A Place In The Sun was re-released in London last month, shining attention in the British press on director George Steven’s 1951 study of love, sex and class as well as on the film’s timeless co-stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to ponder the nature of that notoriously intense relationship between Taylor and Clift. Was it love or was it something else?
The Stevens’ film, based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy, showcases Montgomery as socially apirational working class stiff who falls for Taylor’s idle rich girl after he impregnates a none-too-bright assembly line worker (Shelley Winters). Rarely have class distinctions been as starkly etched in an American movie.
At the time she made A Place In The Sun, Taylor was winding up the first of her eight marriages (to Nicky Hilton) and was months away from her second to British-born actor Michael Wilding. She made no attempt to conceal her passion for the handsome Clift, and vice versa.
The problem: although not generally known at the time, Clift was gay. In a penetrating anaylsis of the movie and of the Taylor-Clift tie, British trade magazine Sight & Sound’s Eric Hynes concludes that while “A Place In The Sun’s” outcome asserts that class boundaries are ultimately impossible to transgress, our eyes receive a different message: these two celestial bodies (Clift and Taylor) belong together.
But that imperative is ultimately thwarted, just as it was for Monty and Liz in real life. Though frequently romantically linked, and the dearest of friends until Clift’s death in 1966, their sexuality was incompatible.
According to a longtime male friend, Clift once told Taylor that you are the only woman I will ever love. Taylor’s response? Baby, oh baby, over and over again.
Concludes Hynes: Perhaps even they assumed they belonged together — so hungry are their eye-locks in “A Place In The Sun” that one feels voyeuristic. But it wasn’t to be.
There’s no question that the actress may have saved Clift’s life five years after A Place In The Sun.
Late on the night of May 12, 1956 — while he was costarring with Taylor in MGM’s Raintree County — Clift crashed his vehicle into a telephone pole after leaving a party Taylor and then husband Michael Wilding had thrown at their Benedict Canyon home in Los Angeles.
Taylor famously raced to the accident scene. She manually pulled broken teeth out of the choking actor’s mouth. He had sustained a broken jaw and nose along with multiple facial lacerations. Much of his face had to be surgically rebuilt.
He was badly scarred and many predicted his career was over.
MGM was forced to suspend production on Raintree County, a Civil War-era romance that the studio had hoped would be another Gone With The Wind. Undoubtedly, the studio brass gave considerable thought to replacing Clift as Taylor’s costar. Over her dead body!
After a two-month suspension, Raintree County resumed production. Clift predicted the movie would be a box office success because moviegoers would flock to see the difference in his looks in scenes filmed before and after the accident.