Writer Theodore Dreiser was dismayed to find that director Josef von Sternberg and Paramount had taken so many liberties with his book, and he successfully sued, which forced von Sternberg to add many scenes that had been edited out of the movie. The resulting final cut was so far from what von Sternberg had intended, he disowned the picture. See more »
I finally got to see Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (1931), with Phillips Holmes playing the young sociopath-murderer that Monty Clift played in the later A Place In the Sun (1951). This picture was directed by Josef von Sternberg.
The print a friend loaned me was a real chore on the eyes, I am glad I didn't pay for this! I don't like her generally, but I must admit Sylvia Sidney did a good job as the thoughtless girl "Bert", which Shelley Winters more annoyingly played in the remake. Sylvia's part was much bigger and more sympathetic than the girl Phillips' character Clyde falls in love with later, here played by Frances Dee and in the remake by Elizabeth Taylor. In A Place in the Sun Elizabeth Taylor's part was very much expanded, but in this earlier version we're not even sure Clyde cares more about her than her money.
Phillips played his part so emotionlessly that it was almost like he was in a trance. I kept thinking of the infamous Scott Peterson and his emotionlessness through his trial for murdering his pregnant wife. I think that was a deliberate choice on Phillips' part to play the role this way, but there were many times when he seemed very wooden to me and I wanted to see more passion or life or something! Overall I do think he was truer to the role though than Monty Clift's interpretation.
I don't recall a mother character in A Place In The Sun, but here Clyde's mother is played well by Lucille La Verne, a popular character actress of the 30's. She runs a mission and spends more time saving souls than looking after her only boy, with the result that he grows up without a firm rudder to cling to when times get hard. So in that respect this earlier film version gives the audience more of a background into Clyde's childhood and environment which made him the sociopath he turned out to be. You know the character is in for it right at the beginning of the film, when he's indirectly involved with a hit and run accident of a child, and runs away rather than give details to the police.
If you can see it, do so. I hope you obtain a better print than I did though! I wish TCM would play this film, maybe back to back one evening with the 1951 remake, so folks can compare versions.
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