Happy Birthday, Monty

One of the greatest actors of his generation, Montgomery Clift – beautiful and broken, the mould of the leading actor would never look the same again:

Before James Dean and (just) before Brando hit the screens, Monty was already smoldering away at the edges of conventional depictions of masculinity with his deeply affecting portrayals delivered in a style of quiet intensity that would visibly shake him and bring out beads of sweat from both his and the viewers brow… (see the scene in A Place in the Sun where the effort, the painful, painful effort of kissing Elizabeth Taylor makes for visible perspiration):

After a horrific car crash (leaving a party at Elizabeth Taylor’s house) that left him disfigured, Monty became increasingly dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs – a condition that spelled ruin for his career when, in 1962, a disgruntled John Huston effectively ended Clift’s career after his unreliable on-set behaviour became too much for Huston to bear. Following Huston’s Freud, Monty never found an insurance company that would be willing to cover him for a film again. He died in 1966, aged just 45.

Recommended viewing:

A Place In The Sun (1951) – directed by George Stevens (East of Eden, Shane), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Shelly Winters (Lolita). Clift was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Confessions of an American Wife (1953) – directed by Vittorio de Sica (Bicycle Thieves), co-starring Jennifer Jones (Duel in the Sun).

From Here To Eternity (1953) – directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), co-starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr but Frank Sinatra. Clift was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Suddenly Last Summer (1959) – directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn. Based on the play by Tennessee Williams.

The Misfits (1961) – directed by John Huston, co-starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Thelma Ritter. This was to be both Marilyn and Clark Gable’s final film.

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) – directed by Stanley Kramer (Inherit the Wind, Defiant Ones) – co-starring Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell. Clift was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Freud (1962)  – directed by John Huston. This was to be Clift’s last film in America – he made only one film after this, before dying in 1966, black-listed by Huston; unable to find an insurance company willing to cover him.

Video City A-Z of Film – Staff Picks: A is for… (Pt.3)


A is for Amadeus (1984) – Directed by Milos Forman

 Mozart, but not as you’d expect.


The film centres on a retelling of Mozart’s time in Vienna by his contemporary Antonio Salieri. An accomplished yet restricted composer, the film investigates (a highly fictionalised version of) his struggle with glaring exposure to Mozart’s genius in all its fantastic and boorish reality.

Highly entertaining, the film does for Mozart what Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet  did for Shakespeare, without being so irritatingly wet. Having said that, Tom Hulce’s laugh will be ringing in your ears for days.


A is for The African Queen (1951) – Directed by John Huston

The African Queen has everything. Directed by cinema-behemoth John Huston (Asphalt Jungle, The Misfits) it stars the perfectly matched odd couple, rough and ready Humphrey Bogart and the potently prissy Katharine Hepburn. The plot revolves around Rose Sayer (Hepburn), a christian missionary, having to make a difficult river journey through German occupied east Africa with only small boat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart) for company. This film has laughs, tears, romance, high adventure, and some of the most brilliant cast chemistry you could hope to see in film.

An interview with Anjelica Huston, talking about the shooting of The African Queen: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/may/11/anjelica-john-huston-african-queen

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7cWpLd1-dc



A is for The Apple (1998) – Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf

This semi-documentary – Samira Makhmalbaf’s first film, made when she was only 17 – tells the true story of a pair of 11 year-old twin sisters who have been kept imprisoned for years by their impoverished father and blind mother.

When concerned neighbours write-up a petition and send it to social services, the family are summoned and the girls examined; whilst the twins are physically healthy, they are severely mentally impaired due, it would seem, to their totally lack of social interaction. The father is ordered to release the girls, to which he protests that he keeps them locked up for their own good: whilst he is away at work, local boys climb over his walls – he is trying to protect the honour of his girls.

As the girls are set free, in turn imprisoning their father in the cell in which they were once kept, they roam the city, encountering strangers and making friends for the first time.

The apple, a symbol of consciousness and social knowledge, is a motif that crops up throughout the film, whether it be as the girls’ most favoured treat, which at one point, having dropped, one of them grasps to reach from between the bars, or as in the last scene when, her husband locked away and her daughters who knows where, the blind mother leaves the home herself, perhaps for the first time in years, and encounters a schoolboy’s prank – an apple that he is dangled out of a window by a string. At first she merely bumps into it, unsure what it is, she grasps for it and eventually catches it, clasping the apple in her hand.

It is hard not to read the film as a clever  metaphor for the position of women in Iranian society (clever, because, such public dissent must be formed cautiously), a metaphor in which women are prisoners of the socio-political order that is the Islamic republic. The film indicates (as does Makhmalbaf’s later film, At Five in the Afternoon) that only through the liberation of their consciousness will women be able to stand up against the beatings inflicted to their bodies and minds by the iron arm of tradition.

The Apple, like Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, weaves a poetic story in which it is unclear which parts are fact and which fiction. In both cases, this bittersweet disorientation is heighten by the use, not only of non-professional actors, but of the actual people involved in the true story playing themselves. Their lives are, quite literally, being played out before our eyes, giving the viewer not only an extraordinary sense of privilege, but also of discomfort in the face of the conflict between the consciousness of our privilege, our guilt in the face of this privilege and of the poignancy of the story which, ultimately, moves us to enjoyment.

Interview with Samira Makhmalbaf on her film At Five in the Afternoon: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/apr/03/features.weekend

and: http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/57

Interview on her film Blackboards: http://www.indiewire.com/article/interview_samira_makhmalbaf_paints_it_blackboards

Recent Additions (Films We Should Have Had Before But Didn’t):

Freud (1962)

Montgomery Clift stars as Freud in John Huston’s troubled, but excellent, production which chronicles 5 years in the life of the man who has so much to answer for…

Universal Studios sued Clift for causing the film to go over-budget due to his erratic behaviour brought on by his post-crash drink and drug problems and the screenplay was originally written by Jean-Paul Sartre (a fervant anti-Freudian)but, after a fall-out with Huston, he removed himself (and his name) from the project.

The great Montgomery Clift, the first, and perhaps best, of the ‘new generation’ of actors who explored a fragile masculinity so different from what Hollywood had ever before – or indeed since – seemed comfortable with, was black-listed and made only one more film before his death in 1966.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEhnr_HfbIU

Other Monty Clift films well worth watching:

Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953) Directed by Vittorio de Sica, screenplay by Truman Capote

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpTsP-2yvKw

The Misfits (1961) Directed by John Huston, screenplay by Arthur Miller

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EckvMsLsfBM

A Place in the Sun (1951) Directed by George Stevens

– featuring Elizabeth Taylor’s first ever kiss (on-screen and off)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fm6sa_L5_4

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) Directed by Stanley Kramer

– surely one of the most powerful Hollywood films of all time, and with some of the best performances to boot.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwPb8HXvigk