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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
Yes. A Place in the Sun is based on a 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, by American writer Theodore Dreiser. The novel was adapted for the movie by screenwriters Michael Wilson and Harry Brown. The novel was also filmed as An American Tragedy in 1931.
Yes. Dreiser based his novel on an actual 1906 court case in which Chester Gillette was charged with killing 20-year old Grace Brown at Big Moose Lake in upstate New York. Although Gillette maintained that her death was an accident, he was executed by electric chair in 1908.
Young George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), working as a bellhop in a Chicago hotel, gets an invitation from his rich Uncle Charles (Herbert Heyes) to come work at the Eastman family factory. Although it is strictly forbidden for an Eastman to date any of the employees, George starts secretly seeing co-worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Then Charles promotes George to a position as Head of the Department, and George begins to hopnail with the Eastmans and other socialites, including Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) with whom George falls in love at first sight. Incredibly, Angela also falls in love with him. When George finds out that Alice is pregnant, he's now faced with a dilemma...how to pursue Angela and still deal with Alice.
George is arrested and taken to jail. He admits that he intended to kill Alice but maintains that, after he got her out on the lake, he couldn't go through with it, and then the boat overturned. However, the evidence and the public opinion goes against him, and District Attorney Frank Marlowe (Raymond Burr) vows that George will get the electric chair. George's only concern is whether or not Angela has tried to contact him, but he is informed that both the prosecution and the defense have agreed to keep Angela out of the proceedings. During his lengthy trial, George swears that he did not strike Alice or toss her into the water and that the whole thing was an accident. Unfortunately, the jury rules against him, and George is found guilty of first-degree murder. As George waits on death row, his mother (Anne Revere) comes to visit him and his priest asks him the big question: When you were on the lake with Alice and the boat capsized and you might have saved her, who were you thinking of...Alice or Angela? George's thoughts flash to Angela's kiss, but he says nothing. The priest concludes that murder was in George's heart. Finally, Angela comes to visit. Angela professes her undying love for George. In the final scene, George is led down the walk to the electric chair. In his mind is only the memory of Angela's kiss.
That is the crux of the movie and something that each viewer must ask themselves. The movie plainly shows that George took Alice out on the lake with the intention of killing her. It also shows that it was Alice who capsized the rowboat and plunged both herself and George into the water. What it does not show is what happened after George and Alice were plunged into the water. Did it happen as George explained it...that they came up on opposite sides of the boat and that, by the time George swam over to help Alice, she had already gone under? Or did it happen as the priest wonders...that George's mind was on Angela at the time and that George allowing Alice to drown would set him free?
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