Nationality: American. Born: Edward Montgomery Clift in Omaha, Nebraska, 17 October 1920. Career: 1933–34—first stage experience for amateur theatrical group in Sarasota, Florida; 1935—Broadway debut in Fly Away Home; 1942—joined the Group Theater in New York; 1945—first starring role on Broadway in Foxhole in the Parlor; 1947—co-founder, Actors Studio in New York; 1948—release of first two films Red River and The Search; three-film contract with Paramount; 1949—refusal of role in Sunset Boulevard resulted in cancellation of contract by Paramount; 1953—starring role on Broadway in The Sea Gull; 1956—three-film contract with MGM; 1957—face permanently scarred as a result of automobile accident; 1960s—progressive emotional and physical decline. Died: In New York City, 23 July 1966.
Films as Actor:
The Search (Zinnemann) (as Ralph Stevenson); Red River (Hawks) (as Matthew Garth)
The Heiress (Wyler) (as Morris Townsend)
The Big Lift (Seaton) (as Danny MacCullough)
A Place in the Sun (Stevens) (as George Eastman)
I Confess (Hitchcock) (as Father Michael William Logan); From Here to Eternity (Zinnemann) (as Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt); Stazione termini (Indiscretion of an American Wife; Terminal Station; Indiscretion) (de Sica) (as Giovanni Doria)
Raintree County (Dmytryk) (as John Wickliff Shawnessy)
The Young Lions (Dmytryk) (as Noah Ackerman); Lonelyhearts (Donehue) (as Adam White)
Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Dr. John Cukrowicz)
Wild River (Kazan) (as Chuck Glover)
The Misfits (Huston) (as Perce Howland); Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer) (as Rudolph Petersen)
Freud (Freud—The Secret Passion) (Huston) (as Sigmond Freud)
The Defector (L'Espion; Lautlose Waffen) (Levy) (as Prof. James Bower)
On CLIFT: books—
Huston, John, An Open Book, New York, 1972.
LaGuardia, Robert, Monty: A Biography of Montgomery Clift, New York, 1977.
Bosworth, Patricia, Montgomery Clift: A Biography, New York, 1978.
Kass, Judith, The Films of Montgomery Clift, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1981.
Fernandez, Lluis, Monty Clift: Pasion Secreta, Barcelona, 1989.
Hoskyns, Barney, Montgomery Clift: Beautiful Loser, London, 1991.
McCann, Graham, Rebel Males: Clift, Brando, and Dean, London, 1991.
Parker, John, Five for Hollywood, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1991.
Kalfatovic, Mary C., Montgomery Clift: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, Connecticut, 1994.
Leonard, Maurice, Montgomery Clift, London, 1997.
On CLIFT: articles—
Hamilton, J., "Montgomery Clift," in Look (New York), July 1949.
Current Biography 1954, New York, 1954.
Cole, C., "Eyes that Say More than Words," in Films and Filming (London), September 1956.
Obituary in New York Times, 24 July 1966.
Zinnemann, Fred, "Montgomery Clift," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1966.
Roman, Robert C., "Montgomery Clift," in Films in Review (New York), November 1966.
Gow, Gordon, "Closer to Life," in Films and Filming (London), April 1975.
Bosworth, Patricia, "Montgomery Clift: First of a New Breed," in Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book, edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
"Montgomery Clift," in Ecran (Paris), March 1978.
Reed, Rex, "Montgomery Clift," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Lippe, Richard, "Montgomery Clift: A Critical Disturbance," in CineAction! (Toronto), no. 17, 1989.
Purtell, Tim, "No Place in the Sun," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 23 July 1993.
"Montgomery Clift," Stars (London), no. 27, 1996.
Chase, D. "Watershed," Film Comment (New York), no. 32, November/December 1996.
* * *
Among the 17 films that Montgomery Clift appeared in, it is impossible to point to any one role as "defining" Clift's image on screen, in the way that A Streetcar Named Desire and Rebel without a Cause established Brando's and James Dean's personalities in the public's mind. Yet Clift was one of the first actors of his generation to capture the attention of moviegoing audiences with performances that were sensitive, complex, and deeply introspective in nature. The combination of intensity and vulnerability that he brought to his characters—qualities magnified in later years by the car accident that destroyed his matinee-idol good looks and compounded the problems of an already troubled personality—was unique in 1948, when Clift was catapulted to stardom by the release of his first two films, The Search (for which he received an Oscar nomination) and Red River.
Red River in particular represents an important juncture in film history, pairing Clift with John Wayne in a genre usually defined by its rigid codes of male behavior. The central conflict in Howard Hawks's film, however, is between Wayne's brand of brutal, bullying masculinity and Clift's quiet blend of toughness and compassion. Theirs is a clash of reason and brute strength, and although their reconciliation takes the form of a violent physical confrontation, the role of Matthew Garth clearly presents Clift as an alternative to the rugged, unyielding protagonists of traditional Westerns. It was a part that heralded a shift in the characteristics that would define screen heroes in the decade to come.
Clift portrayed another man challenging stereotypical views of masculinity—this time in the U.S. military—in From Here to Eternity. As Prewitt, the bugler and former boxer who silently stands up to the harassment of his fellow soldiers when he refuses to reenter the ring after blinding a man, Clift gives one of his strongest performances. In the role that brought him his third Oscar nomination (the second was for A Place in the Sun), he conveys both the courage and the inner torment of a man whose unshakable moral convictions form the heart of his sense of self-worth, yet cause him to be labeled a coward. The complexity that Clift brings to the character is a trait that marks his work as a whole, charging his performances with an underlying pain that few actors of his day dared to reveal.
These qualities were a central part of Clift's relationships with women in films. Clift never overwhelms women in the manner of Gable or Flynn but attracts them instead with an almost hypnotic emotional power that often seems to arise from some deep inner need. This is especially true of his films with Elizabeth Taylor, whose dark beauty made her an ideal physical match for Clift on the screen. In both A Place in the Sun and Raintree County, the similarity between the two is so striking that they might almost be brother and sister, and there is an erotic tension in their work together that reaches its climax in the former film's extraordinary close-ups of the couple's romantic scenes. Clift's vulnerability is also a factor in his relationship with Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity and, on a platonic level, in the understanding and friendship between his character and that of Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits.
The tension and internal conflict in Clift's screen persona form the basis for his portrayals of the priest in Hitchcock's I Confess and Noah Ackerman, the Jewish soldier battling anti-Semitism, in The Young Lions. Each man is placed at odds with society by his religious convictions, and Clift conveys the hidden pain of both Father Michael's struggle with his conscience and Ackerman's scrappy refusal to tolerate religious slurs. Clift's intensity took on an increasingly unsettling quality in the films following his accident (which occurred during the filming of Raintree County), and in Suddenly Last Summer, The Misfits, and Freud, in which he played the title role, there is a tightly wound, neurotic edge to the characters that is both compelling and disturbing. In Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg this quality reaches its peak in Clift's brief supporting role as a mildly retarded man testifying against Nazi war criminals. It is a riveting performance, jarringly real and often painful to watch, and it brought Clift his fourth Academy Award nomination. It is this sense of emotional risk-taking that makes Clift a magnetic presence in even his less effective roles and which places his best work next to that of the finest actors of his generation.
With the recent revelation of the fact of Clift's bisexuality, one is able to see more into the correlation between his star personality (that of vulnerability, sensitivity, and almost effeminate masculinity closer to androgyny) and the real-life Clift (whose swinging sexuality and unsettling dissatisfaction throughout life mirrors and projects a troubled soul onto the big screen). Clift's own claim regarding this uncertainty in him reveals more than a touch of stubbornness and pride: "I don't want to be labeled as either a pansy or a heterosexual. Labeling is so self-limiting" (quoted by Graham McCann in Rebel Males). Throughout Clift's career, one sees a wide range of roles played, each of them nothing short of constant erotic tensions coming not only from the dramatic characters or his acting but also from a lifelong felt and lived conflict of an unsettled sexuality.
—Janet E. Lorenz, updated by Guo-Juin Hong