A Star is Re-Examined in ‘Making Montgomery Clift’

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CHICAGO – Montgomery “Monty” Clift was an enigma as a “movie star” from the minute his image reflected from the silver screen. Dark and intense, he exhibited a inner ferocity that was unmatched from any other actor of his era, including Marlon Brando. Because of the enigma, his persona has often been mischaracterized, and he died young in his mid-forties. His nephew Robert Anderson Clift seeks to revitalize the authentic Monty in the new documentary “Making Montgomery Clift.”

Essentially, before this film, Monty Clift’s life was defined by two very popular biographies that came out in the late 1970s… “Monty” by Robert LaGuardia and “Montgomery Clift: A Biography” by Patricia Bosworth. The Bosworth bio has been praised as one of the must-read profiles of a major star, but both books advance the notion that Clift had one of the “slowest suicides” in Hollywood history. Robert Anderson Clift wanted to find something else, something about the uncle he never personally knew, and why Clift’s life obsessed his father (and Monty’s brother) Brooks. What is revealed in this fascinating overview is that the Montgomery Clift the human being was much more complex than the “slow suicide” star.

Clift was born in Nebraska in 1920, and lived a upper middle class life of private schools and travel. He was enamored with the stage during high school, and made his Broadway debut in 1935. For the next 10 years he rejected offers from Hollywood, as he honed his actor’s craft in theater. He finally capitulated, and made his film debut at age 26 in Howard Hawk’s “Red River.”

A Candid Portrait in ‘Making Montgomery Clift’
Photo credit: The Film Collaborative

What followed was a streak of memorable roles in “From Here to Eternity,” “The Heiress,” “A Place in the Sun” and “Raintree County.” In 1956, he was involved in a serious car accident, which required many facial surgeries. His post accident career was less showy, but included “The Young Lions,” “The Misfits” and “Judgement at Nuremberg.” He died at age 45 of a heart attack.

Monty’s nephew Robert wanted to get a more complete view of his uncle, instead of the tragic closeted gay man who was “never the same” after the accident. He unearths some vital proof that Clift was engaged in all his roles, even the ones post accident, and suffered in his public life because of his famous reluctance to play the game of movie star, and his natural inclination towards privacy.

What emerges is memories of Monty that were much more complete and varied, based on archives of his brother Brooks, interviews with contemporaries (including Jack Larson, who portrayed Jimmy Olsen on “The Adventures of Superman”) and the nephew’s deep dive into Clift’s acting career and methods. While his final years were fraught with drug use and health difficulties, the more complete picture is nowhere near a “slow suicide.”

Late Career ‘Judgement at Nuremburg’ Performance in ‘Making Montgomery Clift’
Photo credit: The Film Collaborative

There is a dryness in the film… Robert Anderson Clift was obviously airing his family’s legacy, and wanted to be sensitive to persons who were long dead. His father Brooks is almost as an enigmatic figure as his movie star brother, obsessed with keeping Monty alive, and working closely with the two biographers. Brooks was so disappointed with Robert LaGuardia’s book, he worked nearly side-by-side with Patricia Bosworth to get the facts of his brother’s life correct. Brooks Clift died in 1986.

If “Making Montgomery Clift” teaches us anything, it’s that life is not definable nor cut-and-dried for any individual. As Clift himself once said, “The sadness of our existence should not leave us blunted, on the contrary – how to remain thin-skinned, vulnerable and stay alive?”

“Making Montgomery Clift” opened on November 2nd in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center – 164 North State Street – part of “Spotlight: Montgomery Clift.” Directed by Robert Anderson Clift and Hillary Demmon. Not Rated. Click here. for more details.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2018 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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