MARDI GRAS FILM FESTIVAL | review: Making Montgomery Clift

It has to be said. Along with James and Marilyn and River and Heath, Monty  Clift died too young, earning himself legendary status before he’d actually worked long enough to produce a body of work to earn it.

So it’s unfair that in death he – and the others – must bear that weight.

Fact is, he – and the others – were on their way to achieving greatness without speeding it up with an untimely demise. 

He was his own man and didn’t want to be owned. Freedom was his fetish.

ROBERT ANDERSON CLIFT, nephew and presenter

This doco is presented by his nephew, Robert  Anderson  Clift, who’s also had to bear the weight of his uncle’s legacy.

NEPHEW: Robert Anderson Clift, presenter.

NEPHEW: Robert Anderson Clift, presenter.

But he’s close enough to the main players, and the main player, to be able to piece together a film with rare analysis and insight into well-trod territory.

What emerges is a complex picture of a young actor refusing to be pushed or moulded or forced to become the property of someone, or some studio.

“He was his own man and didn’t want to be owned,” Clift's nephew says. “Freedom was his fetish.”

I’m willing to gamble on my own taste.


He also paid a high price for it, long before it was de rigeur for Hollywood stars to hold their own places in the system, as writers, producers, directors as well as bankable stars. That didn’t happen until well into the ’80s or ‘90s. And even today it’s hard. Even if you’re Fonda, or Redford, or Eastwood, or Lange, or Field, or Sarandon, who all have their own production companies, as so many now do.

So Monty refused to be tied to a studio and guaranteed work. He knocked back the standard seven-year studio contract. “I’m willing to gamble on my own taste,” he proclaimed to a stunned bunch of Hollywood moguls. 

And gamble he did. And, let’s face it, he gambled and lost.

If a man don’t go his own way, he is nothing.

MONTGOMERY CLIFT as Robert E. Lee Prewitt in From Here to Eternity (1953)

He turned down offers of roles in Mrs Miniver (William  Wyler wanted him for Greer  Garson’s son), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Sunset Boulevard (a role was developed especially for him), East of Eden (we know where that went), On the Waterfront and Bridge on the River Kwai.

In one year alone he turned down 14 roles. Did Monty really know what he was doing?

But in another way, Clift junior postulates, his separation from the Hollywood machine paid off. Monty brought something to the image of masculinity on screen that was sorely lacking in Hollywood. In scene after scene after scene, he was gentle, vulnerable, unafraid of emotions.

The sadness of our existence should not leave us blunted, on the contrary – how to remain thin-skinned, vulnerable and stay alive?


He never made a secret of being gay. Others in Hollywood desperately tried to hide Monty’s homosexuality.

There are many valuable contributions to this doco, most especially from Clift’s one-time lover and partner, the late Jack  Larson (Jimmy Olsen on TV’s original Superman).

Well worth watching, as an antidote to the profoundly insipid tabloid output that has over time almost succeeded in reducing Clift to a Freudian cliché.

  • Now screening as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival. Details here.
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