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An American Tragedy (1931)

Approved | | Romance, Drama | 22 August 1931 (USA)
A poor factory worker, employed by a wealthy uncle, falls in love with a beautiful heiress but his happiness and promising future are jeopardized by a previous affair with a coworker he impregnated.


(as Josef Von Sternberg)
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Complete credited cast:
Sondra Finchley
District Attorney Orville Mason
Frederick Burton ...
Samuel Griffiths
Mrs. Samuel Griffiths
Wallace Middleton ...
Gilbert Griffiths
Emmett Corrigan ...
Belknap (Clyde's attorney)
Mrs. Asa Griffiths
Jephson (Clyde's second attorney) (as Charles B. Middleton)
Titus Alden (as Albert Hart)
Fanny Midgley ...
Mrs. Titus Alden
Russ Powell ...
Coroner Fred Heit (as Russell Powell)


A poor factory worker, employed by a wealthy uncle, falls in love with a beautiful heiress but his happiness and promising future are jeopardized by a previous affair with a coworker he impregnated.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama that happens around you everyday - when the wild life of impetuous youth burns away age-old barriers!


Romance | Drama


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

22 August 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Eine amerikanische Tragödie  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. Its initial telecasts took place in Minneapolis Thursday 11 June 1959 on WTCN (Channel 11), in Seattle 19 August 1959 on KIRO (Channel 7), in Philadelphia 7 December 1959 on WCAU (Channel 10), and in Lowell, Massachusetts 10 March 1960 on WBZ (Channel 4). It was released on DVD 13 July 2015 as part of the Universal Vault Series. See more »


Version of Nakaw na pag-ibig (1980) See more »


Nearer My God to Thee
(1856) (uncredited)
Music by Lowell Mason
Played on an organ at the mission
See more »

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User Reviews

A face in the crowd wants his place in the sun
6 July 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It's interesting to compare this precode era adaptation to the glossier seemingly bigger-budget production, 1951's "A Place in the Sun". People today will likely not remember the stars since so much of their work was done at 1930's Paramount and is never shown anymore. Practically all of the action is centered on working class girl Roberta (Sylvia Sidney) and Clyde Griffiths (Phillips Holmes), who wants what he wants when he wants it. Frances Dee as the rich girl Clyde falls for later in the film barely gets any lines at all as compared to Elizabeth Taylor in the corresponding part in the 1951 film. In fact the whole tale is spartanly told.

Clyde's past is filled in more in this film, along with more about his mother and the fact that she realizes she failed Clyde by concentrating so much on her mission work and thus exposing Clyde to all of the darkness in life with none of the normal attention and happinesses that most children experience, thus making Clyde selfish and hungry for the good things in life.

Clyde gets a break when he runs into the wealthy side of the family, gets a job in their factory, and ultimately works his way up to supervisor. But the family is more oblige toward him than noblesse, as they invite him up to visit them at their house - more for the sake of appearances than anything - and study him like a specimen rather than treat him like a guest. Through all of this, Clyde is stoic and unsurprised at their behavior. You get the feeling he'd do the same if he was in their place.

Clyde selfishly but not maliciously pushes Roberta, one of the assembly line girls in his charge, into a relationship and ultimately into sharing a bed, and apparently this intimate relationship goes on some time until he meets a bigger better deal in the person of Sondra Finchley. Don't expect the sizzle and warmth of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor here. Here Frances Dee and Philips Holme barely smolder, but that is probably intentional just to feed the impression that this guy truly can't love anybody.

Here Roberta is an unlucky girl that you grow to like as you even meet her family at one point. In Place in the Sun Shelley Winter's rendition is that of a clawing nagging harpy, causing you to somewhat sympathize with Clyde. Here there can really be no sympathy for the guy - he really is a coward, always trying to get what he can out of life here and now, running from the consequences, lying to himself as well as everyone else.

When the pregnant Roberta refuses to just disappear and insists on marriage, Clyde tears himself away from his summer vacation with his new socialite girlfriend long enough to plan a murder that will look like an accidental drowning. Does he want the good things in life enough to do even the foulest of deeds? Watch and find out. And you will find out, because what happens in the boat is clearly shown from beginning to end.

One very interesting moment in this film not included in the remake: You see the jury deliberate and two jurors are tending toward voting not guilty. The other ten threaten the two holdouts, basically saying that they will find it impossible to make a living in that town if they "side with that murderer". In the production code era you would never be allowed to question the integrity of the criminal justice system in such a manner.

This film is an interesting commentary on class consciousness centered on a wrong guy ultimately brought to accidental justice by an equally wrong criminal justice system. Highly recommended.

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