90 Years of Montgomery Clift

2 thoughts on “90 Years of Montgomery Clift”

  1. My favorite Clift performance is one that isn’t mentioned often–The Misfits. His character doesn’t have as many lines as Gable, Monroe or Eli Wallach, but he has two scenes that knock my socks off every time I see them. The first, when Gable, MM and Eli first encounter Clift at the rodeo. He’s in a phone booth talking to his mother — you only hear Monty’s side of the conversation and, except for a reaction cut back to the gang in the car, its all Monty and the effect is brilliant. You feel, as do the other characters in the scene, the emotional pain this guy is in — even more remarkable given that this is their and the audience’s first encounter with his character. He doesn’t do it with any over-the-top emoting, just by the perfectly timed, halting delivery of his lines — you just know that John Huston didn’t have to tell him what to do. In fact, I’m not sure it was even scripted that way; it might have been improvised by Clift. The second scene is with Clift and Monroe, both drunk, him with his head in her lap, and I believe was shot as scripted. I recall reading that this was a single take, no cuts, no retakes, and with Marilyn in particular, this was unusual. But the dialogue between the two was so natural, that you felt it was completely spontaneous. I think he had the ability, as some do, to make those around him even better.

    I don’t like lists unless they’re based on something quantifiable, but Clift would easily make my top five film actors.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Gene! I think you hit the nail squarely on the head when you said “he doesn’t do it with any over-the-top emoting, just by the perfectly timed, halting delivery of his lines.” That phone booth scene is absolutely remarkable–each and every time you watch it, it’s still as honest and real and fresh as the first time.

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