George Steves’ A Place in the Sun tackles the question of whether a person can be guilty of things he/she refuses to do rather than just the things he/she does that are believed to be wrong. The moral journey begins with a romance and unplanned, pre-marital pregnancy (of course a terrible taboo in 1951). George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) and Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters) work together and have a relationship that is not so much hindered by the pregnancy nearly as much as it is by George’s lack of commitment from the beginning of their relationship.
George may be in love with Alice, but he is much more in love with his work. They marry, but he works his way up the corporate ladder very well and ignores his wife. As a result of the people he meets at the top of the ladder, he also meets Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). His obsessions toward reaching the top occupationally are then replaced with his obsession for Angela. Neglecting Alice, he tries to pacify her and continue pursuing his relationship with Angela. When this becomes impossible, he devises a plan to kill Alice. He doesn’t go through with it because Alice dies first. He does, however, have the opportunity to save her which he does not do.
Is he guilty of murder? The second half of the movie provides many different answers to the question. Each person he encounters has subtle ways of telling whether they think he’s guilty or not, and interestingly enough they’re all right. He is guilty, but he didn’t physically kill her so there are many right answers to this dilemma. The court eventually weighs in with their own answer to the question, but what matters most is George’s own answer to the question. His obsessiveness toward Angela has deceived him so that his conscience is seared enough to believe that he planned to kill his wife and to neglect offering her help when she drowned out of love for Angela.
A Place in the Sun is an important movie to watch as it powerfully depicts how people evaluate moral decisions. It encourages viewers to do the same. As we answer the question about George’s guilt or lack thereof, we answer questions about how we view our own attitude toward right and wrong.
“Stumble alert:” A Place in the Sun has dark thematic material that may be disturbing for children but overall no objectionable content.