This film, one of George Stevens`s finest, is based on real events, relating to the murder in 1906 of Grace Brown by William Gillette at Herkimer County, New York. It served as an inspiration for Theodore Dreiser`s novel `An American Tragedy` of which this film is an adaptation.
The paring of Elizabeth Tayor and Montgomery Clift is faultless. The opening scene links the two when George Eastman (Clift) is seen thumbing a lift and Angela Vickers (Elizabeth) drives past, klaxon horn hooting.
An example of similarity and contrast occurs in an early scene when George enters the factory. Earl Eastman (Keith Brasselle)walks past him, turns, and for a moment the faces of these two men are shown; so alike, and yet their circumstances are so different: Earl,son of the managing director, with all the advantages this brings. George, the outsider, poor, underprivileged, having worked as bell-hop, caddy etc., The point is made once more when Earl`s father Charles (Herbert Heyes) watches his son dressing for dinner. Earl notices his father`s observation and asks, `Is my tie on straight?` Charles laughes and says, `No, I was just thinking...` and the viewer needs no further explanation.
A contrast is also shown between the beauty of Angela and the plain Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters) whom George dates despite company rules. A pivotal moment takes place when George, accompanied by Alice, passes a mission choir, one of the members being a ten - year - old boy who bares a striking resemblance to himself: will George continue on this path, or will he yield to the opportunity offered him to `better` himself? During the interim period when George is still torn between Angela and Alice, we hear, very faintly in the distance, two sounds that will later become more intrusive and symbolic: a barking dog and a police siren. these things seem to illustrate the conflict of desire. Also, is George influenced - subconciously - by a painting adorning the wall of his flat v.z. Sir John Millais`s picture of the drowned Ophelia, plus the illuminated flashing sign `Vickers`? Regarding the seduction scene, fate seems to take a hand with the cinema, the drunk, the parking-lot cop, and the rain.
In the death sequence, the camera lingers at the court - house, where George and Alice have been unable to marry due to Labor Day. Yes, George will return to the court - house, not as a bridegroom, but as a man accused of murder. The death scene is brilliantly handled, with the shadows, the water, the song of the loon and Franz Waxman`s music. Immediately after the murder, once more there is the symbolism of the barking dog. When George stumbles into some campers, he rouses a hound which barks madly; this is further emphasised when the District Attorney (Raymond Burr) grim, lame and formidable, seeks to quieten his Rotwieler. Later, in the meeting between George and Angela`s father (Shepperd Strudwick). Mr. Vickers gives his blessing to the couple`s engagement; although the scene ends peacefully, in the distance we again hear a yelping dog: Nemesis is closing in! During the court - room scene when the Attorney fetches in the boat as an exhibit, George catches his foot on a rope. This seems a foretaste of the fate which lies in store for him.
The final meeting between Angela and George is most poingnant. I simply cannot understand the viewer who found it amusing. On the contrary, it is the most heart-rending scene ever filmed, equalled only by the final sequence in Chaplin`s `City Lights` It is not overacted, and when Angela declares `I`ll go on loving you for as long as I live` this cannot fail to bring tears; plus this sequence is helped by the music score.
A wonderful drama.