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 that followed Clift’s death a picture was painted of a man struggling with his sexuality, addicted to 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. His arrival on film at the age of 25 opposite John Wayne in 1948s Red River, cemented his movie career and leading man status. Opposite the toxic masculinity of Wayne. Clift’s nuanced performance and ability to cut through masculine stereotypes of the period, proved his ability to lead and transform the role of men on screen; a pioneer 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. He refused to sign up to one studio. Creating single picture contracts for films that in many ways rewrote the relationship between the actor and the studio; creating our modern system of production. 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 context and truth around the rumour and speculation that has surrounded Clift’s mental health and life. Achieving a truly heart felt documentary feature that shows reverence for the man, his work and his legacy.

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, and the public appetite to attach scandal and controversy to 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 the system and its structures. Clift’s sexuality was widely known, and he never tried to cover 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. Dying young, River’s career and life would also be subject to rumour, speculation and intrusive analysis of ‘why things went so wrong’. Showing that the public desire to build meaning and internal conflict into public figures on their death is still darkly rife in media and film.

Making Montgomery Clift does not attempt to completely reverse previous analysis of Clift’s life. For example it freely explores the effects a near fatal car accident had on his drinking and use of prescription drugs. But it balances this with a picture of man passionate about life, art and the role of film in challenging social structures. While also challenging the institutional barriers of homophobia in a Hollywood system that still struggles to fully accept leading men who are gay or bisexual.

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