Home > Reviews > A PLACE IN THE SUN – Franz Waxman

A PLACE IN THE SUN – Franz Waxman


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The film was adapted from a 1925 novel “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. Director George Stevens hired Michael Wilson and Harry Brown for the screenplay, and assembled a stellar cast to at last bring this tragic story to life. George Stevens (Montgomery Clift), Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) and Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters) were hired as the principles and paired with a great cast of supporting players. The film centers on George Eastman, a poor man raised by an evangelical mother, who is tragically undone by his own actions. He leaves Chicago dirt poor, determined to make a name for himself working in the company of his wealthy Uncle in California. While there he begins dating Alice, a girl he met in the plant. All seems fine until he becomes completely enamored with Angela, a drop dead gorgeous socialite whom he meets at a party. He abandons Alice without a thought and begins dating Angela. The two fall in love, yet things begin to unravel when Alice discloses to George that she is pregnant. When she threatens a public disclosure if he does not marry her, George feels cornered and so devises a plot to murder her. When the time comes to strike through a staged boat accident, his conscience prevails and he relents only to see Alice drown anyway by accident. He survives, but inexplicably fails to report her death to the authorities. As such, although innocent, circumstantial evidence and his own guilty behavior make authorities suspicious. His arrest comes just as Angela’s father grants him permission to marry his daughter. He is then tried and sentenced to death in the electric chair.

Of interest is the fact that the film was shot in 1949 with a planned release date in 1950. However, Paramount Studio delayed the release until 1951 so it wouldn’t have two blockbuster hits competing against each other in the 1950 Academy Awards (Sunset Blvd.). Stevens used the extra time afforded by the delay to edit and fine-tune his film. The result was both a stunning commercial and critical success. The film earned an astounding nine Academy Awards nominations, winning six including; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Film Score.

Franz Waxman’s music can only be described as one of the truly classic scores of the Golden Age. His music enhances, elevates and underpins the film’s tragic narrative with an exquisite lyricism seldom achieved by a composer. He provides two themes and two motifs for his score; his primary theme, Angela’s (Vicker’s) Theme serves as the first of two love themes. It animates the film, and is rendered in a multiplicity of guises. His second theme is Alice’s Theme, which is also supremely lyrical and functions as a second love theme. Both love themes are string laden and exquisite in their beauty. Of his two motifs, the first, the Fate Motif, is emoted as a solo trumpet line. There is a tinge of sadness in the notes that seem to portend George’s fate. The second is George’s Motif, which has a 1950’s American jazz vibe that is carried by the fine alto sax playing of Bill Hamilton.

Illustrative of Waxman’s compositional gift may be seen in the cue “The Drowning – Part 1”. George rows the boat across the lake carried by strings with a bass pulse emoted as a marica funebre. Waxman sows disquiet and slowly builds tension with forlorn flutes and tremolo strings playing atop a pulsatile bass line, which grows inexorably in amplitude until it crescendo’s with George realization that he cannot murder her. Lastly, the closure with a plaintive rendering of the four-note Fate Theme is exquisite. We end our story with “The Last Mile (Finale)”, which reveals the guards coming to take George to the electric chair. We hear upon strings lamentoso a repeating Fate Motif with oboe counter. Tolling bells join and portend his doom. Slowly, yet inexorably Angela’s Theme rises and joins in communion with the trumpet carried Fate Motif, which culminates in an orchestral flourish.

Please allow me to thank Bruce Kimmel, Lukas Kendall and Kritzerland for answering the longstanding call of generations of film score lovers for a world premiere release of Franz Waxman’s “A Place in the Sun”. They have successfully restored the masters stored in the Paramount vaults and provided alternative rescored tracks and source music. Folks, Waxman has created a stunning masterpiece, a classic Golden Age score and what I believe is an essential score for collectors. His two love themes are some of the finest ever written and his writing for the psychology of this drama offer testimony to his genius. I highly recommend this score as an essential part of your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score I have included a Youtube link a suite conducted by John Williams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UkwEF9DjLY

A comprehensive review of the score may be found in the MMUK Classics Section: https://moviemusicuk.us/2014/08/18/a-place-in-the-sun-franz-waxman/

Buy the A Place in the Sun soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude and First Scene (1:49)
  • The First Mile (2:49)
  • Love’s Meeting (2:12)
  • Dance and Angela (Original Version) (3:04)
  • Evil Plans (3:20)
  • Loon Lake, Part 2 (1:59)
  • To the Lake (1:40)
  • Building Up to Murder (3:16)
  • The Drowning, Part 1 (3:06)
  • The Drowning, Part 2 (3:08)
  • Farewell and Frenzy (Original Version) (3:01)
  • Angela Collapses (1:11)
  • Witness Montage (1:35)
  • The Last Mile (Finale) (Original Version) (1:47)
  • Prelude and First Scene (Film Version) [BONUS] (2:48)
  • Rhumba (Original Version) [BONUS] (1:59)
  • Dance and Angela (Film Version) [BONUS] (3:05)
  • Out of Nowhere – Rhumba [BONUS] (2:20)
  • Not Married [BONUS] (1:28)
  • Alice’s Radio [BONUS] (1:12)
  • Ophelia [BONUS] (2:10)
  • Farewell and Frenzy (Film Version) [BONUS] (2:06)
  • Finale (Film Version) [BONUS] (0:43)

Running Time: 51 minutes 23 seconds

Kritzerland KR20026-1 (1951/2013)

Music composed and conducted by Franz Waxman. Orchestrations by Franz Waxman, Sidney Cutner, George Parrish, Leonid Raab, Leo Shuken and Nathan Van Cleave. Additional music by Victor Young and Daniele Amfitheatrof. Featured musical soloist Bill Hamilton. Album produced by Bruce Kimmel and Lukas Kendall.

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