Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book vs. Film: An American Tragedy vs. A Place In The Sun

The Plot: A lower class young man is taken under the wing of his rich uncle and is given a job at his uncle's factory. He begins a relationship with one of his co-workers but also, and against all odds, gains the affection of a debutante who is a friend of his wealthy relatives. As his relationship with the debutante begins, and his own social standing begins to rise, his girlfriend learns that she's pregnant and threatens to bring scandal upon him unless he marries her. In a panic, he plots to kill her but at the last moment has a change of heart... or so he claims. The girlfriend dies regardless and his failure to cover his tracks leads to his arrest and the exposure of the dark side of social climbing and class politics.

Primary Differences Between Book and Film:
The film tells an abridged version of the book’s story;
The character names are changed: Clyde becomes George, Sondra becomes Angela, and Roberta becomes Alice;
The setting is moved from the 1920s to the 1950s.

For The Book: The film only tells about 2/3rds of the book’s story, skipping over Clyde/George’s impoverished childhood, the circumstances of which help to add dimension to his desire to climb the social ladder. Clyde is a more morally dubious character than George – when he arrives at the home of his relatives it’s after a couple of years on the lam, having fled his hometown after being involved in a hit and run. His relationships with Sondra/Angela and Roberta/Alice are given greater psychological depth in light of his previous bad experiences with women.

For The Film: Let’s start with the obvious – Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. These are two of the most stunningly beautiful actors ever to grace the screen and are so wonderful together that the characters from the book naturally pale in comparison. The relationship itself is also more compelling in the film because it’s a love story, whereas in the book the relationship is really more of a Pygmalion-like scheme on Sondra’s part to prove to Clyde’s cousin that she can make Clyde fit for high society. The love story aspect also helps to maintain the emotional engagement of the audience in the story and gives the film’s ending an added punch, whereas in the book Sondra basically abandons Clyde following his arrest and the story really runs out of steam by the time it gets to the end.

Winner: Film. The book is good and makes for an interesting companion piece to The Great Gatsby, which was also released in 1925 and explores some similar themes; however, the story told by the film is more effective and tightly focused and maintains the narrative tension throughout, whereas the book is great in the build up, but weak in the follow through and only limps to its conclusion.

No comments: