I am neither a young rebel nor an old rebel nor a tired rebel, but quite simply an actor who tries to do his job with the maximum of conviction and sincerity."
I’ve neglected this blog for so many months that I can’t imagine there’s anyone around to read it, but nonetheless I’m back! My interest in things tends to come in big, sweeping waves, and lately that’s meant reading everything I could get my hands on about FDR and obsessively watching Mad Men and Glee.
The classic movie wave is back again, though. That one always comes back. Right now my movie love is all for the actor who never fails to move me with the intelligence, sensitivity and realism of his performances, Montgomery Clift.
There are many actors I think are wonderful. Cary Grant tops the list, of course, and Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon are way up there, too. None has ever affected me quite as deeply as Clift, however. Both in his performances and in who he was as a person, with his pain and his demons, he just breaks my heart. Those eyes! It’s so corny and cliche to say they’re the windows to his soul, but watch his films and you see it’s really true.
The Search (1948)
The Search was released by the Warner Archive recently and I’m so happy about that. It would’ve been nice to have it available some other way, where more people would have a chance to see it (I wish Netflix would stock movies from the Warner Archive), but at least it’s on DVD at all.
The film is set in post-WWII Germany and was directed by Fred Zinneman, who gave it an almost documentary style. You really see the terrible wartime destruction of lives and families in this story of a little boy who is thought to be orphaned, his mother who is desperately searching for him after her time in a concentration camp, and the G.I. (Clift) who takes the boy under his wing and grows to love him. If you can make it through this movie without weeping, you’re much tougher than I am!
Clift is so good in this, giving a wonderfully real, warm, understated performance. He was such a modern actor. Brando seems to get all the credit for bringing that kind of realism to movies but it was really Clift who did it first.
The Heiress (1949)
Clift’s role as fortune hunting Morris Townsend in The Heiress could have been a straightforward villain, but as with everything else in this great film directed by William Wyler, things are more complex and indecipherable than that. Clift gives Townsend charm, vulnerability, and maybe even an appreciation of the sweetness of his shy, mousy bride-to-be (Olivia de Havilland), who has been dominated by her father all her life.
If things had gone differently and they’d married, perhaps he’d have learned to really love her, and maybe they’d both have blossomed into better people – she more sure of herself, he less shallow. Who knows? In the end Catherine gains strength and self-possession, but at the expense of her trust in everyone around her, and Morris seems to gain nothing at all. Neither wealth nor wisdom. Such a sad and completely enthralling movie.
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Every time I see Montgomery Clift as George Eastman in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun, I can’t help thinking how amazing it would have been if he could’ve portrayed Jay Gatsby at some point in his career. He would have been brilliant in that role.
I love this scene. Both Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are so physically beautiful you can’t even believe they’re real, and they have such chemistry together. “Tell Mama. Tell Mama all…” Wow. Paging Dr. Freud. (Whom Clift portrayed in a 1962 film, by the way!)
I Confess (1951)
I have a confession of my own to make. I had never seen I Confess until this week! And I call myself a Montgomery Clift fan, not to mention an Alfred Hitchcock fan. It’s quite a dark, serious film, and one that reminded me much more of a film noir than a typical Hitchcock thriller. I enjoyed it a lot.
Clift’s Father Logan doesn’t say much in the movie, but you never feel you don’t know exactly what he’s going through. The emotions and thoughts play across his face and show in those expressive eyes from the moment we see him hear a murderer’s confession until the end, when the killer dies in his arms. The struggle between Father Logan’s duty to God and his fear of being unjustly accused is all there on that beautiful face.
Oh Monty, Monty. I love him so. If you ever get a chance to read Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Clift, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best actor bios I’ve ever read. He was a fascinating, tormented, and incredibly gifted man. He didn’t make that many movies, but I’m so glad to have the ones he did.