Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun

Shelley Winters received her first Oscar nomination for playing Alice Tripp, a simple factory worker girl in the Best Picture nominated adaptation of Theodore Dreisler's novel, A Place in the Sun. Shelley must have wanted to win very much as she wrote in her autobiography that she actually heard Ronald Coleman announcing her as the winner. I suppose the fact that A Place in the Sun was the Best Picture front-runner might have helped her become a distant second after Viven Leigh's celebrated work, but the thing is, nobody had much of a chance of beating Ms. Leigh.

That being said, A Place in the Sun is an amazing movie, simple as that. I'm just as stunned as people at the time that it lost Best Picture to An American in Paris. Streetcar must have been a bit too modern for Hollywood's taste so A Place in the Sun seems to be a sensible and great winner to me. George Stevens won a well-deserved Oscar for his excellent direction, which wonderfully created tension and real drama on the screen. Naturally, he needed a great actor for George Eastman who really knocked it out of the park. And boy, did Montgomery Clift do so! My goodness. Although some consider his nomination a result of the movie's sweep, I feel that not only did he deserve it, he also deserved to win the Oscar. He's nothing short of  amazing. 

However, the rest of A Place in the Sun is pretty great as well: I'm very surprised that Elizabeth Taylor's very much praised and very memorable performance didn't get more attention from the Academy. I guess, in the end they couldn't resist Shelley Winters' more tragic and heart-breaking storyline. It's quite odd that Shelley Winters, a respected and well-known supporting actress managed to receive a leading nod for her borderline supporting performance. It's also surpising to see her being so quiet and subtle on the screen. I got to know her from her roles in A Patch of Blue and The Poseidon Adventure and as a result, she came off as an overwhelming character. So it was especially interesting to me how she would manage with such a simple character. I can say without any hesitation that Shelley perfectly solved her task. 

Even people who admire her work wonder if Shelley's leading nomination is justified since her character is borderline supporting and she probably would have fared better in that category. I suppose her case is very much like Greer Garson's in Goodbye, Mr. Chips: you can have arguments for both sides. Althoguh her impact on the story cannot be denied, she doesn't have much screentime and her character doesn't appear in the second half of the film. But, as you probably know, supporting performances in the lead category do not upset me as much as leading performances in supporting. Moreover, I don't think anyone can come up with a convincing enough argument in these cases.

Alice is just not an impressive girl: she talks little, her beauty is a bit limited, especially compared to the overwhelming beauty, sexiness and intelligence that just shines from Elizabeth Taylor's character, Angela. Alice represents the old life of George Eastman: poverty and simplicity. However, Angela (as her name suggests) is indeed an angelic presence and it's this contrast between these two ladies is what makes George's struggles even more believable and intense. You can spot this in the approaches of the two actresses: Liz is as graceful as a queen, Shelley is simpler, more quiet and much less radiant.

Shelley's work is one of those rare cases when the performance becomes truly engaging and impressive because of how unimpressive and clumsy the character is. For most of the time, we can see Shelley with an almost dumb expression on her face, which she gradually fills with emotion and real depth. Shelley could have stayed on the surface and would have been just as impressive and yet she chose to go deeper into the mind of this poor girl and we can see the understanding she has for Alice, but in the end she still remains a little bit pathetic and a bit annoying.

Both Monty and Shelley make their characters almost miserably and hopelessly naive, whic makes their respective performances even more astounding and effective. It feels like they are both drifting and are terribly helpless and exposed. In a way both of them want to get higher and in both cases it's Alice herself that's the ultimate boundary. Shelley reflects on the hearbreaking fact that Alice cannot be good enough for George and her gradual awakening is one of the saddest parts of the film. As a result, the way Shelley shows how Alice desperately clings to George becomes even more painful.

Shelley's absolutely devastating in the scene where Alice turns to a doctor after she gets 'into trouble'. Her gradual quiet breakdown is absolutely stunning just like last scenes, which are just masterful and incerdibly haunting, especially when she calls George where you can almost touch Alice's desperation and devastation. Shelley completely loses her vanity and pride along with her character and was not afraid of being pitied. 

Shelley also uses her little screentime to her advantage: she almost becomes like a ghost during the movie. In fact, I thought that she was much more haunting this way as her appearances always brought some tension to the idyllic moments of George and Angela.

Probably my only issue with this performance is that it's sometimes overshadowed by the greatness of Monty Clift and her own movie. If I was reviewing her in the supporting category, this wouldn't be an issue at all as she did perfectly what a supporting part required. I tended to overlook her, even despite the fact that I found her terrific all around. Sometimes I couldn't focus on her, because there were things that amazed me even more and that made her performance a little bit paler and not as grand as it could have been. Don't get me wrong, she was amazing, it's just that she could have kicked ass a little bit more.

Still, Shelley Winters gives a wonderful, heartwrenching performance as Alice in A Place in the Sun. She took a very simple character and made her an intriguing personality, with whom you can easily sympathise. You feel for her from the beginning to the shocking end and the way Shelley develops this character is just extraordinary. Truly memorable, haunting piece of work that really elevates and enriches its movie, one that stays with you long after the credits roll. 

What do you think?


joe burns said...

Never seen her, but fantastic and clear review!!!!

I'm guessing she'll be second or third.

I think it's pretty funny how she thought her name was called, but not in a pattetic way...

I think this was Leigh's Oscar all the way...

Louis Morgan said...

She is terrific, and complements Clift's great performance marvelously.

Nues20 said...

I have never seen her but I really want to and I think that she will come second.
She seems great too me.
Great Review!

JC said...

a kick-ass "LEADING/SUPPORTING" performance :D

dinasztie said...

Joe: Wow, thanks very much! I cannot ask for more than that! :))

Nues20: Thanks!

Fritz said...

I thought she was very good but too limited and even during her big scenes never stepped out of Monty's shadow.

dinasztie said...

Fritz: To a (very much) lesser extent I agree.

Anonymous said...

I just re-watched "A Place in the Sun." I think Winters did exactly what Stevens told her to do, and did it very well. But I can't help thinking that her mousy demeanor descended too often into whininess. She is consistently pitiable, and that makes her unlikeable. Because of this there is a sympathy towards George and towards George's murderous impulses that ultimately corrupts the film, unlike the way the characters are portrayed in the novel "An American Tragedy."In the book, George's personal and professional ambitions, his impoverished childhood and his own passionate nature makes for a tragic hero, whose complications are a reflection of the larger social economic realm. Alice is a misstep towards his quest for glory, but she is a sweet, attractive, naive girl, and her seduction leads to tragedy. In the movie, you can't help but think that the beauty of Clift and Taylor make them the natural couple, and that Alice should just disappear. That's too simple, and ultimately makes the viewer callously dismissive of Alice.