Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Montgomery Clift Blog-a-thon: The First Time I Fell in Love With Monty

Sure, the first time I saw a Monty Clift movie (1951's A Place in the Sun) I wasn't so impressed. I don't know if it's because I didn't understand Clift as an actor yet or I just couldn't get over how God-awful that film is, but, suffice to say, we didn't get off on the right foot. I wasn't until a while later when I saw, of all films, Fred Zinnemann's post-WWII Berlin film The Search, that I understood what all the fuss was about.

The film is a merely standard Hollywood outing- a WWII Czech orphan is taken in by an American private Berlin and eventually he starts growing attached to the boy- that makes me gag just thinking about it. But there's something about this film that works and it's all Monty. Steve Stevenson is far from the juiciest role Clift's ever gotten, but the magic is in the chemistry he creates with the little boy Karel (played by non-actor Ivan Jandl). He grows so attached to Karel that he takes him everywhere with him, teaches him English and even fights to be allowed to take him back to America with him. Monty gives such an emotional performance that it's hard to not be a little sad for him at the ending when circumstances prevent him from bringing Karel back with him (I'm not going to give away the ending if you haven't seen it ;) ).

If I had been allowed to vote at the 1948 Oscars, Clift would have won hands down for this performance. Sure, the ultimate winner Laurence Olivier (in Hamlet no less) is a fine choice, but I think Clift had the biggest challenge-- turning the cliched into something beautiful. He doesn't even get upstaged by Jandl, who, as most child actors are, notorious scene stealers.

I don't care what anyone says because The Search will always be the movie I think of when I think of Monty Clift. Perhaps he has given better performances in From Here to Eternity, The Heiress and Wild River, but there's something haunting in this film that I will never forget.

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