An American Tragedy

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Time Out says

Faced with Sternberg's distillation of his undeniably great but unreadably turgid novel - about a social climber who murders a factory girl when her pregnancy threatens his romance with a wealthy socialite - Dreiser sued Paramount. Not surprisingly he lost, since Sternberg uses dialogue and situations drawn directly from the book (following it much more closely than the later A Place in the Sun: a travesty where the socialite sticks to the social climber even unto the death cell). Where Sternberg does 'betray' Dreiser is in suggesting (with water omnipresent as a subtle Freudian motif) that sexual desire is perhaps more responsible than social circumstance for what happens. As a result, the second half of the film devoted to the trial - crucial to Dreiser but of no interest to Sternberg - is drearily expendable. But the first half, deftly sketching the hero's dreams and lonely frustrations as he struggles to shake off his bleak mission background and the dreary monotony of factory life, deserves to rank with Sternberg's best work.
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Release details

UK release:

1931

Duration:

96 mins

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