An American Tragedy

1931

Crime / Drama / Romance

5
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Spilled 54% · 250 ratings
IMDb Rating 6.4/10 10 925 925

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Plot summary

A social climber charms a debutante, seduces a factory worker and commits murder.


Uploaded by: FREEMAN
January 02, 2024 at 05:16 PM

Top cast

Sylvia Sidney as Roberta Alden
Irving Pichel as District Attorney Orville Mason
Frances Dee as Sondra Finchley
Claire Dodd as Gaile Warren
720p.BLU 1080p.BLU
882.1 MB
1280*1068
English 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
1 hr 36 min
Seeds 9
1.6 GB
1294*1080
English 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
1 hr 36 min
Seeds 14

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by AlsExGal 8 / 10

A face in the crowd wants his place in the sun

It's interesting to compare this precode era adaptation to the glossier seemingly bigger-budget production, 1951's "A Place in the Sun". People today will likely not remember the stars since so much of their work was done at 1930's Paramount and is never shown anymore. Practically all of the action is centered on working class girl Roberta (Sylvia Sidney) and Clyde Griffiths (Phillips Holmes), who wants what he wants when he wants it. Frances Dee as the rich girl Clyde falls for later in the film barely gets any lines at all as compared to Elizabeth Taylor in the corresponding part in the 1951 film. In fact the whole tale is spartanly told.

Clyde's past is filled in more in this film, along with more about his mother and the fact that she realizes she failed Clyde by concentrating so much on her mission work and thus exposing Clyde to all of the darkness in life with none of the normal attention and happinesses that most children experience, thus making Clyde selfish and hungry for the good things in life.

Clyde gets a break when he runs into the wealthy side of the family, gets a job in their factory, and ultimately works his way up to supervisor. But the family is more oblige toward him than noblesse, as they invite him up to visit them at their house - more for the sake of appearances than anything - and study him like a specimen rather than treat him like a guest. Through all of this, Clyde is stoic and unsurprised at their behavior. You get the feeling he'd do the same if he was in their place.

Clyde selfishly but not maliciously pushes Roberta, one of the assembly line girls in his charge, into a relationship and ultimately into sharing a bed, and apparently this intimate relationship goes on some time until he meets a bigger better deal in the person of Sondra Finchley. Don't expect the sizzle and warmth of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor here. Here Frances Dee and Philips Holme barely smolder, but that is probably intentional just to feed the impression that this guy truly can't love anybody.

Here Roberta is an unlucky girl that you grow to like as you even meet her family at one point. In Place in the Sun Shelley Winter's rendition is that of a clawing nagging harpy, causing you to somewhat sympathize with Clyde. Here there can really be no sympathy for the guy - he really is a coward, always trying to get what he can out of life here and now, running from the consequences, lying to himself as well as everyone else.

When the pregnant Roberta refuses to just disappear and insists on marriage, Clyde tears himself away from his summer vacation with his new socialite girlfriend long enough to plan a murder that will look like an accidental drowning. Does he want the good things in life enough to do even the foulest of deeds? Watch and find out. And you will find out, because what happens in the boat is clearly shown from beginning to end.

One very interesting moment in this film not included in the remake: You see the jury deliberate and two jurors are tending toward voting not guilty. The other ten threaten the two holdouts, basically saying that they will find it impossible to make a living in that town if they "side with that murderer". In the production code era you would never be allowed to question the integrity of the criminal justice system in such a manner.

This film is an interesting commentary on class consciousness centered on a wrong guy ultimately brought to accidental justice by an equally wrong criminal justice system. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by mark.waltz 9 / 10

A must see for its grittier depiction of a tragic story.

Theodore Dreiser's tragic tale of a young man's decent into degradation is best known, of course, for its romanticized 1951 version, "A Place in the Sun", but it was first filmed 20 years later in a way that makes it even more memorable. Clyde Griffiths (Phillips Holmes) is the son of a poor widow (Lucille LaVerne) who heads to see wealthy relatives to make a new life for himself. He finds romance with both a poor girl (Sylvia Sidney) and wealthy socialite (Frances Dee) and faces the chair when Sidney is killed (he claims accidentally) in a boating accident.

The setting of the film in the depression makes Holmes' situation all the more realistic rather than the post-World War II era of the remake. The other major asset to the film is the performance of Sylvia Sidney as the poor girl who may or may not have been purposely not saved by the "hero". Unlike Shelley Winters' version of the character, Sidney is totally likable, a sweet girl who becomes desperate when she finds herself pregnant. Just a few years later, this film would not have been able to be made; It would take two decades for some parts of the Hays code to allow "shocking" situations like this to be dramatized on film. The remake made necessary changes to the story, including the toughening up of the victim (as played by Winters). Whether or not Holmes deliberately meant to kill Sidney is left to the imagination of the viewer, but there are hints he doesn't feel fully guilty of not saving her.

Temporarilly free from his exotic adventures with Marlene Dietrich, Josef Von Sternberg directed what is his finest film. Holmes' hero is not the noble "pretty boy" as played by Montgomery Clift 20 years later, but a handsome anti-hero who obviously longs to climb the social ladder. This makes his character seem a bit more amoral than how Clift played the part. Dee's character isn't as fleshed out as Elizabeth Taylor's in the remake, but she is playing what is consequently an insignificant role. The true story focuses on Holmes and Sidney, the aftermath of the tragedy, and Holmes' acceptance of his destiny thanks to his very religious mother. Lucille LaVerne is memorable in her small role, a part far different from "La Vengeance" in "A Tale of Two Cities" and various other hags she played on film. The cinematography is exquisite. Along with another pre-code drama from Paramount, "The Sins of Temple Drake", "An American Tragedy" is a film that is much worthy of re-discovery and hopefully DVD release.

Reviewed by kidboots 10 / 10

Portrait of a Cold, Cowardly Opportunist

Theodore Dreiser's lengthy 1925 novel was based on the sensational 1906 murder trial of Chester Gillette, who murdered his working class girlfriend in order to marry into a socially prominent family. His book deals with a man who wants to escape the poverty and hopelessness of his background only to be engulfed by the wealth he longs for. It became a successful Broadway play with Miriam Hopkins as Sondra, the society girl.

Initially, Paramount engaged the prestigious Russian director Sergei Eisenstein as director but the deal fell through, then flamboyant director Josef Von Sternberg was hired. Coming in the middle of his Marlene Dietrich pictures the film dripped with atmosphere as he filmed scenes through beaded curtains, venetian blinds and lakeside trees. Even though Sylvia Sidney and Phillips Holmes last co-starring feature was a movie so bad that no director wanted credit ("Confessions of a Co-Ed") they were both immediately signed for "An American Tragedy". Holmes, a very sensitive actor, found the role of a life time as Clyde Griffiths, who we first meet working as a bellhop at the luxurious Green- Davison Hotel. His opportunism is apparent from the start as he would rather attend to the female guests every need than to hobnob with his fellow workers.

When out with friends he is involved in a hit and run (he is not the driver) and though his mother (Lucille LaVerne, in a really over the top performance) who runs the local mission, pleads with him to go to the police, being a coward he refuses. He flees to New York where he has some wealthy relations and it isn't long before, with lying and wheedling, he has attained the post of foreman in the Griffiths Shirt Factory. He meets pretty Roberta (Sylvia Sidney), a factory girl and seems genuinely attracted to her, at the same time he meets his wealthy relatives and is taken up by them. Clyde and Roberta begin their affair, even though the factory frowns against romance in the workplace. Roberta is manipulated by Clyde (with promises of everlasting devotion) into letting him come up to her room. About the same time he meets Sondra (beautiful Frances Dee), a society girl and then conveniently forgets about Roberta. Roberta has some news for Clyde that he doesn't want to hear as he feels he has really fond his niche in life with Sondra by his side.

After reading in the paper about an accidental drowning, Clyde begins to plan his way out - he takes Roberta out on the lake, knowing her fear of water. He plans to capsize the boat and let her drown but when faced with the act, he can't go through with it. Roberta is frightened and accidentally falls in but Clyde does nothing to save her and swims away.

The last third of the film is devoted to the trial with Irving Pichel giving a gripping performance as D.A. Mason, who is determined to find Clyde guilty. Clyde's coldness and amoral attitude, plus the fact that he is already on the run from a fatal car accident does not get sympathy from the jury. Only at the very end, when he admits to his mother that he did intend to kill Roberta but changed his mind does the audience feel any sympathy for him.

There is no comparison between Sylvia Sidney and Shelley Winters (who played Roberta in the 1951 remake). Sidney, a far superior actress, gave Roberta a naive sensitivity, Winters made Roberta seem coarse and crude. Frances Dee, who proved she was a good actress in films like "The Silver Cord" and "Blood Money", a couple of years in the future, in 1931 was just a very pretty face. I think, by making Sondra just a pretty cardboard cut out society girl (in comparison to Elizabeth Taylor's more sensitive portrayal) Sternberg keeps the emphasis on Clyde, defining his callousness and spinelessness and taking away any sympathy the audience may have felt for him.

Highly, Highly Recommended.

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