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The Tragedy of Montgomery Clift

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Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) is one of the most tragic figures in Hollywood history. He started out in films in the late 1940's and immediately made a name for himself with his good looks and emotionally raw performances. He was the first shot fired in the revolution in stage and film acting that would be won by Marlon Brando, a move from classical stage theatricality towards a more realistic, intuitive approach. Unlike Brando, Clift had no problems referring to it as "The Method", a term that would become an invective on the lips of more than one viewer and/or producer. While a lot of Method performers could wallow in self-indulgent, overwrought histrionics, Clift's talent saw him use the technique to access an emotional honesty that endeared him to audiences, both at the time and even now, 50 years after his death.

 

After a string of hit films, both artistically and commercially, Clift seemed to be on top of the world. Behind the scenes, though, some cracks were already beginning to show, as his penchant for having a good time lead to more and more excessive drinking. He was a deeply conflicted man about his sexuality, one minute stating openly he was gay, the next that he was straight, then declaring that he would remain abstinent like a priest, only to go on a drinking binge and sleep with whomever was available. Close friends, such as actor Kevin McCarthy and his wife, tried to get Clift to slow down and dry out, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. While filming the 1957 film Raintree County, Clift fell asleep while driving home after a party and crashed into a telephone pole. His face was horribly mangled, and even after extensive surgery his looks would never be the same. Due to the severe pain he was in, he was prescribed strong narcotic pain medication, which he quickly became addicted to. Over the next several years, his drinking and pill-popping would increase, causing his already fragile psyche to start to crumble. By the time of his death at the age of 45, his film career was barely sputtering along, with friends and co-workers stating that if he hadn't died, he would have ended up institutionalized. 

 

One has to wonder what might have been with Montgomery Clift. What if he had been born into a more sexually permissive time, when his sexuality wouldn't have been the burden that it was to him then? What if he had never been in his car accident and ruined his looks? Would he have eventually gotten clean and continued to a sterling career with even more outstanding film roles? Or was he doomed to tragedy regardless of time and circumstance? The sad trajectory of his life is one of the things that has kept his unique appeal alive all this time. Brando got old, lazy and fat. Dean burned out like match. But Clift was ground down by the pain of the world, and in doing so, became a kind of patron saint to all of the beautiful losers who watch him.

 

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The so sad beauty of Montgomery Clift's acting was so in tune with his persona.

 

His physical changes and pain after the automobile accident heightened the strength and intensity of his acting.

 

I have a hard time equating that handsome young man in The Heiress with that suffering human being in Lonelyhearts.

 

The Way Montgomery Clift's character in Suddenly Last Summer could reach out as a psychiatrist to Elizabeth Taylor's alleged madness seemed more peer-like than professional wisdom.

 

I don't know exactly what transpired on the set of Suddenly Last Summer, but apparently Joseph Mankiewicz was sadistic in his direction of Monty and received a rather nasty reprisal from Katharine Hepburn when the shooting was over.

 

After that I saw him in The Misfits and Freud. His minimalist performance in both of these movies was heartbreaking, yet poignantly effective.

 

I think when you saw Monty onscreen you were seeing his physical and emotional pain reconstructed into artistic communication.

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He was a great actor. I haven't seen many of his movies, but he made such an impact on me he is on my favorites list.

 

I've seen:

I Confess (1953)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

 

I want to see:

A Place in the Sun (1951) can't find it on DVD anywhere.

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Raintree Country (1957) also can't find it on DVD anywhere

The Heiress (1947)

 

 

As a male, I will even admit he was very attractive too. It's too bad he was his own downfall.

 

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He was a great actor. I haven't seen many of his movies, but he made such an impact on me he is on my favorites list.

 

I've seen:

I Confess (1953)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

 

I want to see:

A Place in the Sun (1951) can't find it on DVD anywhere.

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Raintree Country (1957) also can't find it on DVD anywhere

The Heiress (1947)

 

 

As a male, I will even admit he was very attractive too. It's too bad he was his own downfall.

 

TCM shows A Place in the Sun and From Here to Eternity fairly often,  and The Heiress and Raintree Country fairly often.

 

Yes, Clift was a fine actor.    In addition to the films you mention I also recommend Red River,    The Young Lions, Suddenly Last Summer,  and The Misfits.    

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I have seen nearly all of Montgomery Clift's movies and would like to see all of them eventually.

 

I could not tell you off the top of my head which movies of his I have not seen but it has less to do with access than with difficulty watching his later performances knowing what had happened to his talent and heath.

 

Although I have seen it several times, I have a particularly difficult time watching Raintree County because this was the film he was shooting at the time off his accident.

 

 

The Misfits is also difficult to watch for the fate of the stars although I must admit that whenever it is on TV I cannot help but watch it.

 

Judgement at Nuremburg is a painful film to watch period, but it is essential to see it at least once.

 

 

 

My 5 favourite Clift performances are, in no particular order:

 

 

A Place in the Sun

From Here to Eternity

The Search

I Confess

The Heiress*

 

 

*This features the song Plasir D'Amour or The Joys of Love which Clift performs in the movie and is a tragic song in itself when sung in its original French.

 

 

 

 

 

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I just checked imdb to double check which Clift movies I have not seen.

 

I tried to watch The Big Lift which I recorded off of TCM but could not finish it.

 

I've not had access to Wild River.

 

 

There is a TV movie called Hay Fever which I have not seen.

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Since he made so few movies, I will list all of Clift's films in my order of preference.

 

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Red River (1948)

From Here to Eternity (1953)

The Heiress (1948)

The Young Lions (1958)

The Search (1948)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953)

The Misfits (1961)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Wild River (1960)

Lonelyhearts (1958)

I Confess (1953)

The Big Lift (1950)

Raintree County (1957)

The Defector (1966)

 

I have not seen Freud (1962).

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Oh Montgomery Clift.  He's one of my favorites.  He had such a gorgeous face and such an intense screen presence.  Yet, despite his intensity, he also conveyed vulnerability.  

 

My favorite Clift performance is probably From Here to Eternity.  His performance as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt was perfect.  His performance was the perfect contrast from Burt Lancaster's decidedly masculine and strong performance of Sgt. Milton Warden.  The intensity behind his eyes in this film (and his others) is mesmerizing, you can't take your eyes off of him.

 

I also loved him in A Place in the Sun.   His performance as a man torn between an average, lower class woman who is carrying his child and a more beautiful and rich woman who could elevate his status is excellent.  Even though his character is definitely not sympathetic, you still feel for him.  Which I realize is somewhat contradictory, but that's how I feel.

 

When I first saw I Confess, I wasn't a fan of the film.  However, I've seen the film about three times now and it's growing on me.  Clift is excellent as the priest who is suspected of a murder that he knows he didn't commit.  

 

My favorite Clift performances:

 

From Here to Eternity

A Place in the Sun

Suddenly, Last Summer

I Confess

The Heiress

The Misfits

Red River

 

I have The Search and Indiscretion of an American Wife recorded on my DVR.  I'd love to see more of his films.  I keep trying to watch Raintree County (mostly because I am curious to see his looks change in the film) but something always happens to my recording.

 

I love Montgomery Clift.  <3 

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Speedy:

 

Despite what you say about his character in A Place in the Sun being contradictory, it is the same way I and I think a lot of people feel about his character.  It's the skill of his acting and the strong cast and storyline all together.

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Oh Montgomery Clift.  He's one of my favorites.  He had such a gorgeous face and such an intense screen presence.  Yet, despite his intensity, he also conveyed vulnerability.  

 

My favorite Clift performance is probably From Here to Eternity.  His performance as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt was perfect.  His performance was the perfect contrast from Burt Lancaster's decidedly masculine and strong performance of Sgt. Milton Warden.  The intensity behind his eyes in this film (and his others) is mesmerizing, you can't take your eyes off of him.

 

I also loved him in A Place in the Sun.   His performance as a man torn between an average, lower class woman who is carrying his child and a more beautiful and rich woman who could elevate his status is excellent.  Even though his character is definitely not sympathetic, you still feel for him.  Which I realize is somewhat contradictory, but that's how I feel.

 

When I first saw I Confess, I wasn't a fan of the film.  However, I've seen the film about three times now and it's growing on me.  Clift is excellent as the priest who is suspected of a murder that he knows he didn't commit.  

 

My favorite Clift performances:

 

From Here to Eternity

A Place in the Sun

Suddenly, Last Summer

I Confess

The Heiress

The Misfits

Red River

 

I have The Search and Indiscretion of an American Wife recorded on my DVR.  I'd love to see more of his films.  I keep trying to watch Raintree County (mostly because I am curious to see his looks change in the film) but something always happens to my recording.

 

I love Montgomery Clift.  <3 

 

I believe part of the reason one feels for the Clift character in A Place in the Sun is how the Shelley Winters character is portrayed and the great acting by Winters in parts like this. 

 

The women isn't very sympathetic and Clift's character doesn't come off as a total cad.   If one was to read a factual but unemotional account about what was going on between these two one would have much more sympathy for the women and little to no compassion for the guy.    BUT the way the two actors portray the characters and how their scenes are directed makes what is going on more ambiguous.     We see something similar with Lolita in how Winters plays the mother\wife in that film.   

 

While none of the women's actions justify the actions of the men in either movie,   they do allow audiences to feel some sympathy for the male character without us feeling guilty for doing so. 

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I believe part of the reason one feels for the Clift character in A Place in the Sun is how the Shelley Winters character is portrayed and the great acting by Winters in parts like this. 

 

The women isn't very sympathetic and Clift's character doesn't come off as a total cad.   If one was to read a factual but unemotional account about what was going on between these two one would have much more sympathy for the women and little to no compassion for the guy.    BUT the way the two actors portray the characters and how their scenes are directed makes what is going on more ambiguous.     We see something similar with Lolita in how Winters plays the mother\wife in that film.   

 

While none of the women's actions justify the actions of the men in either movie,   they do allow audiences to feel some sympathy for the male character without us feeling guilt about doing so. 

 

Exactly. We have a lot of sympathy for Winters in the movie Night of the Hunter when she realizes what she has married.

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The first movie I saw featuring Clift was "From Here to Eternity", and immediately knew that I was watching a terrific actor.  He hooked me from the first lines he spoke.

 

As I was listing all my "favorites" by him, I thought to myself, "Well, those are all the ones I've seen!" So in this I'm saying - I've never been disappointed in his acting no matter what movie I watch.  Here's my list in order of preference:

 

I Confess

A Place in the Sun 

From Here to Eternity

The Heiress

Judgment at Nuremberg

 

**Note: With this list, if I were to rank my favorite movies in general, the order would be different ("Eternity" would be first).  This list is just favorite Clift performances... 

 

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The first movie I saw featuring Clift was "From Here to Eternity", and immediately knew that I was watching a terrific actor.  He hooked me from the first lines he spoke.

 

As I was listing all my "favorites" by him, I thought to myself, "Well, those are all the ones I've seen!" So in this I'm saying - I've never been disappointed in his acting no matter what movie I watch.  Here's my list in order of preference:

 

I Confess

A Place in the Sun 

From Here to Eternity

The Heiress

Judgment at Nuremberg

 

**Note: With this list, if I were to rank my favorite movies in general, the order would be different ("Eternity" would be first).  This list is just favorite Clift performances... 

 

 

 

I haven't seen Judgment at Nuremberg yet.  I have it recorded, but I kind of have to "psyche" myself up to watch this film--if that makes any sense considering the subject matter.  

 

It's a shame that Clift burned out in less than twenty years.  I've read his biography and he was a very complicated man.  He had an extremely overbearing mother who desperately wanted to be seen as part of the upper crust and went through great strides to ensure that her children went to the best schools, regularly traveled throughout the United States and in Europe and that they become fluent in German and in French.  She did not want her children to be viewed as "common" and did whatever it took to make them stand apart from their peers.  Even though the Stock Market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression wiped out Monty's father, his mother persisted with making sure her children were viewed as affluent.  Eventually, Mr. Clift's financial situation improved and they were able to send their children to the best colleges.  Monty could not adjust to the college life and dropped out to pursue stage acting, much to his mother's chagrin.  

 

However, Monty worked hard and over the next decade, he established himself as one of the best players in the "legitimate theater" as they like to say in the movies.  His first film was Red River.  He was very hard on himself and found fault with his performance in many of his films.  He was never satisfied with his own work.  His car accident during the making of Raintree County was definitely the turning point in his life.  He was never the same after that event.  During the making of The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe was reported to have said about Monty: "I've never met someone in worse shape than me." 

 

For some reason, after writing about my beloved Montgomery Clift, I want to do a double feature of The Misfits with Night of the Iguana.  I realize that Clift isn't in 'Iguana.'  The only commonality between these two films is John Huston.  Not sure what made my mind put those two films together, but it did, so I think I'm gonna go with it.  Maybe tomorrow.  I've also got to fit in an encore viewing of Valley of the Dolls.  

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Speedy:

 

Considering the fact that Richard Widmark's character introduces actual documentary footage of the death camps, I would say that your comment about needing to psyche yourself up to watch the movie makes perfect sense.

 

When this movie aired after No Way Out during the Oscar 360 degrees gimmick with Richard Widmark as the link, I have to say that I decided to skip both films despite my love of Widmark.  I preferred to watch happier movies.

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Very nicely written OP, Lawrence. 

It is sad when you see Clift on screen to know how tragic his life was, while at the same time enjoy his performances. His talent came across well on screen, never pompous like some "method" actors like Brando.

 

Speedy said: He had an extremely overbearing mother who desperately wanted to be seen as part of the upper crust 

 

I find this scenario a commonality among many sexually confused and gay men. I call it the NOW VOYAGER scenario even though that movie was about a woman. I find many gay men strongly identify with Charlotte Vale in that movie.

 

Thanks for posting about his drinking issues, something I was completely unaware of, but makes total sense.

 

Many with addiction issues are self absorbed and find it impossible to break free of the "crutch", afraid to move on as easily as others, thus perpetuating the self-loathing. You must be somewhat self absorbed to even think of going into acting as a career. I'm sure his disfiguring accident just added to his psychosis.

 

I am very grateful his incredible persona is captured in film for all time. I truly believe you experience each unique person through the art they have left behind. I also believe what you see on screen holds a lot of who that person truly is.

 

In all of the great films mentioned, Clift was a standout.

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REGARDING TIKISOO'S COMMENTS ABOUT ACTING;

 

This self absorption does not just apply to acting/  It really applies I think to any performing art as the only people I have known to make money at their art on a lifetime basis are people who teach lessons. 

 

My parents didn't survive on their music.  I never have.

 

As much as I love to sing, there are days when I wish I did not have a creative bone in my body.  I wish I grew up in a boring, ordinary family with no surprises.

 

Clift personified everything about how acting is devastating.

 

 

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I know I'm late to the game but he is my most favorite actor.  Seen everything except Freud and refuse to see the Defector.  My favorite film is Eternity (cry everytime he plays that damn bugle) second to Red River and the Search and love the Misfits.  The Big Lift has some actual gems at Clift's capability as comedic romantic if you can get through the annoying military part it's a film worth seeing.  Saw Raintree the other night on Thirteen in HD was amazing. Could actually see the clarity in those gorgeous green eyes. (Note to self pop in dvd next time it plays in HD) My heart breaks just a little every time he has the talk by the river with "Jim" in the Search.  Gosh this guy is naturally talented personal life not withstanding who cares really, aren't we all a bit of a mess? Granted some more than others, we are just lucky he was here at all. Embedded to celluloid forever - amen.

 

 

 tumblr_mrszm36k9P1sxhklbo1_400.jpg.df3b2a0ba486fb455688659a42c98e87.jpg   

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Used book stores, especially those with used DVD sections are a great place to finds treasures. If you live in N.Y.C., you know what I am referring to. I happened to find an unopened copy of a DVD on the life of director George Steven's, produced by his son, entitled, "George Stevens A Filmmakers Life."A wonderful DVD if you haven't yet seen it.

One of the movies depicted in the DVD was, "A Place In The Sun". After seeing just a few brief clips of the movie, I knew I had to see it. NO! I had never seen the movie before. I found a very good used copy of the Stevens movie and cannot wait to watch it.

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Montgomery Clift and Ivan Jandl made screen history in Fred Zimmerman's 1948 film, "The Search" -

The heartbreak in this film is so "tangible" -

09f02a083f1c1eaa645467eaa53017fb--montgo

09f02a083f1c1eaa645467eaa53017fb--montgo

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