Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Montgomery Clift - London screenings & rarities

Montgomery is being celebrated this February as the BFI Southbank in London screen a season of his films. There are only 17, but the BFI in its wisdom is only screening 12 - the most well known ones:
So they are ignoring THE BIG LIFT, the De Sica one with Jennifer Jones in '54 INDESCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE, LONELYHEARTS, JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG and his final, the odd THE DEFECTOR.

The rather dull 1950 THE BIG LIFT (about the Berlin Airlift) got a few screenings on our TCM recently, I had not seen it before; we hardly ever get to see the De Sica now, and LONELYHEARTS is such a rare move here I had not even heard of it for a long time, but as luck would have it I got a copy a while back and just watched it, its certainly a very peculiar film but Robert Ryan, Myrna Loy and Maureen Stapleton all deliver as Monty seems rather vacant, like he is in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, in those years after that car crash. I will now though finally see FREUD which should at least be interesting, even if Clift did not have a pleasant shooting experience with Huston here. THE DEFECTOR turned up on tv a few times over the years, but is hardly consequential, Monica Vitti was originally cast in the role played by Macha Meril. It is a pity he did not live to star in Huston's REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE which he was supposed to do, with Taylor again, but of course Brando replaced him ...
With Taylor during RAINTREE
by Bob Willoughby

It would be good though to see RAINTREE COUNTY (a key 1957 movie for me back then, when 11) and WILD RIVER again on the large screen ... Taylor and Remick are ideal co-stars for him, and I love that Kazan film, as per my other reviews on it here (Clift, Remick labels). Perhaps the new generation who may not have seen much of Clift will see Monty as part of that triumvirate of great American actors of the '50s, along with Brando and Dean, he is certainly as revered as they are ... and looked terrific in army outfits, which he wore quite a bit ...
WILD RIVER with Lee Remick

Hawks' RED RIVER, Stevens' A PLACE IN THE SUN and Zinnemann's FROM HERE TO ETERNITY are of course American classics, with Monty at his zenith. I CONFESS is a rather turgid Hitchcock but not without merit, and I used to be obsessed over THE MISFITS .... I like Wyler's THE HEIRESS a lot too, a key late '40s movie, and of course what can one say about SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER has hasn't been said already.... THE YOUNG LIONS is now a bit of a plod (as we follow Clift, Dean and Brando through WWII), and NUREMBURG is of course the all-star Kramer drama with special guest-star concentration camp victims (Monty and Judy Garland, both beyond compelling).  My pal Jerry is now going to lend me the Criterion issue of INDISCRETION (TERMINAL STATION) the 1954 De Sica, which has both the American (just 63 minutes after Selznick had finished with it) and longer Italian versions ...

The above is a thread of mine on the IMDB Classic Film Board, on the Clift season at the BFI in February. Monty has of course always been up there for me, with Dean and Monroe, and certainly more than Brando. The biographies on him are very revealing, not only about that car crash and his later dependancies, and also on that fascinating life cut short too early, at 45 in 1966.  I have now seen LONELYHEARTS and FREUD, so here are initiial comments on these: 
LONELYHEARTS: the book MISS LONELYHEARTS by Nathanael West is still of interest. This morning's newspaper carried this capsule review of it by writer Fay Weldon: "A black comedy but with nothing funny about it, a Depression (and depression) novel that is more apt today than ever, as a young (male) agony aunt takes on board the awfulness of life. Nothing changes. Once read, Miss Lonelyhearts is a book whic deserves to be rescued from its current obscurity". 
The film is more of the same, a downbeat tale, oddly paced, with long scenes of people just talking - Clift with Myrna Loy (who drinks a lot), her cynical husband newspaper editor Shrike (Robert Ryan at his brooding best as in Ophuls' CAUGHT, CLASH BY NIGHT or BILLY BUDD) who sets up would-be journalist Clift as the new Miss Lonelyhearts .... Monty is a tad too old for the part really and often has that dazed look he has in his next, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. These were his post-car accident years. Maureen Stapleton, in her debut, is powerful as the troubled woman who writes for advice, after seeing Clift with Ryan in a bar - she asks Ryan who Clift is and he tells her, so she knows who she is writing to. Would any advice columnist though set up a meeting with a person who writes for advice? This is a bad move as Stapleton's unhappy marriage to a crippled man leads to her take out her frustrations, including sexual, on the hapless Clift ..... an odd tale makes for an odd film, a Dore Schary production in 1958, directed by one Vincent J Donehue. One can see why it is has been so rarely seen since ... 

Also long unseen is John Huston's 1962 FREUD (it didnt get to London till '63 when I imagine it did not hang around long), which now comes across like a brooding drama where Clift at 42 delivers his last major role, he was suffering with eye catatacts and other problems here and it was a troubled shoot for him. Young Susannah York (before TOM JONES) is very impressive as the main case he works on, Susan Kohner has nothing to do as Mrs Freud, and Rosalie Crutchley is sterling as ever as his mother. It looks terrific in moody monochrome and all that black outfits and sets recall the later THE ELEPHANT MAN. This is another story of medical people and hospitals.  

This pseudo-biographical movie depicts 5 years from 1885 on in the life of the Viennan psychologist Freud (1856-1939). At this time, most of his colleagues refuse to cure hysteric patients, because they believe they're just simulating to gain attention. But Freud learns to use hypnosis to find out the reasons for the psychosis. His main patient is a young woman who refuses to drink water and is plagued by always the same nightmare.
It is of course the usual story of a girl loving her father too much, and the sexual hysteria of the time is nicely evoked, with its brothels and repression. An odd choice for Huston who was having a good run then in 1962 with popular well-regarded films we liked a lot (HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON, THE UNFORGIVEN, THE MISFITS, he went on to THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA among others). Photograhed by Douglas Slocombe, with a soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith. Monty delivers a passionate, involving portrait in an ambitious biopic which Huston (who also narrates) described as an "intellectual suspense story". It seems Jean-Paul Sartre worked uncredited on the screenplay. It is not a standard biopic of Freud but concentrates on his work in examining the effect of the subconscious mind on conscious actions - an idea believed preposterous at the time. The film uses memories and dreams (like Freud's with his mother) to arrive at the truth. The version I have runs to 140 minutes, but the BFI's brochures lists a 2 hour running time, there may be various versions around, I understand a lot of the dream sequences were cut to shorten the rather long running time. A fascinating curio now, and a companion piece to Huston's film on Toulouse-Lautrec and the MOULIN ROUGE of that same era. LONELYHEARTS and FREUD are both very verbose films with the actors having to recite reams of dialogue to each other ... I wonder if FREUD was titled FREUD: THE SECRET PASSION to make it seem more risque?


  1. Yes, FREUD is actually quite an intriguing work in the Huston oeuvre; it is one of his major works, in spite of the problems involved in the production, which included Huston's unbridled hostility towards Clift. Here, Clift is clearly working very seriously on giving an imaginative performance, and Susannah York is marvellous. An important film, then, that does not deserve its current obscurity, and one to rank alongside such other underrated works as REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH,

  2. Yes, FREUD seems a much more sombre biopic than those made today. I have not seen LINCOLN yet, it has only just opened here, but it will be interesting to compare Spielberg's film with Huston's, or that other recent take on Freud - Cronenberg's A DANGEROUS METHOD with Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund.