A Place in the Sun 1951 Based on the Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy. Inspired by the real-life murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette in 1906. Directed by George Stevens. George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), poor relation of a wealthy family, is offered an entry-level factory job by an uncle. George is ambitious and works hard. Lonely, he dates needy co-worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), despite company rules.
The young man works his way up to a supervisory position and is invited to a party by the rich Eastmans. There he meets society girl Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor in her prime) and falls in love. Angela likes George who becomes her escort, an entree into the world to which he aspires. Alice gets pregnant and demands he marry her. The young man puts her off with subterfuge, but she finds out and threatens him. You can tell what’s coming. It’s the journey that counts. All the leads are wonderful. Six Academy Awards including Best Motion Picture. A classic. Free with Amazon Prime,
Indiscretion of An American Wife, Also called Terminal Station 1953 Directed by Vittorio De Sica. A take on the British Brief Encounter. Married American woman Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) has a passionate affair with Italian academic Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift) while vacationing abroad. He begs her to stay. (Anguish is palpable.) She does not. A production plagued by discord. Stick to the original or Rent on Amazon Prime.
From Here to Eternity 1953. Based on the novel by James Jones. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. Powerful. Career soldier Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) transfers to a rifle company on the island of Oahu under pompous Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes (Philip Ober) who wants him to box for the regiment. The private swore off after hurting someone badly in the ring, but Holmes doesn’t take no for an answer. Prewitt is hazed within an inch of his life. Sympathetic First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), also career army, keeps him from court martial.
Prewitt and his only friend Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) join a social club where they can spend time with women and falls hard for Lorene (Donna Reed). Maggio gets into an argument with bully Stockade Sergeant Judson (Ernest Borgnine) who later takes revenge. Warden has a passionate affair with Holmes’ wife Karen (Deborah Kerr) who exists in a loveless marriage badly maligned by gossip. (Remember the iconic scene on the beach?) Everything comes to a head with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Terrific, well drawn characters. Violence, none gratuitous.
Eight Academy Awards out of 13 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra, who fought for the part) and Supporting Actress (Donna Reed). It was alleged that Kerr and Lancaster had a torrid affair during production. The film’s title originates from Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 poem “Gentlemen Rankers,” about soldiers of the British Empire who had “lost [their] way” and were “damned from here to eternity.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
I Confess 1953 Based on a 1902 French play by Paul Anthelme titled Nos deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), which Hitchcock saw in the 1930s. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. BIG on atmosphere, short on surprise; good acting. An exposition of the difficulties a priest can get into by keeping the secrets of the confessional inviolate.
Devoutly Catholic Father Logan (Montgomery Clift) sees someone enter the church late one evening with a cassock over his arm. The man is immigrant Otto Keller (O.E. Kasse) who with wife Alma (Dolly Haas) works as caretaker and housekeeper. Otto is badly shaken. He confesses to the murder of Vilette, a local lawyer. The next morning, Father Logan goes to the victim’s home which is overrun by police. Apparently he had scheduled an appointment with Vilette. Otto has admitted nothing.
Two little girls saw what they assumed to be a priest leaving the lawyer’s home late the preceding night. Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) immediately suspects Logan who won’t tell him the nature of his business with Vilette. The Inspector sees Logan in conversation with Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), wife of an important legislature member, in front of Vilette’s house and is further intrigued. Afraid of being hanged, aware his priest can’t reveal the confession, Otto plants the bloody cassock in Logan’s room.
Ruth, who has a history with the suspect going back to before he was ordained, steps forward to say they were together (and why) the night of the murder. Unfortunately, she dropped him off with plenty of time to commit the crime. Still the priest won’t talk. Things get worse and worse until…The director couldn’t understand Clift’s method acting and ended up reshooting innumerable scenes. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Suddenly Last Summer 1959 Based on Tennessee Williams’ gothic play. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. A story of guilt, masochism, and delusion. New Orleans 1937. When her cousin, Sebastian Venable died under questionable circumstances on summer holiday together with Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor), she returned severely disturbed and was institutionalized. Sebastian’s wealthy, imperious mother Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) bribes the head of the asylum to lobotomize her niece so that the truth about her son won’t be revealed. Surgeon Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) is approached.
Cukrowicz decides to move Catherine to the state hospital believing she’s been through something traumatic but has not, in fact, “lost her mind.” The young woman’s mother, Grace (Mercedes McCambridge), and brother, George (Gary Raymond), are on Violet’s side. In a last ditch effort to unearth the truth and clear Catherine’s mind, Cukrowicz brings her to the Venable estate where he administers a truth serum that may allow her to overcome resistance to remembering. The replay is extremely effective…
Working in conjunction with the National Legion of Decency, the Production Code Administration gave the filmmakers special dispensation to depict Sebastian Venable as homosexual. His face, however, is never seen. Taylor secured the role for Clift who had been spiraling down on drugs and alcohol since his car crash. He was shaky enough for the director to ask to have him replaced several times. Not only was the crew sympathetic, but Hepburn was so angry at Mankiewicz’s treatment of the actor that after the final “Cut,” she spit in the director’s face. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Photo credit: Montgomery Clift in I Confess – Screenshot from a public domain movie trailer.