In honor of the passing of Elizabeth Taylor this week, I’m doing something a little different in my series on classic romantic movies. A Place in the Sun is no feel-good romance. Based on Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, the movie tells the story of a pathetic love triangle: George (Montgomery Clift), a social climbing man out to learn his rich uncle’s business from the ground up, Angela (Taylor), the boss’s beautiful daughter, and Alice (Shelley Winters), the whiny and unattractive coworker who has a crush on him. When George arrives in town to work at his uncle’s factory, he has a quick fling with Alice, a coworker he has little in common with. But when his boss’s beautiful daughter takes notice of him, he quickly dumps Alice to move into the glamorous world of beauty and wealth that Angela represents.
Alice is not so easy to leave behind, however. She clings and continues to call him, eventually revealing that she is pregnant. She demands marriage. She knows the marriage will be loveless, but doesn’t mind as long as she can call the gorgeous Clift her own. George stalls her while keeping his ugly secret from his beautiful new girlfriend. But he can’t stall forever, and Alice soon blackmails him, threatening to tell Angela and her family what is going on if he doesn’t marry her. Frustrated, he takes Alice out on a lake in a rowboat, intending to drown her. The scene on the lake is one of most unsettling in film. The sense of impending doom is palpable. If you want to find out what happens, though, you’ll have to watch the movie.
On a lighter note, this film has costumes designed by the inimitable Edith Head. One of her most famous gowns appears in the movie. According to fashionmodeldirectory.com, the dress was widely copied at the time across America. Every girl wanted the “A Place in the Sun” dress to wear to prom! And it’s no wonder why, when you see how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor looks in it. Rest in peace, Elizabeth.
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