received five best director nominations and won twice. In addition to this film, I highly recommend Woman Of The Year (1942), Shane (1953), Giant (1956), and The Diary Of Anne Frank (1959). We lost Mr. Stevens to a heart attack at age 70 back in 1975.

A Place In The Sun is based on an award winning novel, An American Tragedy written by Theodore Dreiser, and on a play. In addition to its above-mentioned win for best direction, Oscars were awarded to it in these 5 categories:

(1) William C. Mellor for Best Black and White Cinematography. Nominated for three cinematography Oscars, he won for all three.
(2) William Hornbeck for Best Editing. This is his only win out of his four nominations.
(3) Franz Waxman for Best Musical Scoring. Nominated for 12 musical scoring Oscars, this is one of his two wins.
(4) Edith Head for Best Black and White Costume Design. Ms. Head had an astonishing 35 nominations in her field and this represents one of her 7 wins.
(5) Michael Brown and Harry Wilson for Best Writing, Screenplay. Mr. Wilson accumulated a total of four writing nominations and this is one of his two wins; Mr. Brown Got two nominations and this is his only win. WOW!

The combination of A Place In The Sun and the Egyptian Theatre brightened my rainy Southern California Sunday. I urge you to see A Place In The Sun and to visit the Egyptian theatre.

Wayne Case works in the film industry in Hollywood.



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