Montgomery Clift

An American Tragedy Arrives on the Silver Screen, Bringing Liz Taylor with it

The name of the novel on which it’s based is An American Tragedy… so it’s kind of a given that 1951’s A Place in the Sun is a bit of a downer.  Worse – or maybe better, in this particular case – the film completely misses the mark as a critique of American society.  We’ll get to that.

Montgomery Clift and Liz Taylor in A Place in the Sun.jpeg

Essentially, the 1920s novel attempts to show the American rich and insensitive and useless parasites of society by depicting the struggle of a poor member of a rich family to earn his “place in the sun”.

Unfortunately, watching the film leaves one with precisely the opposite sensation.  It’s invariably the rich characters who act like decent human beings towards him, without exception and without fail.  The “everyman”, as represented by the woman who isn’t Liz Taylor, by the police and the lawyers, and by the angry mobs seen in the final montages are in a much less positive light.

Now it’s true that the rich people are essentially seen as enjoying their lives and privilege, but they are also shown as working hard and studying hard to get ahead.  The fifties, clearly, were not a good time to pretend the American Dream was a myth.

The antagonists in the film are two: the main character’s own mistakes and moral weakness and the poor girl’s desperation.  They both reinforce exactly the opposite of what the novel attempted to convey.  In this film, being poor and scared leads to actions that are reprehensible, while being rich apparently creates kind individuals.

Usually, my major problem with this kind of message film is usually that people are not better or worse because of their social or economic positions.  There are nice people and assholes in every strata of society, from indigent to billionaire (and if anyone tells you different, they are one of the assholes), so these crude, broad-brush depictions never help anyone but the propaganda minister of your favorite dictatorship.

But that isn’t the main reason I didn’t like this one.  This is a film that cried for a happy ending, even if that meant moving away from the source material.  The characters were sympathetic enough, especially Taylor’s, to deserve it, and one wishes the filmmakers had risen to the challenge.

Of course, if they had, it would have won fewer Oscars and probably wouldn’t have made it onto the 1001 movies list because we all know what “powerful performances” means…

Dilbert powerful performances


Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His collection Off the Beaten Path is a treat for those who enjoy exploring our common humanity unusual settings far from the Western world.  You can check it out here.


A Western that Managed to Make my Wife Forget She Hates Westerns

I watch the 1001 movies list with my long-suffering wife.  She normally enjoys the good ones (some of them more than I do) and sits through the strange, foreign or noir ones with long-practiced stoicism.  Mainly, she is an enthusiastic participant in the project and often asks for a film if we’re not too tired when our day ends.

But there is one exception: westerns.  She hates them and usually falls asleep in the middle, with clear instructions that I should watch the thing myself and not bug her.  She even abandoned My Darling Clementine halfway through.

John Wayne in Red River

Red River, however, was another story entirely.  After a couple of false starts we watched the entire movie until the end, even though I wanted to go to sleep and finish it the following day.


I think the answer lies in the unrelenting tension and the huge number of actual cows onscreen… and those two things are related.  Let me explain.

The tension is, to a certain degree, driven by the plot.  You have some guys trying to drive a herd a long way against all odds in an unforgiving land where both the elements and groups of bandits and indians are out to get them.  Then, in the middle of it, one of the main characters abandons the group in order to follow them and try to get revenge by killing he group’s leader.

I think what makes the whole thing seem real, though is that the cows are on screen a good chunk of the time.  There are lots of them, and they are really there.  They’re big, they’re constantly moving and, somehow, they make everything seem real.  There’s a stampede scene which is probably the most memorable scene in the film.

Red River Film Poster

The acting is superb and, of course, John Wayne is the ultimate tough guy who hides his deepest feelings from outside scrutiny.  It works spectacularly well, and there’s little question as to why the film was beloved from the word go.  It is most definitely the opposite of a chick flick, and all the stronger for it.

Of course, if you’re the kind of person who is offended by either John Wayne or the attitudes prevalent in the 1940s, this one will shock you to the core – Westerns of this era are not for the socially sensitive.  The rest of you should go out and find this film as soon as you can.

And enjoy what might just be The Duke’s best performance in a film so good even my wife approves.


Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who has never written a western.  However he has recently launched a collection of short SF and Fantasy stories which you can check out here.