The Vault

Montgomery Clift Squirms Through a Montgomery Clift Movie

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These photos of Montgomery Clift reacting to his own performance in the 1949 film The Heiress were taken by Life photographer J.R. Eyerman. Shot with infrared film over two hours in a screening room, the strangely intimate images capture the star shifting around in his seat, pulling his legs up under himself, and watching the screen with his face partially shaded by his hands, as though apprehensive of what he might see. (You can see all available frames from this shoot by browsing “related images” here.)

The Heiress, produced and directed by William Wyler, was based on the Henry James novel Washington Square. In it, Clift played a gold-digger looking to score big by marrying Olivia de Havilland’s wealthy but awkward ingénue. During filming, Clift submitted to weeks of training, including dance lessons, to learn how to stand and move with straighter posture, as would befit a man of that period. (These pictures suggest those lessons didn’t take in real life.)

The film opened in fall 1949 to a warm critical reception, and de Havilland won the Golden Globe and the Oscar (her second) for the performance.

You can see more Life photos of Clift with a 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor on the set of A Place in the Sun in 1950. I originally caught these Clift-watching-Clift photographs on the excellent photo-history blog The Passion of Former Days.  


J.R. Eyerman—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


J.R. Eyerman—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

J.R. Eyerman—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images