The first time I heard this film namechecked was in The Clash song "The Right Profile", a tribute to, and a lament for, its damaged star Montogomery Clift. More than 45 years on from his death, Clift's brooding presence on screen still haunts and harrows, and this 1951 melodrama leads off a BFI season.
Adapted from Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy, George Stevens' film alters the balance of the book entirely: it's the story of a doomed love, not the novelist's indictment of a narrow, hypocritical society.
Clift is stunning as the lost young insider/outsider caught between duty to his pregnant girl (Shelley Winters, at once heartbreaking and insufferable) and love for the coltish society beauty (Elizabeth Taylor, kittenish and irresistible).
The moral ambiguity is sustained right to the end, though for audiences that comes a distant second to the fierce chemistry of Clift and Taylor, almost consuming the screen in their swooning close-ups.Reuse content