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Monday, August 10, 2015

An American Tragedy (1931)

Raised in poverty, an ambitious young man (Phillips Holmes) takes a job at a factory owned by his wealthy uncle (Frederick Burton). He romances a girl (Sylvia Sidney) who also works at the factory but when he meets a wealthy heiress (Frances Dee), he sees an opportunity to move up in society. But fate has other ideas. Based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser, this original film version isn't as well known as the second film version re-titled A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951). I've never been a fan of the 1951 George Stevens film, it's too romanticized and it makes its protagonist's (played by Montgomery Clift) motivations too ambiguous. Josef Von Sternberg's film isn't nearly as sympathetic towards the young man. He's lean and hungry and clearly willing to do what it takes to get to the top and more obviously a moral coward. Unfortunately, the film's lengthy trial sequence is poorly done and poorly acted and the film's implication that it was poverty that was responsible, not the boy, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Holmes never rises above adequate but both Dee and especially Sidney are very strong. With Irving Pichel and Lucille La Verne. 

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