The prototype for the handsome, brooding leading man later embodied by James Dean and Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift’s sensitive and soulful screen persona redefined masculinity in the 1950s and brought method acting into vogue. Though his tragic career—marked by a disfiguring car accident, struggle with alcoholism, and untimely death at age 45—has become the stuff of Hollywood legend, Clift’s stunningly modern, emotionally layered performances only resonate more with time.
Star-struck James Dean would call up Montgomery Clift just to hear the sound of his voice. Watching dailies of The Misfits (1961), co-star Clark Gable offered this praise: "That faggot is a hell of an actor!" Of the 17 films Clift made, BAM's retrospective—its title taken from the Clash's waggish Monty ode, "The Right Profile"—includes six pre-accident movies and five made after May 12, 1956, the night he smashed his car after leaving a dinner party hosted by friend and three-time co-star Elizabeth Taylor. One of the most beautiful, in-demand faces in the world became partially immobile; acting teacher Robert Lewis called the 10 years that Clift lived and worked post-crash the "longest suicide in Hollywood history." But both before and after disfigurement, Clift's cautious, slow-burning, and slightly stoop-shouldered heroes offered new ways of being a man.
Through March 25,
BAMcinématek (America's oldest continuously operating performing arts center) will pay tribute to the late actor who was a sort of precursor to the likes of Marlon Brando. Screenings throughout the event include Thursday's "The Heiress."
Tickets are $12; call 718-636-4100 or visit www.bam.org for more details.
Talk about one of the most underrated legitimate Hollywood legends. What's your favorite Monty film?