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MONTGOMERY CLIFT'S FINAL BOW IN THE DEFECTOR

Montgomery Clift rushing from one scene to another YEAR: 1960
By 1966 the Cold War Thriller genre was in full swing, sometimes with bullets flying, usually in Europe...

Warner Archives
Yet THE DEFECTOR is extremely low-key and low-budget, taking its time and may require several viewings: And for the sake of cinematic history, it's mostly known for, after a five year retirement following THE MISFITS, Montgomery Clift's final role, which isn't a surprise: very sadly, he resembles a man near death and ironically, less than a decade prior he was equal with James Dean and Marlon Brando, considered one of the "sexiest" and most talented men in Hollywood, and beyond. But he does a good enough job despite the fact it seems as if his character, Professor James Bower, in East Germany to visit a Russian friend for whom he translated several novels, hadn't eaten or slept in a very long while. Perhaps it should have been written into the script; his character riddled by some mysterious illness might have actually worked in this already strange and tight, extremely contained, atmospheric movie where prison-like surroundings of dull brown buildings exist in a locale that's cold and desolate... He could have been equally as hopeless and desperate, especially since he may have to stick around on a permanent basis. But his appearance isn't mentioned yet should have been because, whether he was handsome in previous films or not, it's downright distracting...

The Lovely Ingenue
Especially in the romantic angle involving several encounters, and a solid port in the impending storm with the young and gorgeous German actress Macha Méril, her shared apartment the only comfortably safe harbor anywhere (she even has a comic book of Smurfs, and it's political!).

Roddy McDowall with Clift
Their love scenes are somewhat contrived and awkward, and that's not because of Clift's homosexuality – straight actors with more talent than Rock Hudson couldn't match the eyeful of genuine lust when first seeing Liz Taylor in GIANT. And, speaking of Taylor, she was close friends with Clift, and his only reason for taking part in such a parenthetical effort was to get himself back in swing for his intended comeback opposite her in REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, a role involving a closeted homosexual that was given to Marlon Brando, and one that could have helped bring the repressed, tortured soul "out" in an artistic way, or at least created a path in that direction...

Montgomery Clift
Hardy Kruger
But it never happened. And if any movie has a curse it's this one. Both the director, Raoul Lévy, and leading man died before the theatrical release, and while critics had some positive things to say it failed to even dent the box office or stand the test of time, not a shock given that the spy genre had turned into a jovial carnival ride with the James Bond franchise and the fact much of the story plays out in dry dialogue rather than action. Yet the Thriller genre (in any film) does tend to move (or not move) in this fashion, tickling the brain over driving testosterone and in that, DEFECTOR is a success though beyond subtle and ambiguous in its page-turning approach as the plot and/or purpose is handled right up front: so the mystery relies on how and when things will pan out, and in what direction.

Montgomery Clift proves he's got nothing to lose
Interior scenes mostly involving stuffy offices used for "polite" interrogations occur between the actors in a steady course, and of all the cast, including Roddy McDowell... as a CIA man spouting all the exposition for his reluctant inside man... is German actor Hardy Krüger as Counselor Peter Heinzmann, given an almost impossible task of trying to persuade the American scientist to defect after the Russian he had travelled to see in East Germany was killed (unseen), and who had this genre's most coveted McGuffin – microfilm...

DefectorScore: ***1/2
So Krüger alone provides the only real conflict, making him the actor to watch for his expressions and reactions alone; that is, if you don't count Clift having to survive a slowburn nightmare of being stuck in this purgatory, softly batted about as a pawn (although with Méril as a girlfriend, he's as hard to feel sorry for as James Dean with Natalie Wood in his arms: hell, perhaps he should defect!).

In a sparse study of existential anti-espionage, one particular scene stands out as Bower half-sleep hallucinates inside his barred-widowed hotel room; suddenly the bed winds up outside, in the midst of construction on a daylight street, giving this pointed, grounded vehicle a bit of "foreign film surrealism." But the entire DEFECTOR is, in a literal sense despite the Germans speaking perfect English, a Foreign Film without subtitles while maintaining an even-keel through strategic wordplay over gunplay, and a palpable sense of doom without a single bomb ticking. Winding up with 11th hour action that, though quite rushed and begging for the film to close, is more like suspenseful-movement as our subtle if bland yet determined and intriguing hero tries to get out of the country, the hard way: on foot, and all alone.
Random Screen Captures of Montgomery Clift and cast from THE DEFECTOR
Montgomery Clift and Macha Meril relaxing with a Smurfs comic book

Macha Meril with Monty Clift lighting up in THE DEFECTOR
Montgomery Clift shakes trunks with an elephant in the West Germany Zoo
Montgomery Clift in a scene that looks like The Deer Hunter but is a mellow thriller titled THE DEFECTOR
One of the brighter scenes simply because of the colorful propaganda as Clift heads for his car
In the best visual scene as described above, Clift's character wakes up, not quite in his hotel bed
The film's two German beauties in one shot: our co-lead Macha Meril with Uta Levka
Montgomery Clift and The Smurfs in the same movie... Those little blue bastards have been around forever!
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