In my mind Montgomery Clift, the first method-y actor to punch through the studio system and become a major star, peaked from Red River through From Here To Eternity — a seven-year run. From the early to mid ’50s Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean were the reigning acting gods…legendary figures then and, I thought, still iconic figures today. But two days ago it hit me that Clift is no longer regarded as a major figure, or is certainly not regarded in the same light as Brando or Dean. My older son Jett, to whom I showed classic films all through his early youth and who knows the cinema realm fairly well, had to be reminded who Clift was when his name came up in conversation, and he couldn’t name a single film that Clift starred in, not even Red River or I Confess or A Place In The Sun or Eternity. His girlfriend Caitlin, a whipsmart marketing professional, knows Clift’s name but couldn’t remember any of his films. I’m presuming these two are canaries in the GenY coal mine. If they don’t know who Clift was, nobody does. Am I wrong? I’m not talking about serious GenY film hounds — I’m talking about casual Netflix/Hulu viewers and people who go to maybe two or three films a month. It’s a shock. For the under-35s Montgomery Clift might as well be John Ireland or Wendell Corey or Burgess Meredith.
(l. to r.) Clift, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin during filming of The Young Lions.