An American Tragedy, based on the real-life murder of Grace Brown by her social-climbing boyfriend Chester Gillette at Big Moose Lake, New York, in 1906. The film opens with Clift on a highway trying to hitch a ride. Taylor drives past him in a shiny sports
car, beeps her horn in a flirtatious manner, and keeps going. Clift gapes after her, awed by her stunning beauty. When Clift arrives in the city looking for a job in his uncle's bathing-suit factory, he is amazed to discover that Taylor is his cousin. The uncle, Heyes, puts Clift to work in the
factory, giving him a menial job, but providing the young man with the security Clift's doting mother, Revere, has prayed for. Clift looks from afar at the grand life style, the foreign cars, clothes, and the estate of Heyes and Taylor and, goaded by unbridled ambition, decides to reach upward.
Meanwhile, he combats his loneliness by getting involved with Winters, who works in the factory. As his affair with Winters deepens, so does Clift's association with Heyes and his upper-crust family. Clift is invited to a party at Heyes's mansion where he meets and instantly falls in love with the
ravishing Taylor, and she with him. In a whirlwind of torrid trysts, Clift and Taylor fall so deeply in love that they plan to wed. Clift is on the verge of elevating himself from the lower class into the ranks of the super rich, but Winters dashes his plans by telling Clift that she is pregnant
and insisting that he marry her.
Dreiser's story was first filmed in 1931 by Josef von Sternberg in a much starker, more realistic manner. This version is almost cartoony by comparison, with Elizabeth Taylor, at the peak of her MGM-sorority loveliness, balanced against an unbelievably plain Shelley Winters. It's as if there were
no middle ground in this small town, just extremes of wealth and poverty, beauty and drabness. Taylor was only 17 when Stevens cast her in her rich-girl role, but the studio tried to promote a romance between the young actress and Clift. The liaison didn't require much prompting; Clift fell in
love with his leading lady and helped her through her most difficult scenes, with spellbinding results. Meanwhile, A PLACE IN THE SUN marked the beginning of Winters' journey from B-bombshell to character actress. Though Stevens at first refused to consider her for the role (he couldn't see beyond
the brassy blondes she had played for years), she became indelibly linked to this part and was asked to play many similar types in the future. A PLACE IN THE SUN also marked the last screen appearance for Revere, who was branded a communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee and
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