Making Montgomery Clift – Review

On the 23rd July 1966 Montgomery Clift died of heart failure at his New York apartment aged 45. Leaving behind a legacy of world class film and theatre that pushed the boundaries of masculinity on screen. In the years following Clift’s death, a picture was painted of a man struggling with his sexuality, drink and drugs; a tragic character who never fit the mould of the Hollywood system.

With this brand new documentary feature. Clift’s youngest nephew Robert Anderson Clift and Hillary Demmon explore the rich family archive of Clift’s life and career. Challenging the assumptions and biographies that painted Montgomery as a tragic Hollywood star.

Montgomery Clift began his career in theatre as a child actor, building a diverse portfolio of roles. Turning down many early offers from the Hollywood studio system to bring his talents to the screen. With his eventual arrival on film at the age of 25. Starring opposite John Wayne in 1948s Red River. A movie that cemented his movie career and leading man status. With his gentle and emotive performance, classing opposite the toxic masculinity of Wayne. In fact this trademark ability to cut through masculine stereotypes of the period. Not only endeared him to a film going public. But also proved his ability to lead and transform the role of men on screen. With Montgomery pioneering much of the method acting genre, that would continue with Marlon Brando and James Dean.

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Clift was also a pioneer in challenging the studio system of filmmaking and contracts. Where he refused to sign up to one studio as so many leading men did in the golden age of Hollywood. In turn creating single picture contracts for films. A move begun to rewrite the relationship between the actor and the studio; helping to create the modern system of production. While Clift also passionately involved himself in the script writing process. Bringing years of theatrical experience on stage into the world of film production. Clift often edited a script, ensuring the dialogue matched the motivations of his character. This approach was a challenge to a studio system of constrained delivery, where directors carried power over their lead actors. Ushering in a more liberated approach to character development and actor intuition.

Clift’s body of work is testament to the creative force of the man. So why did his legacy descend into apparent tragedy?

Making Montgomery Clift aims to place both context and truth around the rumour and speculation that surrounded Clift’s mental health and life. Ultimately achieving a truly heart felt documentary feature. That not only demonstrates reverence for the man and his work. But also allows for an honest exploration of the rumours surrounding his life and death.

Using an extensive collection of tapes, home video and written materials collected by Clift’s brother. This is a documentary feature that speaks to the challenges of institutionalised homophobia within the Hollywood system. While also exploring and the public appetite to attach scandal and controversy to the celebrities they place on pedestals.

Dispelling wider speculation, Making Montgomery Clift portrays a man comfortable in his sexual orientation. A man who chose to sit outside the Hollywood entrapments of fame and celebrity. Challenging both the system and its structures. While equally demonstrating that Clift’s sexuality was widely known. With no attempt to ever cover up the relationships he had with the men, or women he encountered. Unlike many of his counterparts in the Hollywood system. Perceptions of his difficult nature on set where perpetuated by his creative force in challenging the filmmaking process. Something many directors struggled to accept alongside his open challenge of the male archetype in film.

Red River (1948)

There are fascinating parallels to modern contemporary figures in film such as River Phoenix. Who also challenged the stereotypes of masculinity on screen. His life, death and career also subject to rumour, speculation and intrusive analysis of ‘why things went so wrong’. Demonstrating that the public desire to build meaning and internal conflict into public figures on their death is still darkly rife in media and film.

Equally Making Montgomery Clift does not attempt to completely reverse previous analysis of Clift’s life. For example, it freely explores the effects of a near fatal car accident on his drinking and use of prescription drugs. But also balances this with a portrait of a man passionate about life, art and film. However, at its heart the documentary also asks deep and meaningful questions on the institutional barriers of homophobia and biphobia in the Hollywood system. Asking us all the reflect on why leading men and women still struggle to ‘come out’ and be accepted.

Making Montgomery Clift is beautiful exploration of a true creative force. One who challenged the Hollywood system and the wider public obsession with attaching tragedy to stars. Offering a fresh vision on a life lived in the public eye. Alongside the private and public passions and emotions that created a Hollywood legend.

Country: USA 🇺🇸

Directors: Robert Anderson Clift and Hillary Demmon


  1. Janet Baker

    I remember Montgomery Clift, but really knew very little about him, Brilliant , and very informative review, thanks Neil.

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