A Place in the Sun
seen online via YouTube
My earliest memories of Elizabeth Taylor was through the supermarket tabloids. Every time I'd go to the supermarket or the drugstore as a kid, I'd inevitably see her face plastered somewhere on the cover of the Star or the National Enquirer - or more legit magazines like People - in the middle of some kind of drama, often involving whoever her husband of the moment was. Of course, being a kid, I never gave it much of a second thought. Eventually I learned that she was a world-famous actress who used to be big once. I saw that she was pals with Michael Jackson and that she was involved in the fight against AIDS. Still, her Hollywood legacy never meant anything to me.
Once I started working in video retail, I watched a few of her old movies and got a greater sense of her as an actress. I remember being absolutely blown away by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It totally did not seem like an old film at all, and the performances were so super-charged and mesmerizing. I think that might be my favorite film of hers. Considering she learned her trade on the job, as it were, without any formal training, she metamorphosed into a formidable actress over time. Perhaps beginning as a child star helped in that regard.
As for her very public personal life, well, I can't imagine what would make one woman go through so many different husbands. Maybe it was a by-product of living the life of a Hollywood celebrity; the way fame messes with your head. Maybe it was vanity, treating her men as her playthings. Maybe she simply had a hard time holding on to love, as often as it seemed to come to her. I couldn't begin to say for certain and there's no longer any point in speculating.
In A Place in the Sun, we see Taylor on the cusp of womanhood, with a sexual allure and even a hint of a bad-girl streak. The differences between her role and Shelley Winters' role, however, weren't pronounced enough in my opinion. One is rich, the other poor, but other than that they didn't seem that much different. I loved the scene where Taylor, out driving with Montgomery Clift, tries to evade a cop, well aware that she's speeding, and ends up getting caught anyway. It turns out she's done this so many times that the cop knows her personally, and she treats the ticket she gets completely frivolously. I wanted to see more of that. That struck me as the only time in the whole movie where she showed some genuine depth of character, and it went as quickly as it came.
I didn't buy Clift's romance with Winters. He seemed a bit too hot and heavy over a plain-jane like her - not that she was a bad person, but their relationship seemed rushed. I would've preferred Clift to regard Taylor as more of a temptation that he struggles to resist. The way it was presented, it was as if he just went from Winters to Taylor without any kind of second thoughts. And if he was supposed to be a cad, like his character in The Heiress, that didn't come across strongly enough either. I get the impression that Place wanted to be a film noir, but wasn't willing to push the characters far enough in that direction, which is especially galling given that it's based on a book called An American Tragedy.
Still, Place shows off Taylor as a young woman coming into her own quite nicely, and offers a hint of the seductive siren she would eventually become.