Wednesday, November 18, 2015
George Stevens took the plot for one of his biggest runaway successes—it won six Oscars in 1952—from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy: a poor, ambitious young man (Montgomery Clift) becomes disastrously involved with two women (Shelly Winters and Elizabeth Taylor) while trying to ingratiate himself with his wealthy uncle. Clift, then at the peak of his powers, transforms George from a sleazy social climber into something close to a tragic hero. But it’s Winters’s performance as the doomed young Alice, a factory worker from whom George drifts away in favor of a wealthy socialite, that becomes the film’s emotional center. She’s the prototype for many of Haynes’s heroines: stifled, alert, possessed of strong desires, and ultimately destroyed by the shallow movements of the society in which she’s stuck.