Montgomery "Monty" Clift was a forerunner of Marlon Brando
and James Dean
in beautiful, wounded, neurotic male star roles. His signature acting tic was the twitch of a cheek muscle to imply roiling passions beneath his frozen, perfect face.
Clift made his Broadway debut aged only thirteen, and worked in the theater for ten years before moving to the big screen. He made his film debut as a sensitive G.I. in The Search (1948), for which he won the first of four Academy Award
nominations. From then on he had roles perfectly tailored to his persona: the adopted son who defies John Wayne
in Red River (1948); the worthless suitor left banging on the door in The Heiress (1949); the socially ambitious murderer who drowns Shelley Winters
to get a shot at Elizabeth Taylor
in A Place in the Sun (1951); the priest suspected of murder because he won't break the seal of confession in I Confess (1953); and the trumpet-playing soldier who goes absent without leave rather than box again in From Here to Eternity
A disfiguring car accident during the production of Raintree County (1957) is often blamed for stalling his career, but that movie was his first in four years. He turned down many starring roles, including those in Sunset Blvd. (1950) and East of Eden (1955). Instead, in his later career Clift applied himself in stiff earnestness to a few literary, poetic, or serious pictures, including Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).
Offscreen, Clift was a sadly troubled individual. A closet homosexual, he was addicted to alcohol and drugs. He suffered from dysentery and colitis for much of his career, and was beset by health problems. When he died aged only forty-five, a drama teacher at The Actors Studio, Robert Lewis, called Clift's death "the longest suicide in history."