You will notice there is no poll to decide the next year of review for Matt vs. the Academy. As previously discussed, I'll be stopping in L.A. for a few days before I return to New York, so I will take that opportunity to pop in to the UCLA Film Archive for a viewing of two Best Picture nominees that lack home video releases. Thus, 1930-31 is the chosen next year of review.
For now, we begin looking at 1951's slate of Best Picture nominees, starting with...
A Place in the Sun
Michael Wilson and Harry Brown
(based on the novel 'An American Tragedy' by Theodore Dreiser and the play of the same name adapted by Patrick Kearney)
Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Anne Revere, Keefe Brasselle, Raymond Burr, Herbert Heyes
6 wins, including Best Director
George Eastman (Clift), not the photography pioneer, but a poor young man with high ambitions, accepts work in a clothing factory run by his wealthy uncle (Heyes). Despite the company policy prohibiting any fraternising with the female employees, George begins a discreet affair with fellow factory worker Alice (Winters), a mostly sensible and well-meaning girl. Their relationship is strained, however, when George's family connections begin to afford him certain advantages.
At one of the Eastman family's fancy soirées, George meets pretty and confident socialite Angela Vickers (Taylor) and the two hit it off immediately. Soon, George is leading a double life, placating Alice while inconspicuously gallivanting off with his true love Angela. The situation is further complicated by Alice's rather inconvenient pregnancy.
A Place in the Sun is based on the novel 'An American Tragedy', a title that is its own spoiler. Cleverly, though, George Stevens (or someone involved in the film's production) decided not to retain the novel's title for the film, but unfortunately, the opening credits name the source material in large letters, so the damage is still done. Nonetheless, the picture is extremely engaging and Stevens exploits this sense of foreboding brilliantly with the help of the Oscar-winning score (which turns a simple close-up into a chilling insight into the thoughts of a desperate man) and the Oscar-winning cinematography (which adds mystery by keeping the actors' faces in complete darkness during critical moments).
Being the early 1950s, almost the very thought of portraying sex on film was outlawed, and I'm always intrigued by how filmmakers of that era conveyed to their audience that two characters have done the deed. The artistically inventive solution in A Place in the Sun is to depict George and Alice dancing intimately in her apartment before the camera pans to the window overlooking her porch. Night slowly dissolves into morning as the rooster crows ... and George quietly sneaks down the porch steps having spent the night. Scandalous.
Montgomery Clift (pictured) earned a Best Actor nomination for his superb portrayal of George - hunched, brooding and sincere (paving the way for another gone-too-soon George Stevens collaborator, James Dean). Shelley Winters was the film's only other Oscar nominee, garnering a nod for Best Actress for her versatile performance as the downtrodden Alice. Elizabeth Taylor (also pictured) is also worth noting as the vivaciously forward Angela. And Perry Mason fans will be pleased to see Raymond Burr in the courtroom as District Attorney Marlowe.