This intriguing documentary was made by Robert Clift (the youngest of Montgomery’s nephews) in collaboration with Hillary Demmon. Its stated purpose is to set the record straight about the gifted actor who, with Marlon Brando, ushered in a new, naturalistic approach to acting on screen. According to Robert’s father Brooks Clift and others who knew him he was not (as so many stories would have you believe) a tortured soul. He was confident in his profession and made no effort to hide his homosexuality. What’s more, he worked productively even after his catastrophic car accident in 1956. During a 1960s TV interview with columnist Hy Gardner he points out that he made as many films after the accident as he did before, including his two favorites, The Young Lions and Judgment at Nuremberg.
Brooks Clift (an interesting figure in his own right) was in the habit of tape-recording all his telephone conversations, which gives his son a storehouse of material from which to draw. There is also color home movie footage of Montgomery in his heyday. In addition, Robert conducted on-camera interviews with family members as well as Judy Balaban, who briefly dated the actor, biographer Patricia Bosworth and the late Jack Larson, who knew Monty from the early 1950s on.
Robert discusses small but significant errors in Bosworth’s best-selling biography and chronicles his father’s unhappiness with her inability to make corrections. We even eavesdrop on several phone calls and learn why Monty’s brother was preoccupied with documenting his every utterance.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the film is a series of excerpts from key movies (From Here to Eternity, Judgment at Nuremberg) that confirm Clift’s claim that he often rewrote his own dialogue. By showing those clips in a split-screen with the shooting script, we see how Clift crossed out the writer’s words and penciled in his own, drastically condensing the speeches but still conveying their intent.
Making Montgomery Clift is a highly personal endeavor that should be of interest to any film buff. It leaves some questions unanswered (Monty’s father is never mentioned) but paints an admiring portrait of a singular talent. It’s available on VOD right now and is well worth seeing.