Elizabeth Taylor's and Montgomery Clift's beach idyll was actually filmed in October at Lake Tahoe, California. Crew members had hosed snow off the ground prior to filming.
Montgomery Clift readied himself for his climactic sequence by spending a night locked in the San Quentin Penitentiary death house.
George Stevens often referred to Technicolor as having an "Oh what a beautiful morning" quality to it, something completely inappropriate to the tone of this film, hence it was made in black and white.
George Stevens thought that Gloria Grahame would be perfect for the role of Alice and personally called her to play the part. However, Grahame's studio boss at RKO, Howard Hughes, refused to loan her out.
Anne Revere, who played Montgomery Clift's mother, was a descendant of American Revolution hero Paul Revere, but she became another victim of the McCarthy-era "Red Scare" blacklisting because of her supposed "liberal" politics. After this film she did not appear in another movie until 1970.
Shelley Winters developed mixed feeling toward director George Stevens for making her look so unglamorous alongside Elizabeth Taylor. Her role, moreover, typecast her in mousy or brassy parts for years. Winters said she drove white Cadillac convertibles (similar to Taylor's in the film) for years afterward to compensate for her intense feelings of inferiority while making the film.
Shelley Winters was determined to be tested for the part of Alice. At the time she was being cultivated as a sex symbol, so the night before she was due to see George Stevens, she dyed her hair brown and bought some especially dowdy clothes, the kind she had seen when she had visited a factory to see how the girls who worked there dressed. She deliberately arrived at the meeting place early and sat in a corner. When Stevens came in, he didn't even notice her until he was about to leave, when he suddenly realized that the mousy girl in the corner was actually Shelley Winters.
Although George Eastman's leather jacket might seem to suggest that he is a WWII veteran of the Army Air Corps, it is in fact a police officer's jacket, as shown by the two grommets on the left side for pinning on a badge.
Although the film was released in 1951, it was shot in 1949. Paramount Studios had already released its blockbuster Sunset Blvd. in 1950 when this film wrapped. The studio did not want what was sure to be another blockbuster in this film competing for Oscars with "Sunset Blvd." so it waited until 1951 to release this film, which actually pleased director George Stevens, as he would use the extra time to spend editing the film. As it turned out, the two films would have competed against each other at the Oscars had they been released the same year.
Based on Theodore Dreiser's novel "An American Tragedy", published in 1925.
Based upon the true story of Chester Gillette, who murdered his pregnant girlfriend in 1906. He was tried, convicted and executed in 1908. The ghost of the actual victim, Grace Brown, is said to haunt the house where she lived in upstate New York.
In the French post-synchronized version, the actors are dubbed by: Michel André (Montgomery Clift); Micheline Cévenne (Elizabeth Taylor); Claire Guibert (Shelley Winters); Marie Francey (Anne Revere); Serge Lhorca (Keefe Brasselle); Pierre Leproux (Fred Clark; Jean Martinelli (Raymond Burr); Jean Mauclair (Herbert Heyes); Louis Arbessier (Shepperd Strudwick); Lita Recio (Frieda Inescort); Lucienne Givry (Kathryn Givney) and Christian Argentin (John Ridgely).
In the Italian post-synchronized version, the actors are dubbed by: Giulio Panicali (Montgomery Clift); Germana Calderini (Elizabeth Taylor); Lidia Simoneschi (Shelley Winters); Giovanna Scotto (Anne Revere); Pino Locchi (Keefe Brasselle); Giorgio Capecchi (Fred Clark); Mario Besesti (Raymond Burr); Gaetano Verna (Herbert Heyes); Emilio Cigoli (Shepperd Strudwick), Bruno Persa (John Ridgely), Cesare Polacco (Douglas Spencer) and
In the scene where Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are gaily zooming around the lake in a speedboat, director George Stevens wanted the engine to sound more ominous. Recordings of German Stuka dive bombers were used.
In the telephone scene between George and Angela on the back wall we see the painting "Ophelia" by John Everett Millais. This may be intended as a hint to Alice's death by drowning later in the film.
Paramount was reluctant to make the film, as it had already put Theodore Dreiser's novel on the screen in 1931 under its original title, An American Tragedy. The studio's lack of commitment ultimately changed when director George Stevens sued them for preventing him from working and therefore breaching his contract.
The box office failure of the 1931 adaptation of An American Tragedy prompted the filmmakers to seek an alternative title. One such title was "The Prize". There was a $100 reward for whoever came up with the best new title, and George Stevens's associate Ivan Moffat successfully pitched for "A Place in the Sun". He never received his $100 reward.
The part of Alice Tripp, played by Shelley Winters, was originally meant for Audrey Totter. However, she was under contract to MGM at the time and the studio wouldn't loan her out.
Unclear whether this is foreshadowing, an inside joke (unlikely in view of somber tone) or just an odd choice of words, but early in film Alice tells George Eastman "When you're an Eastman, you not in the same boat as anyone." Later in movie, he takes her out on a boat with the intention of drowning her. (He decides he can't but she falls out and he refuses to save her.)
When George goes to the movie theater, the poster outside indicates the attraction is an "Ivan Moffat production"; Ivan Moffat was an associate producer on this film, and was also a member of director George Stevens's motion picture unit during World War II.