Montgomery Clift was without a doubt one of the greatest actors who ever lived. His performances garnered acclaim from everyone who ever saw them, and he completely put himself into each role in his career. Everyone respected his talents, and he made his already great co-stars look even better.
He was born, along with his twin sister Roberta, on October 17th 1920, in Omaha Nebraska. After spending his childhood years all over the world, he made his way onto his first Broadway stage at the age of 15, where his natural abilities soon took over. By 1945, he was headed for sunny California and a life destined for greatness.
There were no small roles waiting for Montgomery Clift in Hollywood. The first film he shot was Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948), alongside John Wayne and Walter Brennan. His performance was highly acclaimed and would be the last supporting role he would play for many years. The next movie he filmed (and the first to be released) was Fred Zinnemann’s The Search (1948). One of his below the radar masterpieces, The Search is the story of an American soldier in postwar Germany. He meets a young boy who was displaced during WWII and has now run away from the “Displaced Children’s Home”, and is presumed dead. He eventually meets Clift, who is an Army engineer, and the two develop a trust and love for one another. It is an extremely powerful film and one of the greatest performances of Montgomery Clift’s already outstanding career. He was nominated for his first Academy Award for Best Actor, but lost to Laurence Olivier in Hamlet (1948).
Known for being very picky when choosing his roles, Montgomery didn’t make a lot of movies. He chose each role carefully and always gave everything he could to each one of them. After The Search he starred in the Best Picture nominee The Heiress (1949). It isn’t one of his best roles, but it does show his ability to play something different. He also struggled with the script and his costar Olivia de Havilland, and in the end the movie comes off as a great Olivia de Havilland movie, but a weaker Clift movie.
After the release of The Big Lift (1950) and turning down Sunset Boulevard (1950), Clift took what would later become one of his two greatest performances, in A Place In The Sun. It was the first of three films he would make with one of his best friends, Elizabeth Taylor, and it is certainly the best of their three. It is a romantic movie about a young man (Clift) who loves the girl of his dreams (Taylor) from afar. He dates another woman (Shelly Winters), but once he gets the attention of Taylor he tries to leave Winters behind. Unfortunately for him, Winters has become pregnant and wants them to be married. A Place In The Sun is an acting driven movie that completely rest on the shoulders of Clift as the star, and he carries in through from start to finish. The research and “method” acting that Clift put into this performance have been talked about for years, and propelled Clift to one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. Director George Stevens tried to tell Clift how to play some scenes, but Clift eventually did it his own way and in the end Stevens agreed that Clift had been right. It is even said that when Clift was nominated for Best Actor for A Place In The Sun, Marlon Brando voted for Clift over himself in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Oddly enough, Clift had voted for Marlon Brando, who did eventually win.
Next Clift worked with Alfred Hitchcock on I Confess (1953) and with Vittorio De Sica on Indiscretion Of An American Wife. Neither film was a huge success, but it didn’t matter to Clift and his career because for his next film he reteamed with director Fred Zinnemann and made the highly acclaimed and profitable From Here To Eternity (1953). It is another outstanding performance that is filled with pain and suffering on the part of Clift. He is the main character, but with an all-star cast it is hard to give him credit for carrying this film. He was nominated for Best Actor for the third time in the last six years, but once again lost, this time to William Holden in Stalag 17 (1953). This was however the only one of his movies to ever win Best Picture.
During the filming of his next movie, Raintree County (1957), he was in a horrific car accident that changed his life for the worst. His image as an American sex symbol changed, and he became severely addicted to painkillers and alcohol. He continued to make films over the next nine years, including some high points in movies like Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), The Misfits (1961) and Judgment At Nuremberg (1961), for which he was again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, even though he was only in 12 minutes of the movie.
On July 22nd 1966, Montgomery Clift died in his townhouse in New York. Officially he died from a heart attack due to “occlusive coronary artery disease.” At the time he was 46 years old, and if he could have found a way to survive in this world, today would have been his 92nd birthday.Back to Home for More Reviews