Springtime In Italy: Rome Adventure

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At last it’s time to start my armchair vacation to Italy!  The first film in this year’s movie holiday is Rome Adventure, directed by Delmer Daves and starring Troy Donahue, Angie Dickinson, Rossano Brazzi, and Suzanne Pleshette.  It’s one of the most visually stunning of all the Italy-based movies I’ve seen, and contrary to what the title implies it’s not set only in Rome.  We get a look at many beautifully filmed locations.  The scenery really should’ve received top billing — for me it’s the real star of the movie.

Rome Adventure tells the story of Prudence Bell (Pleshette), a young woman from New England who quits her job as a librarian at a girl’s school after being taken to task for sharing a racy novel called Lovers Must Learn with one of her students.  She doesn’t like the teachers’ prudish attitudes toward sex, and doesn’t want to turn into a loveless old spinster like her colleagues, so she declares she’s off to someplace where they really know about love — Italy.

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While on board the ship taking her to Europe, Prudence is attended to by two men — nerdy but kind Etruscologist Albert Stillwell (Hampton Fancher), the son of a family friend, and dreamy Italian ladies’ man Roberto Orlandi (Brazzi).

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Once in Italy, Roberto gives the two Americans a tour of the sights, then finds them lodgings at a boarding house owned by a Contessa.  Also staying there is Roberto’s friend, American architecture student Don Porter, played by Troy Donahue.

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When we first see Don he’s in a huff, rushing off to the train station to try and stop his girlfriend Lydia Kent (a gorgeous Angie Dickinson) from leaving him.  They’ve had a carnal, tempestuous relationship, and Don doesn’t want to let her go.  “Hasn’t anyone ever tried to cut your heart out?” Don asks Roberto as he shows him the Dear John letter Lydia left him.  “I doubt, my passionate friend, that it’s your heart that’s involved,” Roberto replies.  Ha!  Lydia leaves Don in spite of his pleas for her to stay, and he subsequently mopes around the boarding house in a grumpy huff.

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In the meantime Prudence is being wooed by Roberto, whom she likes but doesn’t feel romantic about.  When he kisses her she doesn’t hear wild bells ringing like she wants to.  Instead there are just distant tinkles.  Being a big fan of Brazzi and finding him quite attractive myself, I don’t really understand this! But to each her own.

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She explores Rome on her own, and gets a job at a bookstore owned by Daisy Bronson (Constance Ford), another American who escaped provincial life in the US to experience the lustiness of Italian men who pinch her bottom and make her feel like a real woman.

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One afternoon Prudence runs into Don at a sidewalk cafe and he apologizes for being such a grouchy jerk to her. They spend the day together and begin to fall in love.

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That evening they visit a nightclub and hear a beautiful song that becomes their musical theme as the movie progresses — “Al Di La.”  It’s a lushly romantic scene, as the camera moves back and forth from the singer on stage to the couple as they look into each other’s eyes and hold hands.

Jazz trumpet player Al Hirt is also at the nightclub.  He plays himself, or a version of himself, in a rather odd scene in which he introduces his girlfriend to Don and Prudence and has her show them the knife she keeps strapped to her thigh. Later, while Hirt performs on stage, the girlfriend makes out with another man and a brawl breaks out.

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As Don and Prudence continue to spend time together, they try to hide it from the curious and judgmental fellow inhabitants of the boarding house.

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To get away from prying eyes they take a trip around Italy together, seeing all the tourist spots and facing embarrassing decisions every time they come to a hotel.  Should they pose as a married couple or not?  One room or two?  Will they or won’t they?  Prudence insists on separate rooms, or on Don staying on the balcony when they only have one room, but she’s tempted to give in and sleep with him.  Her prim New England upbringing is at war with the more passionate side Italy is bringing out in her.

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When Prudence runs into Albert and his mother while shopping at a street market in a small town, she panics and lies to them, saying she’s on a bus tour with a group and rushing off before they get a glimpse of her with Don.  At first she and Don try to continue their trip, but in the end Prudence decides they need to stop traveling around alone together.  What if her parents found out?  Her conscience is getting the better of her, she says, so they return to Rome.

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Back at the boarding house, who should be waiting in Don’s bedroom but Lydia.  She regrets letting him go and greets him with a kiss, which Prudence walks in on.

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Lydia invites Prudence, Albert and Don to her house for dinner, and uses the occasion to give Prudence the mean girl treatment. She shows her around her bedroom, pointing out the big bed she and Don shared, the photograph he signed to her declaring his love.  Feeling she can’t compete with this sexy siren, Prudence breaks down crying, leaves the party and parts ways with Don, who seems confused about which woman he really wants to be with.

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She tries to prove to herself that she can lose her virginal ways and be like Lydia if she has to,  inviting herself to Roberto’s for the weekend with plans to seduce him. Roberto is a good guy, however, so he refuses her advances and tries to get her to go back to the man she really loves.

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Prudence decides it’s better to go back to America and takes the next ship home.  When she gets there her parents are waiting or her, but so is Don.  He took a plane to meet her there and declare his love.

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Rome Adventure isn’t going to make it onto anyone’s list of the best movies ever.  The dialogue can be extremely hokey at times, especially during the love scenes between Don and Prudence.  Suzanne Pleshette does the best she can with some terrible lines, and with her husky voice and intelligent demeanor she basically pulls it off.  Troy Donahue is no great shakes as an actor, however, and can be a little painful to listen to.

I also don’t get his romantic appeal at all, myself.  He’s bland and uninteresting — especially compared to Rossano Brazzi!  But obviously he had his fans back in the day, one of whom was Suzanne Pleshette herself.  They married in 1964, although it was short-lived and they divorced only nine months later.

Whatever its shortcomings of writing and acting, Rome Adventure is still fun to watch.  Getting a glimpse of Italy in the early 1960s is such a treat.  There’s just something about the country during the 1950s and ’60s that seems so magical, at least if the movies are to be believed.  The cinematography by Charles Lawton is beautiful, as is the memorable score by Max Steiner.  It had been several years since I saw Rome Adventure, and I enjoyed re-watching it.  It was a fluffy and fun way to kick off Springtime in Italy.

Doris Day and Jack Carson

Happiest of happy birthdays to the movie star and singer who has brought me more joy than just about any entertainer I can think of – the one and only Doris Day, who turns 90 today. I love her movies and watch them over and over. I never get tired of basking in the onscreen sunniness, charm, and delight that is Doris!

I’ve written before about how great Doris Day and Rock Hudson were together, particularly in my favorite of their three films, Pillow Talk. Rock and Doris are one of the all-time great movie couples. However, earlier in her career Day was paired with fellow Warner Bros. actor Jack Carson in three Technicolor musicals – Romance on the High Seas, My Dream is Yours, and It’s a Great Feeling. They too made a fantastic duo.

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Romance on the High Seas (1948)

This was Doris’s screen debut, and what a debut it was! It’s hard to believe it was her first movie, as natural and at ease as she was in front of the camera. In her recent interview with TCM’s Robert Osborne, Doris said that the movie’s director, Michael Curtiz, told her not to take any acting lessons. She didn’t need them! She was that good right off the bat.

Romance-on-the-High-Seas-doris-day-5171996-490-355Doris plays a spunky nightclub singer who’s hired by a society lady (Janis Paige) to pretend to be her while on a cruise. The society gal thinks her husband is cheating on her, you see, so she wants to stay home and keep a covert eye on him. Meanwhile the husband (Don DeFore), who thinks his wife is cheating on him, hires a private detective (Jack Carson) to go on the ship and spy on his wife’s shenanigans. Mayhem, misunderstandings, romance, and hilarity ensue.

In addition to Day, Carson, DeFore and Paige in the lead roles, Oscar Levant and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall have supporting parts and both are great.

sakallDoris is adorable in Romance on the High Seas – sassy and vivacious, with sex appeal to spare. She and Jack Carson sparkle together. Plus Doris gets to sing some of the best songs of her career, including “It’s Magic” and my personal favorite from the film, “Put ‘Em In A Box, Tie ‘Em With A Ribbon (And Throw ‘Em In The Deep Blue Sea)”.  Check out her snazzy outfit!  She wears some great clothes by costume designer Milo Anderson in the movie.

My Dream is Yours (1949)

2438858,YbaW+S0Nk9IrXO0QCnIQawdIBHTqZL2AId_hyIjlV1i5vlLma+InCuf+WGyZGONpFG54BcGDKzs2m9EcdXUIwQ==Doris co-starred with Jack Carson again in this movie, playing another aspiring singer. This time she’s the widowed mother of a young son who must decide between the famous yet smarmy singer she falls in love with and the manager who is always there to support her and loves her son like his own. Some decision, huh? My pro-Jack Carson bias is coming through here, but he’s so sweet and funny as Doris’s manager. For me there’d be no problem deciding which man to go for!

Doris-Day-in-My-Dream-Is-Yours-doris-day-27502691-1067-800There’s a hint of A Star is Born in the film, with the famous singer (Lee Bowman) taking to the bottle and the up-and-coming female talent he’s involved with eclipsing him, but it’s far less dramatic and serious than that movie. In fact, the movie is often very funny and whimsical, as when Doris Day sings an energetic “Tic Tic Tic” to audition for a radio show, or when her son dreams of Bugs Bunny.

doris-bunnyEve Arden plays one of her patented wisecracking best friend roles in My Dream is Yours, portraying Jack Carson’s assistant who gets roped into housing Doris and her son and selling her fur coat when money gets tight, among other things. She’s so funny and a total treat to watch. The movie also features Adolph Menjou and S.Z. Sakall, and like Romance on the High Seas was directed by Michael Curtiz.

 It’s a Great Feeling (1949)

This movie is similar to Hollywood Canteen and other films like that, where there isn’t much in the way of plot, but there’s lots of fun and many cameo appearances by big stars. Superstars like Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Jane Wyman, Danny Kaye, Eleanor Parker, Edward G. Robinson, Errol Flynn, and others all show up.

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Doris plays an aspiring movie actress from a small Midwestern town. She’s been in Hollywood for a while and has had no luck getting her foot in the door.

Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan, playing goofy versions of their real-life selves, take Doris under their wings and try to get her a job.  The actors, in hilarious frenemy mode as they compete for Doris’s attention, put her through all sorts of silly things while attempting to get her the lead in their next picture.

All three of Doris Day’s movies with Jack Carson are worth checking out – the first two because they’re good romantic comedies, the last because of all the fun Hollywood spoofing and the appearances of so many big stars.

If you only see one of their films, though, I’d recommend Romance on the High Seas. It’s a wonderful movie full of catchy songs, Technicolor eye candy, and a breakout performance by Doris Day that makes it clear why she became such a huge star.

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Myrna Loy on Family Affair (1967)

This post is part of the Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Aurora of the How Sweet It Was blog. Be sure to check out the many posts from other bloggers.  I can’t wait to read them all, myself!

family affairFor those of you who may not be familiar with it, Family Affair was a sitcom that aired on CBS from 1966 to 1971.  It’s the story of the three orphaned Davis children — teenager Cissy (Kathy Garver) and young twins Buffy (Anissa Jones) and Jody (Johnny Whitaker) who come to live with their bachelor uncle, civil engineer Bill Davis (Brian Keith) and Bill’s proper English gentleman’s gentleman Giles French (Sebastian Cabot).

Family Affair is far from the best sitcom of the 1960s.  The storylines were never too original.  The younger children, while adorable, could be a bit hammy at times.  Production values weren’t always the greatest — the fake New York City skyline outside the Davises’ apartment patio, for example, and the astroturf grass and plastic flowers in Central Park, where the children often played under Mr. French’s watchful eye.

None of that matters to me, though.  The show has a charm and sweetness that I really like.  Of all the many TV shows featuring children who lost one or both parents, like Bachelor Father, The Brady Bunch, My Three Sons, and even The Andy Griffith Show, none dealt as directly and as movingly with the kids’ ongoing feelings of loss and grief the way Family Affair did throughout its five season run.  For all its silly storylines and frequent corniness, Family Affair family affair pichad a huge heart and a loving gentleness I can’t help admiring.

Plus, those kids really were cute, and Brian Keith’s interactions with all three of them were always wonderful, even in the later seasons when it felt like he’d mentally checked out of the show in other respects.  And Sebastian Cabot was never less than perfect and amusing as the stuffy Mr. French.  Watching him go from barely tolerating the children to loving them like a parent is one of the best things about the series.

Unfortunately, however, Sebastian Cabot wasn’t in today’s episode, season one’s “A Helping Hand.”  For a period during the first season Cabot was ill and the wonderful John Williams (Sabrina, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief) filled in as Giles French’s brother Nigel, who takes charge of the Davis household when Giles is summoned back into temporary service by Queen Elizabeth II.  Yep, he’s just that good a butler!  And yet he works for Bill Davis and the three children, a much less prestigious assignment I’m sure you’d agree.  That’s love!

As the episode begins, Buffy and Jody are working on a school project — building a model of McKenzie Dam.  Realistically, I don’t think kindergartners would be assigned a project like that, but it works for the storyline, so let’s just go with it.  Things aren’t going well — the dam won’t stay together and the children are discouraged.

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They tell Uncle Bill about it when he gets home from work and he volunteers to help them out.  Not that night, though — he’s throwing a dinner party, and Cissy is going to be his hostess.

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I love Cissy’s quilted bathrobe. Seems like every girl had one of those in the ’60s!

Mr. French has hired a maid from an agency to help him with the party.   (Giles French could’ve handled it alone, with one hand tied behind his back, but maybe that’s my preference for the “real” Mr. French coming through!)  The maid, Adele Prentiss, arrives at the servants’ entrance, and who should she be but the one and only Myrna Loy!

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The first time I saw this episode I did a double take.  I just couldn’t believe someone I considered one of the greatest movie stars of all time would be guest starring on lowly little Family Affair.  A 61-year-old actress has to pay the bills, however.  And actually quite a few greats from the good old days guest starred on the show, among them Dana Andrews, Ann Sothern, Martha Hyer, and Joan Blondell.

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Adele is running late and comes in full of excuses — she forgot to wind her watch so she didn’t know what time it was, plus the bus driver failed to announce her stop and she missed it.  Mr. French is less than impressed, but he puts her to work.  It does not go well.  She melts the chilled shrimp by putting the platter next to a steaming teakettle and makes a mess while trying to whip cream.

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image018Mr. French is not amused.  “Sabotage!” he exclaims, then proceeds to tell the hapless Adele that her services are no longer required.  In fact he can’t understand why the agency sent her in the first place, as incompetent as she is.

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Adele admits that she lied to the agency just to get the job.  She’s been out of work and this was her last hope of finding employment.  She’s so pitiful and sad that Mr. French relents and allows her to stay and finish the assignment.  Things go well enough that soon Bill’s neighbor offers her a job as their cook/housekeeper.

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See what I mean about the city skyline? It’s so delightfully fake.

Adele accepts the position.  Who cares if she doesn’t know what she’s doing?  She has Mr. French right there in the building to help out, after all.  She runs to him for help when the dishwasher goes haywire, covering her and her kitchen with suds…

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and while he’s downstairs helping her, his scones burn and the kitchen fills with smoke.

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Later Adele skips her cooking lesson with Mr. French, claiming she was too exhausted after the dishwasher incident and just had to take a rest.  She helps herself to one of the two dishes of curried chicken he’s prepared, planning to serve it to her new employers for dinner.

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Corningware’s “Blue Cornflower” design. Nothing says ’60s quite like that!

Adele returns soon afterwards, crying.  The dogs ate the curried chicken and she has nothing to serve!  Mr. French wouldn’t mind if she took the dish he made for the Davises’ dinner, would he?  After all, Mr. Davis is a kind man, he wouldn’t want her to lose her job.  Once again, French caves in at the sight of Adele’s tears.

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Meanwhile, Buffy and Jody rush to meet Uncle Bill when he comes home from work.  They have some new cardboard and glue and are ready to work with him on building their model dam.  Bill tells them not to worry about it.  He has it covered and they can just help him with the finishing touches.  The kids are puzzled, but they go along.

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The next day Bill runs into his neighbor, who tells him what an absolute treasure Adele is.  She makes the best curried chicken!  She wishes he could’ve tasted it himself.  Bill, who missed out on his favorite dish the night before and was stuck eating omelettes and frozen dinners instead, wishes he could’ve tasted it, too.

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Bill brings home the model dam he and his fellow engineers made down at the office.  The kids can hardly believe their eyes!  They seem dubious about turning in something they didn’t work on at all, but clueless new parent Bill thinks he’s done them a big favor.

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Soon both Mr. French and Bill find out that no good deed goes unpunished.  First Adele storms in and returns some cookbooks to Mr. French.  When he failed to help her with her bosses’ dinner party the night before, the whole thing was a disaster.  She ended up serving hamburgers and spaghetti, setting the kitchen on fire, and getting fired.  She’s livid that Mr. French convinced her to take the job.  You just can’t rely on men!

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Next, Uncle Bill gets a note from Buffy and Jody’s teacher, telling him in no uncertain terms that while it’s fine to encourage and guide your children, the work needs to be their own, not contracted out to the civil engineering firm of Davis and Associates.

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Bill and Mr. French decide they’ve had enough of getting involved with other people’s problems.  From now on everyone is on their own.  Just then Cissy runs back into the room and tells her uncle that the kids understand why he built the model for them.  It’s because he loves them and cares enough to get involved.  She says she admires Mr. French for trying to help Adele, too.  Too many people these days just look away from others, but not them, making a home for her and the children and really caring.

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So much for their new life philosophy.  Bill cancels his plans to go out for dinner, and instead says he’ll be staying home to oversee Buffy and Jody while they do the model dam project themselves.  Mr. French volunteers to help.  It’s a very sweet moment.  That’s the thing about Family Affair – it’s a show with a lot of heart.  Unfortunately, this particular episode wasn’t one with a lot of laughs to go with all that heart.  It was mildly amusing at best.

As for Myrna Loy, hers seemed like a fairly thankless role, playing a somewhat unlikeable character who used Mr. French and then blamed him when things went wrong.  Still, it was fun to see her at all, since her movie career was more or less over by this time and she wasn’t doing much TV either.  One of the best things about watching television from the ’60s through ’80s is catching glimpses of classic movie stars on the small screen, after all, as the other Big Stars on the Small Screen blogathon participants will no doubt agree!

Montgomery Clift in The Big Lift

Director George Seaton’s The Big Lift, released in 1950, is one of the new-to-me movies I’ve watched during this month of focusing on Montgomery Clift’s career.  It’s an interesting film from a historic perspective, as an artifact of a particular time after World War II when the Cold War was really ramping up, but as an entertaining movie I found it somewhat lacking.

To keep this from turning into another book-length review like that last two I posted, I’ll keep it simple and break it down into the Good, the Bad, and the Random.

The Good

big liftMontgomery Clift, of course!  He plays Sgt. Danny MacCullough, an Air Force engineer who is assigned to fly food and supplies into Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.  As always, Monty turns in a very good performance, believably portraying a nice if too-trusting guy who is burned when the German woman he falls for turns out to be a double-crosser.

Like Clift’s character in The Search, MacCullough is a relatively uncomplicated, angst-free fellow (at least until things go wrong with his girl and he’s forced to become a little more circumspect about people), especially compared to some of the characters he would portray for the remainder of his career.  Monty is believably romantic and smitten during his love scenes, and heartbreaking when he realizes he’s been used and betrayed.

Paul Douglas. Although he and Montgomery Clift didn’t get along at all (a theme you’ll see recurring throughout Clift’s career is that many of the men actors and directors didn’t like him, while many of the women he worked with adored and mothered him), Douglas and Clift have a good rapport as Air Force buddies with different ways of looking at Germans in the years after the war.  Douglas’s character, Sgt. Hank Kowalski, loathes Germans and is angry when he’s assigned to ground duty in support of the Airlift.  His Polish background plus the fact that he was held in a German prison camp during the war make his feelings understandable, but his character not always very likeable.

Kowalski takes up with an adorable German woman named Gerda (Bruni Löbel), whom he treats very disrespectfully, to the point where you wonder why she puts up with his verbal abuse.  He also encounters the prison guard who physically and mentally tortured him during the war and brutally beats the man almost to death.  Kowalski makes a big turnaround by the end of the movie, however, realizing that hurting the man who hurt him didn’t ease his mind at all, and that while some Germans were terrible people some were good, the same as everywhere in the world.

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Cornell Borchers as Clift’s love interest, the duplicitous Frederica Burkhardt.  Borchers isn’t overwhelmingly pretty (almost any woman would have a hard time looking pretty next to Montgomery Clift), but it’s easy to believe that Sgt. MacCullough would be smitten with her intelligence, her apparent anti-Nazi sympathies, and her sad tale of war widowhood.  Unfortunately for him, the story of her life is a big lie – she has a former-S.S. boyfriend living in St. Louis, Missouri and is playing MacCullough for a sap.  She wants to marry him as a way to get to the States and reunite with her lover.

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O.E. Hasse as a good-natured if cynical German named Stieber who befriends MacCullough.  Stieber is Frederica’s neighbor and a spy for the Russians.  He doesn’t have any particular sympathy for communists, however, he’s in it because he needs the money and because everyone in Berlin is spying on someone.  He’s an amusing, likeable character and eventually saves MacCullough from making a big mistake and marrying Frederica.

History.  Getting a good look at bombed out, post-war Berlin as it was during the years when it was divided among the Allies is genuinely fascinating and disturbing.  The Annex - Clift, Montgomery (Big Lift, The)_01privations experienced by Berliners during those years and the tension people of all western countries felt as the Soviet Union became more aggressive are well portrayed.

At one point in the movie MacCullough’s uniform becomes stained by paint and he ends up traveling though the Soviet section of Berlin in civilian clothes – dangerous because not only would he be in huge trouble with the U.S. military if he was found out of uniform, but because his safety is much more at risk without the protection of his military status.  It’s a stressful sequence as you wonder whether or not MacCullough will be caught by the Russians, and also if he might not be ratted out by Frederica, who by now we have some reason to suspect.

Choo Choo!  While in the Soviet part of Berlin MacCullough, Kowalski, and their girlfriends visit a nightclub that’s raided by Soviet soldiers.  In order not to be caught without his papers, MacCullough hops on stage with the German singers and joins their part-English, part-German rendition of “Chatanooga Choo Choo.”  It’s pretty much worth watching the movie just to see Monty Clift dancing and singing, if only for a moment.  Not the kind of thing that came up too often in his other films.

The Bad

Oh good grief, when will the story actually start?  That’s what kept running through my mind for about the first half hour of the movie, as I watched airmen talking about going to Berlin, getting on planes to go to Berlin, and discussing what they were going to do in Berlin, including a too-long explanation of how radar works.  Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas don’t have a lot to do or say for quite a while. It’s not until the groundwork is set and about 30 minutes have passed that we finally get to know our two stars’ characters and the plot really gets in motion.

Annex - Clift, Montgomery (Big Lift, The)_02All military roles with the exception of those played by Clift and Douglas were portrayed by actual military personnel stationed in Berlin.  And oh boy, can you tell it!  Remember how I said that when Monty portrayed a soldier in The Search, audience members thought director Fred Zinnemann had cast an actual soldier in the part?  Yeah, they wouldn’t have thought that if they’d compared him to real military men like the ones attempting to act in The Big Lift.  God bless those wonderful men, WWII veterans who saved the world from tyranny, but they really weren’t so great as actors – especially when sharing the screen with people like Paul Douglas and Montgomery Clift.

Propaganda.  The movie is preachily pro-America and pro-democracy.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of both those things, but after a while I felt like I’d been hit over the head with a hammer.  The scenes with Kowalski and his girlfriend Gerda were the worst offenders, with him abrasively espousing US views and her trying her best to sort through her thoughts about politics while defending herself against his rude remarks as best she can.

The saving grace of their storyline is that eventually Gerda reads the US Constitution for herself and realizes that the American political system means she has the right to think and speak for herself, and that she doesn’t have to put up with Kowalski’s bullying anymore.  Of course by that time he’s had his own “not all Germans are the devil” epiphany and is impressed by her spunk and newfound love of liberty.

It all just could’ve been a lot subtler and less obvious, is what I’m saying.

The Random

What might have been.  Montgomery Clift’s schedule was freed up to film this rather so-so movie when he turned down Sunset Boulevard. Billy Wilder had written the part of Joe Gillis specifically with Clift in mind and he had previously agreed to do it.  Apparently he was dissuaded from taking the part by his acting teacher, Mira Rostova, and by his close friend/lover/who knows, the much older cabaret singer Libby Holman.  The two thought the story of a young man being kept by an older woman was a little too close to Monty’s reality.  William Holden played Gillis, of course, and was absolutely wonderful in the part.  Still, I can’t help wondering what kind of brilliant performance Clift would have turned in.  Alas.

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Naughty Monty!  George Seaton went to all sorts of trouble to find a nice apartment for Clift and Rostova (with whom Monty was joined at the hip on every movie set) to live in while filming – not the easiest thing in the war-ravaged Berlin of 1949.  Upon arriving and seeing the place Monty complained that the apartment didn’t have a garden, persistently enough that eventually General Lucius Clay, Commander of the American Occupation in Berlin, moved himself and his family out of their own home and gave it to Clift for the duration of filming.  Not the nicest way to act, Monty dear!  He was the hottest young actor around after the release of The Search, Red River, and The Heiress and evidently it had gone to his head.

Baby, it’s cold out there.  After a lot of political wrangling with Soviet authorities, George Seaton was able to film parts of The Big Lift inside the Brandenberg Gate leading into East Berlin.  However, on the day of shooting, the Russians set up loudspeakers and harassed the cast and crew with communist propaganda. The scene was shot without sound and dialogue had to be dubbed in at a later time.

So there you have it, a quick look at The Big Lift.  As a slice of Cold War history, it’s well worth watching…once.  If I ever watch it again, however, I’ll be fast forwarding to the Montgomery Clift bits and leaving out the rest.

Montgomery Clift on TCM

I’ll be back later this week to continue my month of Montgomery Clift with a review of his 1950 film The Big Lift.  In the meantime, I thought I’d mention the Clift films coming up on TCM in March and April.  Set your DVRs!

Red River (1948) - Monday, March 24th at 5:45 p.m. and Thursday, April 24th at 8:00 p.m.

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Raintree County (1957) – Monday, March 31st at 12:30 a.m.

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The Misfits (1961) – Saturday, April 12th at 9:45 p.m.

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Lonelyhearts (1958) – Sunday, April 27th at 10:00 a.m.

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The Young Lions (1958) – Tuesday, April 29th at 8:00 p.m.

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Montgomery Clift Linkfest

A few Monty-themed links from around the Internet…

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Self-Styled Siren writes insightfully On the Manliness of Montgomery Clift.  I love this essay and agree with every word.

It’s often observed that the post-war Method actors redefined masculinity. It is more precise to say that Montgomery Clift (who was not entirely a Method actor anyway) expanded the definition. Forever afterward, a man on screen would seem half-formed if the actor could not suggest some sort of inner life, no matter how much derring-do was shown. And exposing that inner life takes nerve, nerve that Clift had in abundance. Rosalind Russell said “acting is standing up naked and turning around slowly.” Showing yourself naked doesn’t sound so bad–but the Siren wouldn’t do it. You probably wouldn’t. John Wayne wouldn’t have either. Montgomery Clift did, in every role he ever played.

And if that isn’t manly, the Siren would like to know what is.

The ever-marvelous Sheila O’Malley’s birthday tribute, an epic post full of quotes about and from Montgomery Clift.

From The Hairpin’s Anne Helen Peterson, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift. Peterson’s series can be a little sensationalistic, as the “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” title would suggest, but the pieces are invariably interesting, as this one is.  She knows how to pierce my Monty-loving heart, that’s for sure!

Clift once told someone that the closer we come to death, the more we blossom. He took himself to that precipice, but he fell straight in. And so he remains, frozen in the popular imagination, circa From Here to Eternity – those high cheekbones, that set jaw, the firm stare: a magnificent, proud, tragically broken thing to behold.

From Vanity Fair, “a long-forgotten trove of the actor’s personal photos has recently surfaced in the archives of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Bequeathed to the library soon after Clift’s untimely death in 1966, at the age of 45, the scrapbooks and portraits of fellow stars reveal Clift’s gift with a lens. The N.Y.P.L.’s treasure chest also houses previously unpublished photos taken of Clift throughout his life and career.”

I especially like this picture Monty took of his Lonelyhearts co-star and dear friend, Myrna Loy.

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Myrna Loy, photograph by Montgomery Clift

These Life magazine photos of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift on the Paramount lot during the filming of 1950’s A Place in the Sun are quite simply stunning.  They were two stars at the height of their beauty and the beginning of their lifelong friendship.  The playfulness and intimacy between Monty and the girl he called Bessie Mae are very apparent in these shots.

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Monty and his Bessie Mae

Clift Notes – a Tumblr featuring lots and lots of photos and GIFs of Montgomery Clift.  Because sometimes you just want to enjoy the pretty!

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Hellooooo Monty!

Montgomery Clift in 1948 – Part III: The Search

title the search

The second film Montgomery Clift made ended up being the first one released, and it was as soldier Ralph “Steve” Stevenson that most audiences first saw him.  It was a smaller part than the one he’d had in Red River, and he doesn’t appear on screen until half an hour into the movie.  However, he received top billing as well as an enormously appealing introduction to the public, portraying a goodhearted guy who takes care of a displaced young concentration camp survivor.

It’s one of his most likeable roles, one devoid of the angst and internal conflict so many of his other characters would embody.  Amy Lawrence writes: “In The Search Clift establishes his image as a natural.  Sui generis, transparent, Montgomery Clift is a figure of endless promise, seemingly inseparable in manner, tone, and moral character from the character he plays.  It is no surprise, then, that The Search sparked many fans’ love for the star.”  It was one of the first Clift movies I saw, myself, when I caught it on TCM years ago, and it remains one of my favorites.

The Search tells the story of a young Czech boy named Karel Malik (Ivan Jandl) and of his mother (Jarmila Novotna), who was separated from him at Auschwitz and is wandering from one dislocated persons camp to another in hopes of finding him.  The movie was shot on location among Berlin’s bombed out ruins and was clearly influenced by neorealist films by directors like Rossellini and De Sica. The Search has an almost documentary style, and in fact begins with a somewhat melodramatic narration discussing the plight of Europe’s children, one which was added behind director Fred Zinnemann’s back.  Even without the narration, viewers would have understood what they were seeing in the sad, terrified, and dull-eyed faces of the children on the screen.

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The movie’s plot is a fairly simple one, as the mother looks for her son and the son, memories of his pre-war childhood wiped out by trauma, struggles to remember his past while being cared for by an American soldier.  All the performances are wonderful – from Aline MacMahon as Mrs. Murray, the compassionate United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) worker who helps Mrs. Malik find her son, to Wendell Corey as Steve’s army pal and housemate Jerry Fisher, to Jarmila Novotna as Mrs. Malik, who refuses to give up the search even when it seems all hope is lost.

Clift and MacMahon

mother and child reunion

However, the heart and soul of the movie is the bond that forms between Ivan Jandl’s Karel and Montgomery Clift’s Steve, so that’s what I want to focus on.  It’s a relationship that could easily have veered into mawkish sentimentality, or into a post-war “Aren’t Americans swell?” piece of propaganda.  Instead, and thanks in large part to Monty Clift’s contributions on and off screen, we see something genuine and natural play out, something all the more touching for being realistic and unforced.

When the two first encounter each other, Karel has run away from the UNRRA transport vehicle that was to take him to a special camp where he could receive help.  The one friend he had, a French boy, drowned in the river during their escape and he is all alone, his bare feet blistered, his clothes in tatters.  Eating lunch in his Jeep, Steve spots Karel walking around in the rubble.  The boy is frightened and skittish, ready to dart off at the slightest provocation, but he’s also starving so he doesn’t run away.  Steve tosses the boy half his sandwich, which he quickly gobbles down.  Steve then leaves the other half of the sandwich on the side of the road. “Nice to have met you, my friend,” he says, driving away.

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A moment later he stops and looks behind him at the boy frantically eating. On his face you see that he’s wondering what he should do, then he turns around and drives back.  You feel it’s the impulse of the moment – one of those times when you have a second or two to decide what the right thing is, and simply act on your gut.  There’s no grand, beneficent gesture here.

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Steve chases through the street to catch Karel, lurching after him and struggling to scoop him up in his arms.  Panting, he deposits the boy in his Jeep and, holding on to Karel’s torn shirt to keep him from leaping out, drives to the house he shares with fellow soldier Jerry Fisher.

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The scene that plays out there is chaotic, with Karel knocking over and breaking a fish tank in his frantic attempts to escape.  Goldfish flop on the floor, struggling to survive out of water just as Karel is struggling to survive in yet another new and seemingly hostile environment.

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At first Steve and Fisher try to be tough with the boy, holding him down so they can administer first aid to his injured feet.  At one point Steve even waves a hypodermic needle at Karel, threatening to use it if he doesn’t calm down, only to feel horrified at what he’s done when he sees the concentration camp tattoo on the boy’s arm.

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first aid

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Steve then unlocks the door and tries to show Karel that he isn’t being kept prisoner and is free to go if he wants to. The boy makes a run for it, but when he realizes the soldiers aren’t going to chase after him he pauses in the street, turns around, and slowly hobbles his way back up the steps and into the house as the two men watch.

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You can see the whole sequence below – it’s well worth checking out. Fred Zinneman often told the story that after a screening of The Search, an audience member approached him and asked “Who’s that soldier you got to act?”  In this brief nine minute segment you can understand why that might have happened. Photographer Richard Avedon told Monty’s brother Brooks Clift “The first time Monty came on the screen [in The Search] I cried because he was so realistic and honest and I was deeply touched.  He seems to be creating a new kind of acting – almost documentary in approach.  It has the style of reportage.”

As I mentioned when talking about Red River, there are so many small actions and moments in a Montgomery Clift performance that are such a joy to watch – the loose-limbed way he runs after the boy to catch him, the way he struggles to catch his breath, the little “Phhhht!” sound and arm motion he makes when he wants Karel to scoot over in the jeep.  The stricken look on his face when he sees the tattoo on the child’s arm and realizes he’s only terrified him further, and the endearing way he demonstrates that the door really is unlocked.  (“So long!  Hello!”)  Clift once said that he learned from Alfred Lunt that acting is an accumulation of subtle details, carefully selected, and in this short segment alone we see that Monty learned that lesson well.

Later we see Steve teach the boy English while writing a letter to UNRRA in hopes of learning something about who he is and where he came from.  Since Karel can’t remember his real name, Steve gives him a new one, Jim.  It’s a lovely, funny scene in which you see that young Jim is becoming more comfortable in his new surroundings and is forming a bond with Steve.

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“Wait here,” Steve says when he leaves the room to find an envelope. Up pops Jim to follow behind him like a baby duck trailing his mother.  The boy munches on bread and butter, his eyes never leaving Steve as he wanders around the room and talks. He smiles when Steve seems especially silly or wound up, and when he gives him a chocolate bar.  Here’s a clip.  It’s a charming scene, and one that makes me wish Clift had been given more of a chance to do comedy.  His timing and delivery are perfect.

Steve continues to teach Jim English, and the two of them grow closer.  Steve reluctantly postpones his return trip to America so he’ll have more time to sort out Jim’s status.  Once word comes back from UNRRA that the boy’s mother was almost certainly killed by the Nazis, Steve determines to jump through whatever hoops he has to in order to bring him back to the States and raise him.

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steve and his lad

comforting Jim

We see Steve’s increasing attachment to Jim more through actions than words, in the way he surprises him with a pair of new shoes, helps him put on his coat and tie for dinner, and paternally rests his hands on the boy’s shoulders when introducing him to strangers.

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dressing up

introducing jimWhen Fisher’s family arrives from America – a pretty wife and a young boy about Jim’s age – Jim’s memory is jogged and he starts to piece things together.  He wants to know what a “mother” is.  He remembers a fence like the one he’d seen earlier in a photograph. Suddenly he realizes he has a mother, and he runs away into the dark Berlin night to try and locate her.

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One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie plays out when Steve, having searched for Jim all night, finds him and must tell him that his mother is dead.  Exhausted from his wanderings, Jim sees Steve and runs to hug him.  Steve comforts the boy and gently explains.

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Steve:  Jimmy, I gotta tell you, it’s best that you know.  Your mother is dead.

Jim:  Dead?

Steve: Yes. Terrible that it should be so, but there isn’t anything you can do about it.

Jim: Then…then I can’t find my mother ever?

Steve: No.

Jim: And my mother won’t ever come back?

Steve: No, dear, she won’t.  See, if you look for her, you won’t find her.  If she were alive, she wouldn’t want you to torture yourself. It’s through you she lives on. Your heart is part of hers, you’re a part of her always. You must know that.

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Steve’s “no, dear” gets me in the heart every time! It’s a quiet, tender, and very honest scene, one Clift worked over and revised, as he did all his scenes in The Search. Without his input – cutting down any wordiness, toning down what he called the “Boy Scout” nature of his character as originally written, and injecting more realism – the film wouldn’t have had the impact it did.

Official credit for the screenplay went to Richard Schweizer and David Wechsler, with additional dialog by Paul Jarico.  However, Clift’s contribution was integral in making his dialogue sound more spontaneous and in making his character less “goody-goody.” He told his friend Kevin McCarthy that the original version of the script was “like The Yearling with sugar added.”  Monty’s changes made the film better and added a freshness and honesty that wasn’t there before, but David Wechsler was so unhappy about what the actor had done to his words that he threatened legal action.

Montgomery Clift, 1948

Montgomery Clift, 1948

“The last day an orgy of hate,” Monty wrote McCarthy when the movie wrapped.  “After dubbing, I picked up the stillettoes off my back and went to the hotel.  There awaited two letters from Wechsler…I better get to the border quick.” Weschsler and Schweizer would win an Academy Award for the screenplay Montgomery Clift had done so much to improve.

Even before shooting began, Monty was thinking about his character and suggesting changes to better the part. This excerpt from a letter he wrote to Fred Zinnemann about six weeks before filming started gives an interesting look into his thought processes as he prepared for the role.

Now – the film: I like it very much. Very much indeed. I look forward to what I shall read next.

The part: I’m perfectly happy with its size. A part built up might tend to deviate from the truth and then how should I play it? My being starred does not necessitate a bigger part in my mind. It is certainly the story of the mother and the boy and I think it would be dangerous for your sakes to alter this.

There is one place in the film that does disturb me…After Stevenson makes up his mind to stay and help the boy. I get the feeling of a kind of outward nobility. Somehow this spontaneous nobility is not very interesting. If one goes ahead and does whatever presents itself from day to day – this can be noble but only in retrospect. It’s the “volunteering” to stay and help that I object to in Stevenson…

He should long to go home, but – he’s brought this kid on himself (he obviously likes him) and when his friend points out he’s the only one who can help the boy – he stays – protesting – but he still stays.

Does this give some idea of what I mean? I don’t want Steve to anticipate the help he is going to be to the boy. If he does what he should do reluctantly – it widens the scope of the part – allows whole avenues of humour. This would be a great delight to act. If Stevenson teaches the boy English because he should – then finds himself intrigued against his will…well – this would be a fine relationship.

Mostly the end result would be to get away from doing “good” things for “good” reasons – which in a man is not very intriguing.

As with his preparation for Red River, to get ready to film The Search Monty immersed himself in the environment and activities of the type of he said nocharacter he was to play.  Upon arrival in Europe before the shoot, he lived in an army engineer’s unit and dressed in fatigues.  “He was particularly interested in developing a soldier’s gait,” writes Patricia Bosworth. “He believed that character could be defined by how a person moved.”

Monty also familiarized himself with the horrors European war survivors, in particular children, had lived through.  He and Fred Zinnemann toured U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation camps like the one that would be featured in the film, meeting the Jewish children there.  “Their dry-eyed little faces were gray with grief,” he later told a friend.  Monty watched German movies filmed in concentration camps and found himself unable to sit through more than an hour without running from the screening room and vomiting.

jandl_ivan1Ivan Jandl, the Czech boy who played Karel/Jim, didn’t speak English and learned his dialogue by rote. Monty worked with him patiently, cueing him on his lines and guiding him in his performance. Monty had a good rapport with children. Amy Lawrence writes: “A former child actor himself (or at least a young adolescent), Clift was secure enough in his technique not to be intimidated by the unpredictability of young costars and welcomed the chance to ad-lib as the occasion warranted.”

The 21st Annual Academy Awards recognized Jandl with the Juvenile Award, honoring him for “the outstanding juvenile performance of 1948.”  The boy would not be the last fellow actor Monty coached to an Academy Award.  Frank Sinatra would later give his From Here to Eternity co-star a great deal of the credit for making his own award-winning performance possible.

Montgomery Clift was himself nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his role in The Search, and despite the dispute between himself and screenwriter Wechsler and the resultant “orgy of hate” Monty wrote about, he always considered the experience of making the film one of the most creatively fulfilling of his life.

Patricia Bosworth writes: “It was obvious to everyone attending the rushes, including Weschsler, that Monty was responsible for a startlingly original contribution to The Search.”

“His scenes bristled with life,” Fred Zinnemann said.  “And he filled the screen with reverberations above and beyond the movie itself.”

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Montgomery Clift, Ivan Jandl, and Fred Zinnemann on location

Sources

Montgomery Clift by Patricia Bosworth, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978

The Films of Montgomery Clift by Judith M. Kass, Citadel Press, 1979

The Passion of Montgomery Clift by Amy Lawrence, University of California Press, 2010

Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience by Neil Sinyard, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003

Montgomery Clift in 1948 – Part II: Red River

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Although it wasn’t released until late September of 1948, about 6 months after the release of The Search, Howard Hawks’ western Red River was actually Montgomery Clift’s first experience with filming movies.  It was a trial by fire, or maybe by water.  The film was shot in Rain Valley, east of Tucson Arizona, and during filming it rained nearly continuously for six weeks.  Many of the actors got sick with colds.  Scenes had to be rewritten to accommodate the weather.

Clift and John Wayne didn’t like each other, something that would work in their favor when acting out scenes of friction between their characters, but which couldn’t have been pleasant for Monty to live through. Wayne told a Life magazine editor “Clift is an arrogant little bastard.”  Additionally, Wayne thought Monty was a wimp.  According to Clift biographer Patricia Bosworth, “Wayne actually burst into guffaws when Hawks staged the fight between them. Wayne simply could not take the scene seriously – something that privately infuriated Monty and probably inspired the superhuman intensity he brought to his battle with Wayne.”

Monty had little experience with riding and none with cowboy work prior to filming, but with typical intensity he set about Montgomery Clift on the set of RED RIVER (1948)learning.  “He came down two weeks early and went out after breakfast with a cowboy, taking a lunch with them, and they rode all day long – up hills and down steep places, and through water and so on,” Howard Hawks told Peter Bogdanovich in an interview years later.  “And by the start of the picture he really rode well.  You could tell that. And I taught him a little jump step to get into the saddle – he’d make a little hop into the stirrup.  He worked – he really worked hard.”  Asked if Clift was ever difficult to work with, Hawks replied “Oh, nobody that good is difficult.”  His later directors would beg to differ, but at this point in Monty’s life it was true.

Clift was polite on set but only occasionally joined the nightly poker games led by Hawks and Wayne.  Mostly he kept to himself, poring over his script and writing endless notes in the margins as he examined his character from the inside out, something he would continue to do with scripts for the rest of his career.  He would later say of his experience with the Red River cast and crew, “They laughed and drank and told dirty jokes and slapped each other on the back.  They tried to draw me into their circle but I couldn’t go along with them. The machismo thing repelled me because it seemed so forced and unnecessary.”

In the end the lousy weather, illness, and macho games were worth it, however.  Red River is a beautiful, complex western that’s entertaining from start to finish – a skillful blend of action, humor, romance, and drama.  The film also excels at pitting two different life and leadership philosophies against each other in the characters of John Wayne’s hardened cattle rancher Thomas Dunson, a man who shoots first and lets God sort out the souls,  and Dunson’s foster son Matthew Garth (Clift), a skilled sharpshooter who returns from the Civil War preferring to act out of mercy, good judgment and, whenever possible, non-violence.

As the movie begins Tom Dunson is leaving a wagon train along with his friend Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan), heading to Texas with little more than a bull to his name in hopes of starting a cattle ranch. Despite her protests he leaves the girl he loves (Coleen Gray) behind with the train, promising to come back for her once he’s settled.  Unfortunately that plan is not to be, since soon after Dunson departs the wagon train is attacked by Indians.  They wipe out everyone but a teenaged boy named Matthew Garth, who managed to escape along with a cow he was searching for when the Indians appeared.  When Matt proves his worth by standing up to Dunson, he takes the boy on as his responsibility.  “He’ll do,” he tells Groot with grudging approval, and they all head out together for Texas.  Dunson admires the backbone young Matt shows, and his ability to think for himself.  In time those qualities will tear the two of them apart.

Years pass and Dunson’s Red River D ranch is large, if no longer prosperous.  He’s killed and buried many men who tried to take his land away, giving everything including perhaps his soul to make the place a success, but the Civil War has left the South’s economy in tatters.  His cattle are no longer worth a thing in Texas.  Now that Matt has returned from fighting, Dunson plans to lead a cattle drive to Missouri, where he believes he’ll be able to sell the animals for beef at a good price.

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The chasm between Dunson’s and Matthew’s ways of thinking starts to show right away.  As they round up the cattle, Matt tells the men to let any not marked with Dunson’s brand go free.  Dunson instructs him instead to brand all the cattle they’ve caught with the Red River D.  Matt disapproves of what amounts to thievery, but he follows orders.  “Put the iron on all of ‘em,” he tells a cowhand disgustedly. “Anything you see, slap it with a ‘Red River D’ and burn it deep.”

Annex - Clift, Montgomery (Red River)_01To Dunson he says “You’re gonna wind up branding every rump in the state of Texas except mine.”  For now they’re able to smooth it over, Dunson threatening to put the iron to Matt, Matt laughing off the thought that Dunson would really do it. But as the cattle drive gets underway, Dunson’s mania to get the cattle to Missouri regardless of the human cost drives a wedge further and further between the two men.

Dunson threatens to brutally whip a hapless cowhand who started a stampede, costing a fellow cowboy and many of the cattle their lives.  He’s only stopped from killing the man when Matt pulls out his gun and intervenes.  When talk among the men turns to their desire to drive the cattle to Abilene, Kansas instead of taking the more difficult and dangerous trek to Missouri, an idea Dunson refuses even to consider, several of them threaten to leave.  Dunson shoots and kills the “quitters,” much to Matt’s revulsion.

On Dunson drives the men, past the point of exhaustion and common sense.  For Matt the final straw comes when two men who stole supplies and ran away in the night are brought back to Dunson by cowboy Cherry Valance (John Ireland).  Dunson plans to hang the men for theft and desertion, but Matt has had enough of what he sees as senseless killing.  He stops Dunson and easily gets the demoralized cowboys to join him in a mutiny, taking over the herd and promising to take them all on to Abilene himself.

Betrayed by the man he saw as a son and to whom he planned to one day leave everything, Dunson promises Matt that he’ll follow and kill him.  The rest of the movie unfolds suspensefully as Dunson gathers a gang to follow Matt and the cattle drive, while Matt tries to stay several steps ahead.  Matt hopes that once he’s successful in selling the livestock and has money to hand over, Dunson will see sense and relent.  The pain for him is that he believes in his heart the man he loves like a father will never forgive him, even though he did what he had to to salvage the herd and stop the violence.

For all the serious moments in Red River, the movie is also funny at times.  Much of the comic relief comes from the always memorable Walter Brennan as Nadine Groot, the toothless cook whose pronouncements are hard to understand unless he puts in the store-bought teeth Matt brought him after the war.

John_Wayne - red river - & Walter Brennan

There’s also a good amount of lust and romance – enough for whatever floats your boat, in fact.  Red River is famous for several scenes of homoeroticism surprisingly blatant for the day, and particularly shocking for their inclusion in a John Wayne movie directed by Howard Hawks.  The heat generated between Montgomery Clift’s Matt Garth and John Ireland’s Cherry Valance is almost visible on the screen as they examine each other’s guns, eye each other warily but with great interest, and sit around the campfire talking quietly at night.

At the same time, there’s plenty of heat between Clift and his actual love interest in the movie.  Joanne Dru plays Tess Millay, a beautiful spitfire Matthew meets while rescuing her wagon train from an Indian attack en route to Abilene.  Tess is an archetypical Hawksian woman – able to hold her own with men in a game of cards or a battle of wits, tough enough to take an arrow through the shoulder without flinching or crying out, yet able to make her man feel like a man when the chips are down.  Dru’s scenes with Clift are terribly steamy as they talk and kiss in the rain, and later spend a night together before Matt finally has to face down Dunson and either kill or be killed.

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Watching Montgomery Clift act is quite simply a pleasure.  I constantly marvel at the little bits of business he adds to his scenes.  Lighting a cigarette to perfectly punctuate a moment.  Letting a small smile flicker across his face, or a look of anxiety subtly cross his brow.  Pushing his cowboy hat up just so, or gently bumping into a lamp in his erotically-charged haste to take a woman in his arms.  Small moments like those were labored over painstakingly in the margins of his scripts and in rehearsal with his acting teacher, Mira Rostova, but show absolutely no air of study at all in the execution.

It’s the same with the way he says his lines – the inflections, the pauses, the way he uses his voice.  He’s one of the most natural, believable actors I’ve ever seen.  He simply is the character he’s playing.  I never stop feeling awe when I watch him in a role, whether one from his late 1940s – mid-1950s heyday, or one from the post-accident years when he was struggling with life on and off the set. It doesn’t matter. His talent is always so apparent.

As for his own opinion, Clift thought he was mediocre in Red River, and that the movie itself was awful.  He hated the watered down ending, re-written so that John Wayne’s character wouldn’t die, and he hated that the conflict which had built to a fever pitch by the end of the film was resolved in a moment of anti-climax, with Tess Millay breaking up the fight between Dunson and Matt.  “It makes the showdown between me and John Wayne a farce,” Monty said.

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I tend to agree with him on that one point – the end does feel like a letdown and a cheat after all the drama – but as for the rest of the movie, I think it’s brilliant.  From the strong performances by both Wayne and Clift, to the gorgeous cinematography by Russell Harlan, to the sweeping score by the great Dimitri Tiomkin, the movie is completely entertaining and thought-provoking.

Who is the real man, the one who fights, bullies and kills in order to get what he wants, or the one who has the courage of his convictions and isn’t afraid to have compassion and a soft heart? What kind of person makes a true leader, the one with a violent my-way-or-the-highway attitude, or the one who favors discussion, collaboration, and respect?

These kinds of questions permeate Red River as they were permeating the way men in a post-World War II world looked at themselves as they re-integrated into civilian life.  In his embodiment of a kind of masculinity that could be both strong and tender, both physical and cerebral, Montgomery Clift seemed in 1948 to be the man of the moment.

I’ll be back soon with Part 3 of this look at Monty in 1948, with a review of one of my favorite of his movies – Fred Zinnemann’s The Search.

Sources:

Montgomery Clift by Patricia Bosworth, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1978

The Films of Montgomery Clift by Judith M. Kass, Citadel Press 1979

Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich, Ballantine Books 1998

Montgomery Clift in 1948 – Part I: The Actor

Annex - Clift, Montgomery_01

Montgomery Clift

In 1948 the Soviet blockade of Berlin began, as did the Western response to it with the Berlin Airlift.  The United States recognized Israel as a country, and Harry Truman signed an Executive Order ending racial segregation in the US military.

That year the House Un-American Activities Committee continued to wreak havoc on lives and careers in Hollywood and elsewhere.  The United States v. Paramount Pictures case ended the monopoly by movie studios that both made films and owned the theaters which showed them, marking the beginning of the end for the studio system.

The year’s top earning movie in the US was The Red Shoes, a dark meditation on art and life written, directed, and produced by the British team of Powell and Pressburger and featuring a daring 17 minute surrealist ballet.  The number two movie was MGM’s old-school, swashbuckling Technicolor adventure The Three Musketeers, starring Gene Kelly and Lana Turner.  The times and the movie landscape were beginning to change, but slowly.

In 1948 Montgomery Clift turned 28 years old.  He’d already been an actor half his life, starring in Broadway productions by playwrights including Robert E. Sherwood, Thornton Wilder, Lillian Hellman, and Tennessee Williams beginning in his teenage years.  He’d acted on stage with luminaries of the mid-twentieth century theater, among them Tallulah Bankhead, Fredric March, Lynn Fontanne, and her husband and Clift’s acting idol and mentor, Alfred Lunt.  Monty Clift was a shining light on Broadway, admired and praised by critics and audiences for his sensitive and perceptive portrayals, even in instances where the plays themselves weren’t so well-reviewed.

Annex - Clift, Montgomery_NRFPT_02

Montgomery Clift with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Robert E. Sherwood’s play There Shall Be No Night, 1940. The Lunts encouraged Monty to study and to stretch his acting abilities, and spoke with him of the need for actors to avoid alcohol and hard living if they were to succeed. He became part of their inner circle. The Lunts signed a photo of themselves and gave it to Monty — “from your real mother and father.”

Hollywood had been after him for years, trying to lure him into signing a long-term contract.  They saw promise in both his talent and his photogenic beauty, and were eager to begin the studio-prescribed process of grooming him to become the next big star.  For his part Monty had no interest in being groomed, and for years had refused to be tempted by Hollywood’s entreaties.  Finally in 1946 his agent, Leland Hayward, talked him into visiting Hollywood for a while to speak with Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, and Darryl Zanuck and see what they could offer him.  One by one he met them, and each time he failed to be persuaded by their offers.

“[Mayer] told me Leo the Lion is the father of one big happy unsuspended family. And I too will be happy,” he wrote fellow actor Sandy Campbell.  “They keep throwing Greer Garson in my face – nostrils and all…as a perfect example of what…a career can be. Ye Gods!”  Revolted by the studio men like Mayer who saw actors as “properties” and who wanted to shape his image and determine the things he worked on, Monty wrote letters to friends back home in New York with the dateline “Vomit, California.”  He told studio heads their scripts were terrible, that he didn’t want to be typecast, and that he believed his career would be ruined if he signed with them.

MRS.MINIVER

Greer Garson, with whose flared nostrils Clift seemed unimpressed. L.B. Mayer specifically wanted Monty for the part of Garson’s son in 1942′s Mrs. Miniver, but since it would’ve meant a 7-year contract he declined. Metro instead cast this guy, Richard Ney, whom Garson eventually married — much to the studio’s chagrin.

Judith M. Kass writes that “Monty was ambivalent about becoming a Hollywood star; there was no doubt in his mind that he could be one if he wanted to…but [he was] not so sure he could acquiesce in all that would be necessary to make his aspirations a reality. Monty hated the idea of drowning in a press agent’s dream of lotusland luxury; of the invasion of his privacy; the premieres with starlets; and the autographs. His equivocating impressed the studio chiefs as indifference, a nonchalance that only increased their determination to sign him.  And that, in turn, made Monty still more elusive.”

In 1947 Monty finally received two movie offers that appealed to him – the cattle drive themed western Red River, to be directed by Howard Hawks, and The Search, a realistic look at the lives of orphaned children in post-war Europe, to be directed by Fred Zinnemann.  Both movies would eventually be released to considerable acclaim for the films and for Monty himself, and would earn high box office receipts in 1948.

Clift would never sign a long-term contract with a studio, however, and never settle comfortably into the Hollywood system of publicity and image-making, despite the difficulties his iconoclasm caused him within the movie industry.  Dominated by his mother his entire childhood, internally tormented about his homosexuality, he at least wanted control of his career – to continue being choosy, artistic, and as he laughingly admitted to Leland Hayward when discussing Hollywood, “snobbish.”

monty reading

Monty reading in his apartment, late 1940s

“I’m just trying to be an actor,” Monty said.  “Not a movie star, an actor.”  By the end of 1948, with two well-received films behind him, his face on the cover of Life magazine as the standard-bearer of a group of “New Male Movie Stars,” and an Academy Award nomination for The Search soon to come, he would – for better or worse – be both.

LIfe

Montgomery Clift on the cover of Life magazine in December 1948

How he got there and what happened afterward are still to come as these posts unfold here all month.  For now, however, it’s 1948, and the Montgomery Clift who bursts to life on movie screens around the country is handsome, boyish, natural, funny, sensual, and heartbreaking.  He can wordlessly express thoughts and emotions with his eyes as powerfully as any silent movie star, yet the kind of acting he does is modern, different.  He’s quite unlike anything movie audiences have seen before, and in 1948 they like what they see.

In part 2 of this look at Montgomery Clift in 1948, I’ll be back to discuss the first movie he filmed – Howard Hawks’s classic western, Red River.

Sources:

Montgomery Clift by Patricia Bosworth, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978

The Films of Montgomery Clift by Judith M. Kass, Citadel Press, 1979

Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich, Ballantine Books, 1998

The top grossing films of 1948

Last night I found the below list while doing research for a blog post I’m working on for tomorrow.  These were the top grossing movies in the US in 1948, the year in which my father was born and the year in which Montgomery Clift made his movie debut. The directors aren’t shown here, but we’re talking about people like Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Vincente Minnelli, Frank Capra, Fred Zinnemann, Howard Hawks, and Billy Wilder.  Even the fluffiest of the movies on this list surpasses any of the fluffy type films being put out today in terms of star power and entertainment value, while the great movies on the list are truly great — classics that have stood the test of time.  And these are just the top 20 moneymakers of the year.  There were plenty of other wonderful movies released in 1948, including Portrait of Jennie, The Bicycle Thief, Rope, Letter From an Unknown Woman, I Remember Mama, Rachel and the Stranger, Romance on the High Seas, and Unfaithfully Yours.

This list is as good a summary as any of why I can rarely be bothered to see a current movie in the theater anymore. Was there a film in 2013 that was as inventive as The Red Shoes? Or a musical starring people with the amount of talent Judy Garland and Fred Astaire had in their little fingers?  Was there a satire as biting as Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, or a comedy as amusing and full of charm as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House?  The answer to that is pretty clearly no, at least to me, and so for now my local theater only gets my money when they show something from their “classics” series.  It’s Rear Window this weekend, and I’ll be there.

How I look when looking for a current movie to see in the theater. Don't fret, Moira, there's always TCM.

Don’t fret, Moira, there’s always TCM.

1.    The Red Shoes – Moira Shearer
2.    The Three Musketeers – Lana Turner and Gene Kelly
3.    Red River – John Wayne and Montgomery Clift
4.    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Humphrey Bogart
5.    When My Baby Smiles at Me – Betty Grable and Dan Dailey
6.    Easter Parade –     Judy Garland and Fred Astaire
7.    Johnny Belinda -  Jane Wyman, tied with The Snake Pit – Olivia de Havilland
8.    Joan of Arc – Ingrid Bergman
9.    Adventures of Don Juan – Errol Flynn
10.    Homecoming – Clark Gable and Lana Turner
11.    The Loves of Carmen – Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford
12.    Key Largo – Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lauren Bacall
13.    That Lady in Ermine – Betty Grable
14.    The Emperor Waltz – Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine
15.    The Search – Montgomery Clift
16.    Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House – Cary Grant and Myrna Loy
17.    Hamlet – Laurence Olivier
18.    State of the Union – Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
19.    A Foreign Affair – Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich and John Lund
20.    Sorry, Wrong Number – Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster

Stay tuned tomorrow for the first post in my month-long series on Montgomery Clift!  I’m very excited to dedicate March to an actor I love so dearly.  I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend a month thinking and writing about, or anyone who deserves the attention more.

Monty

Montgomery Clift in Red River – 1948