90 Years of Montgomery Clift


Monty Clift: 1920 - 1966

Montgomery Clift would have been 90 years old today.

Regular Pictorial readers know just how much we admire this truly brilliant, tragic figure of the theatre and film. I had the good fortune of attending a screening of Elia Kazan‘s understated period powerhouse WILD RIVER at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this week, in glorious widescreen 35 mm CinemaScope. Although it’s a film I’ve seen on more than one occasion, I was still bowled over by Clift’s performance. Jo Van Fleet steals the show, as she so often does, and Lee Remick is a dazzling spitfire of passionate energy… but Clift is the spine. Virile yet vulnerable, stubborn but impressionable, its a performance weighted in quiet pauses and uncomfotable silences and hesitant gestures that make Montgomery Clift performances eternally fresh.

I’ve found that there is always something new to discover in a Clift film, no matter how often you’ve seen it, because the man gave his all–in compact gossamer layers. Sometimes delicate, sometimes violent–but always achingly, searchingly honest. Unraveling … before your eyes …

And since truth is eternal, well, then so is Monty.

Oh sure, he isn’t the greatest actor of all time.  But the man is one of the greats.

90 years after his birth,and he’s still a true one-of-a-kind that we’ve never quite seen the like of since.

And so we sign off with a touchingly lovely tribute video from YouTube user The Big Valley … YouTube tributes are often unbearable. This one? Sublime:

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

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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