Tag Archives: Montgomery Clift

The Heiress (1949, William Wyler)

My favorite moment in The Heiress is when Olivia de Havilland has a slight tremor, watching someone walk away after she’s just told them off. It’s this fantastic glimpse into her character. The film has something of a double twist ending, so it’s going to be hard to talk around various spoilers but suffice it to say de Havilland’s always got her guard up. You just don’t realize how guarded—shielded might be the better term—until later in the film. de Havilland goes through the film without a real confidant; there’s no opportunity to address de Havilland’s perception of the events. There are the occasional minor reveals in dialogue to provide character texture, nothing more. Otherwise, you’ve just got to trust de Havilland and director Wyler, without much to go on in the former’s case.

Wyler’s visibly breaking his ass from the start to do everything just right, however. Heiress is a play adaptation (of a novel) and de Havilland’s home is the main setting—with some big field trips away—but the house is the thing. Wyler and cinematographer Leo Tover compose these constrained, framed shots, which can’t be claustrophobic because de Havilland’s doesn’t feel trapped in the house. Quite the opposite, but Wyler and Tover still have to contend with the physical realities. Luckily the house is big enough and the floor plan’s right they can use tilts, drawing the audience’s attention to the importance of the passive information those shots cover.

It’s important later when characters are being (possibly) duplicitous and their body language is important. Heiress could open with a disclaimer informing the audience to watch people’s hands or they’re going to miss big plot moments.

Heiress runs almost two hours and the first ninety minutes or so has its own three act structure, based on the characters’ expectations. It starts with de Havilland getting ready for a party. It’s 1850, she’s the unmarried daughter of wealthy doctor Ralph Richardson, her mother is long dead and Richardson has done a crap job raising de Havilland for a combination of reasons but they mostly boil down, generally, to men are trash and, specifically, Richardson is an egomaniac. So his devil goatee is perfect. His sister, Miriam Hopkins, is a recent widow and has come to live with them, giving de Havilland a friend (though not confidant). Hopkins encourages de Havilland, something Richardson never does.

de Havilland’s shy, socially awkward, funny, smart, thoughtful, and kind. No one cares about those things in 1850, unfortunately; she’s supposed to be glamorous and sharp-witted. There’s some suggestion de Havilland’s the ugly duckling daughter of a famed beauty (who Richardson still blathers about), but basically she’s a “plain Jane” because she doesn’t pluck her eyebrows.

Enter Montgomery Clift, charming, well-spoken, and broke. It’s 1850 so it’s still possible to turn your blood blue in a single generation but Clift is more interested in enjoying life then working. He starts courting de Havilland, who’s immediately enamored because Clift’s a stone fox, but Richardson thinks he’s a gold digger. Clift’s interiority gets just as little reveal as de Havilland’s, which is important later on. Hopkins is on Clift’s side, which encourages de Havilland. For ninety minutes, Heiress is mostly about their courtship and its result. The last thirty isn’t epilogue but a complete readjustment of the narrative structure. The characters (and audience) thought the story was one thing, but it’s really another. Great work from Wyler on making that transition successful. Subtle and nimble.

Great performances from the four principals. The characters are constrained by “society” decorum, affecting options, decisions, reactions. Outside the box thinking is never an actual possibility so it’s never discussed but it’s considered and only in the actors’ expressions (or body language). Heiress is never a stagy play adaptation, but it’s still very much a stage adaptation. Wyler showcases the actors’ essaying of the roles, getting into the minutiae of the performances.

So they’ve got to be great.

And they are. de Havilland’s the best. She’s got an exceptionally difficult arc. Clift’s excellent, Richardson’s excellent, Hopkins is excellent. Even though it’s prime showcase for Clift, he doesn’t get the range of material as Richardson. And Hopkins gets all the subtly, because she’s all in on 1850s society thinking and she needs the world to make sense in those constraints.

Great photography from Tover, nice cutting from William Hornbeck; Harry Horner’s production design is key. And the Aaron Copland score is wonderful. Even if he didn’t really do all of it (Heiress had some behind-the-scenes turmoil). The screenplay, by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz (who also wrote the source play), is excellent. Wyler, obviously, does superb work.

The Heiress is outstanding.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz, based on their play and a novel by Henry James; director of photography, Leo Tover; edited by William Hornbeck; music by Aaron Copland; production designer, Harry Horner; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Sloper), Montgomery Clift (Morris Townsend), Ralph Richardson (Dr. Austin Sloper), Miriam Hopkins (Lavinia Penniman), Vanessa Brown (Maria), and Betty Linley (Mrs. Montgomery).



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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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