By Jorge Camara
A Place in the Sun, the 1952 winner of the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama was, and still is, one of Hollywood’s most successful conversions from literature to screen.
Adapted by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown from Theodore Dreiser’s masterpiece, “An American Tragedy,” carefully directed by George Stevens, and starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor at the pinnacle of their youth and beauty, the film may have put more emphasis on the romantic elements than in the class conflicts and sociological aspects of the story. Nevertheless, it was a resounding triumph both with critics and audiences. The extreme close-up of the long kiss between the stars remains a classic moment in American cinema.
Clift plays the poor relation laboring in his uncle’s factory, desperate to break into high society. He falls in love with the rich and glamorous Taylor and plots to get rid of his pregnant girlfriend, played by Shelley Winters. Winters, a sexpot at the time, deglamourized herself to great effect, impressing as the homely and plain woman who derails the relationship of the couple.
Reports are that Taylor fell hopelessly in love with Clift during the production of the film, a relationship that was not to be, but she remained a loyal friend to the tormented actor, insisting, when he was uninsurable, to have him as her co-star in Suddenly Last Summer eight years later.
This was not the first attempt to bring “An American Tragedy” to the screen. In 1931 Josef von Sternberg directed Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney and Frances Dee in a version that used the book’s title. The picture was curiously advertised as “a drama that happens around you everyday when the wild life of impetuous youth burns away age-old barriers.” This was one of the rare cases where the remake turned out better than the original.