Tag Archives: Montgomery Clift

Lonelyhearts (1958, Vincent J. Donehue)

The most frustrating thing about Lonelyhearts is Donehue’s direction. While not a television production, Donehue directs it like one. He’ll have these shots of star Montgomery Clift baring his soul to girlfriend Dolores Hart and Donehue will stick with Clift, no reaction shot on Hart much less letting her hear the whole thing. Of course, less reaction shots in Lonelyhearts isn’t a bad thing. Donehue shoots them terribly. The first scene has one, while Clift is sitting in a booth with Myrna Loy and Robert Ryan and cuts from the three shot to a medium shot of Clift in his seat… obviously alone at the table. Coverage isn’t Donehue’s strong suit. Nothing is Donehue’s strong suit.

Lonelyhearts is based on a novel and a play, but producer and writer Dore Schary’s screenplay seems to favor the play. Unless the Robert Ryan character spoke in incessant monologue in the novel too. Not to complain about Ryan, who kind of gives the film’s best performance as a cruel newspaper editor who enjoys torturing his discontented staff almost as much as he likes torturing suffering wife Loy. She cheated on him once ten years ago, as a response to his multiple affairs, and has been waiting for him to forgive her since.

Yeah, Lonelyhearts has a lot of misogyny issues, even when it tries not to have them. While Ryan’s not a good guy because his cruelty, Loy’s only sympathetic because so she’s so contrite (and has been for so long).

Ryan gives the best performance throughout–he’s incredibly believable in his cynicism and loathing and self-loathing–and occasionally steals scenes from Clift. Only Ryan and Clift are guaranteed close-ups. They’re not the two top-billed for nothing. But once Clift’s story gets going and he starts collapsing in on himself, once he gets to make that self-loathing Ryan wants to engender in him physical, Clift’s got some great scenes. But he’s also got a somewhat crappy part.

Clift’s a young man with gumption (clearly not playing his thirty-eight years) who gets stuck writing the advice column because Ryan thinks he’s an idealist and Ryan likes breaking idealists. Clift’s also attractive and nice to Loy, so it gives Ryan a chance to be cruel to her about something else. Hart–Clift’s girlfriend and de facto fiancée–is twenty. Clift looks too old for her as the movie starts and he always looks older than her, but once he starts getting broken down, it’s like it takes the years off him.

The first half of the movie is everyone telling Clift he cares too much about the people writing to the advice column. It’s most effective when it’s Hart telling him he’s too empathetic because it just seems like Clift’s life is lose-lose. Then we find out he’s an orphan, then we find out he’s not really an orphan, his dad (Onslow Stevens) is just in jail for killing his mom for she cheating on him. The scene with Clift and Stevens facing off ought to be a lot better. It’s poorly directed and paced, but at that moment Clift looks way too old for the scene, even though Stevens actually is old enough to be his father.

Lonelyhearts has some terribly bland lighting from John Alton. It’s visually tedious, with these occasional moments when–somehow–Donehue manages to hold the shot on Clift or Ryan and get something good. Then it’ll cut away and Alton won’t match the lighting. But still, the actors are there to work. So it’s really unfortunate Loy gets squat and poorly directed squat at that. And it’s even more unfortunate Hart gets the “faithful girlfriend” role, only for Donehue to avoid her during her character development scenes, and her most frequent costars–Frank Overton (two years Clift’s senior) as her dad, Don and Johnny Washbrook as her brothers–give shockingly inept performances. Particularly bad writing for them as well. Schary’s not comfortable with silences, but he also doesn’t write background chatter well.

And the film’s use of sound effects to suggest they’re not shooting on a sound stage or an empty bar set? Inept. If Lonelyhearts were a television production upgraded to feature, it’d have some excuses. But as a feature made with television production standards? It’s got none.

The real drama in the film involves Maureen Stapleton and Frnak Maxwell. She writes to the column, devastated about the state of her marriage to handicapped Maxwell. Clift feels sympathy for her. Ryan says she’s a tramp wife on the make and demands he meet her in person. Things get complicated.

All Lonelyhearts needs is better direction. The script, albeit problematic, is more than passable–it doesn’t seem likely a film of its era would be able to get rid of the undercurrent of passive misogyny, given the subject matter–maybe some awareness of it would be nice. Though Hart getting a reasonable character arc and Clift or Ryan showing some real self-awareness instead of just implied future self-awareness would do a lot too. But Donehue’s direction sinks it.

The film starts low and claws its way up through its stagy production, poor technical efforts, wonky screenplay, all thanks to the cast. Ryan’s outstanding, Clift’s is occasionally but usually excellent. Both Stapleton and Maxwell have great moments; it’s unfortunate higher billed Hart and Loy don’t get the same courtesy.

A real musical score might’ve helped too. Conrad Salinger’s credited with one but it’s beyond sparse.

For having so many problems, Lonelyhearts is a kind of achievement. Acting-wise, anyway.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent J. Donehue; screenplay by Dore Schary, based on a play by Howard Teichmann and a novel by Nathanael West; director of photography, John Alton; edited by John Faure and Aaron Stell; music by Conrad Salinger; produced by Schary; released by United Artists.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Adam White), Robert Ryan (William Shrike), Myrna Loy (Florence Shrike), Dolores Hart (Justy Sargeant), Maureen Stapleton (Fay Doyle), Frank Maxwell (Pat Doyle), Frank Overton (Mr. Sargeant), Jackie Coogan (Ned Gates), Mike Kellin (Frank Goldsmith), and Onslow Stevens (Mr. Lassiter).


THIS POST IS PART OF FROM THE STARS TO A STAR: CELEBRATING DOLORES HART HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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Wild River (1960, Elia Kazan)

Director Kazan opens Wild River with newsreel footage of the Tennessee River at flood. The film is set in the 1930s, something else the newsreel footage establishes. Kazan and screenwriter Paul Osborn spend the least amount of time possible setting up the film. The newsreel takes care of setting, when lead Montgomery Clift starts his new job, he talks to his secretary, taking care of ground situation. River’s quick start lets Kazan fill every minute of the film.

The Tennessee River floods and the dam Clift’s federal employee is in town to build are barely subplots by the end of the film. They’re details, because it turns out–even though the ground situation’s established–River is more about what happens after Clift decides to poke around in it (since he’s new). That poking around leads to Clift meeting Lee Remick and Wild River is really their relationship and how it affects, and is affected, by the events occurring around them.

There are subplots with Remick and Jo Van Fleet (as her grandmother, who won’t leave her land), Van Fleet and Clift and then Clift and his forced desegregation of the town. Osborn and Kazan never force anything dramatically; the film has a very specific setting, geographic and in time. What could be melodramatic shortcuts are instead sublime, sometimes painful details.

The acting’s amazing–Clift, Remick, Van Fleet. Remick’s probably the best.

Ellsworth Fredericks’s photography and Kenyon Hopkins’s music also exceptional. And Kazan nails every shot.

Wild River is superior.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Paul Osborn, based on novels by William Bradford Huie and Borden Deal; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by William Reynolds; music by Kenyon Hopkins; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Chuck Glover), Lee Remick (Carol Garth Baldwin), Jo Van Fleet (Ella Garth), Albert Salmi (Hank Bailey), Robert Earl Jones (Sam Johnson), Jay C. Flippen (Hamilton Garth), James Westerfield (Cal Garth), Big Jeff Bess (Joe John Garth), Judy Harris (Barbara Baldwin), Barbara Loden (Betty Jackson) and Frank Overton (Walter Clark).


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I Confess (1953, Alfred Hitchcock)

I Confess is unwieldy.

Director Hitchcock is extremely precise in his composition, the same goes for Robert Burks' photography (especially the photography) and Rudi Fehr's editing (which changes in harshness based on the story's tone); sure, Dimitri Tiomkin's music is all over the place and intrusive, but it fits the script. George Tabori and William Archibald's ties together three very different stories–Confess is from a play, which explains some of the problems–but the end result is a disservice to the fine production values and some wonderful acting.

Besides the disjointed nature of the narrative, which keeps a big secret from the audience for the first fifteen minutes for a pointless surprise. The film never recovers from it, right up until the last scene.

Hitchock just has too many MacGuffins–is Confess about priest Montgomery Clift's struggle to cope with evil rectory worker O.E. Hasse's confession, is it about Clift's struggle to figure things out with pre-vows love Anne Baxter, is it about Clift trying to evade bulldog (but inept) police inspector Karl Malden's investigation? No, it's about all three and none at all.

Clift is phenomenal in the film, even though he only has a handful of full scenes. Hitchcock seems more comfortable having him silently react to events; Clift's great at such reactions, he's just capable of a lot more.

Instead, Hitchcock gives Baxter some big dialogue scenes and she nails them.

Thanks to the script, I Confess wastes its potential (Clift, Baxter, the gorgeous Canadian locations and everything else).

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by George Tabori and William Archibald, based on a play by Paul Anthelme; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by Sidney Bernstein and Hitchcock; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Father Michael Logan), Anne Baxter (Ruth Grandfort), Karl Malden (Inspector Larrue), Brian Aherne (Willy Robertson), O.E. Hasse (Otto Keller), Roger Dann (Pierre Grandfort), Dolly Haas (Alma Keller) and Charles Andre (Father Millars).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE O CANADA BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RUTH OF SILVER SCREENINGS and KRISTINA OF SPEAKEASY


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The Search (1948, Fred Zinnemann)

The Search barely qualifies as a dramatic piece. For the first thirty minutes, an uncredited narrator explains everything to the audience, going so far as to ask the characters rhetorical questions (thankfully they don’t respond). It’s filmed on location in post-war Berlin and–exposes is too strong a word–informs the audience about the situation of displaced children. There’s something unsettling about watching a bunch of kids pretend to be starving kids–probably in the same locations where the real starving kids once were–all for an MGM picture. The Search is a propaganda piece to some degree and a “docudrama” the rest of the way. It’s also Montgomery Clift’s first film.

Clift is good in the film, really good, but he doesn’t really have a character in it. He has a character in the individual scenes, one who has to do things, one who tries to accomplish things, but the audience never gets a sense of him. He’s a blandly American good guy, just one played by Montgomery Clift. The kid, Ivan Jandl, is all right. Unfortunately, his involvement with the film–Zinnemann picked him from a Prague schoolroom and The Search won him a special Academy Award–ended him up in a rock quarry, as the Soviets didn’t like him as a figure of Czech pride. As a child actor, he’s fine but not exceptional. His story, however, makes The Search’s reality a little too real and way too irresponsible. While Clift and Jandl are good together, since Clift’s character is so poorly defined, it’s impossible to really feel anything. There should be some important character relationship–something changing in Clift because of his involvement–but there’s nothing. When The Search isn’t playing hard for the heartstrings, it doesn’t work (except the scenes do move rather well, since they tend to be one conversation are another). It also has a real problem with delineating the passage of time. A month passes in a fade out and the audience gets nothing to help them adjust.

The rest of the cast ranges in quality. As the child’s mother, Jarmila Novotna is good. Her character too should have had a character arc, but it was ignored so The Search could show more footage of post-war hardships. As an American aid worker, Aline MacMahon is so bad I thought they were using real people in the beginning scenes, not actors. At the time, the New York Times praised The Search for its naturalism. Maybe MacMahon, who had a long Hollywood career, got confused by the approach.

Since one could get the same experience (save Clift) from a decent history book as The Search, it’s hard to get particularly excited about it. Zinneman’s not a particularly showy director, but he usually has weighty approach. The Search is too real for that filmic weight, but too filmic to be “real.” And that voiceover removes any naturalism, leaving The Search a confused film. A good idea, a well-minded idea, just not a good story.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Zinnemann; screenplay by Richard Schweizer, David Wechsler and Paul Jarrico; director of photography, Emil Berna; edited by Hermann Haller; music by Robert Blum; produced by Lazar Wechsler; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Montgomery Clift (Steve), Ivan Jandl (Jimmy), Aline MacMahon (Mrs. Murray), Jarmila Novotna (Mrs. Hannah Malik), Wendell Corey (Jerry Fisher), Mary Patton (Mrs. Fisher), Ewart G. Morrison (Mr. Crookes), William Rogers (Tom Fisher) and Leopold Borkowski (Joel Markowsky).


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