Cinema’s Forgotten Legends Series: Robert Montgomery

 

3“If you are lucky enough to be a success, by all means enjoy the applause and the adulation of the public. But never, never believe it”. That quote was from the individual with whom I’m paying tribute to in my Cinema’s Forgotten Legends Series: American television, silver screen and theatre actor, producer & director Robert Montgomery (b. Henry Montgomery Jr. on May 21st, 1904 in Beacon New York-d. on September 27th, 1981)10

In a film career that’s spanned over 3 decades (1929-1960), Montgomery has become a bona fide classic film artist with an unprecedented resume of films that selflessly showcased his uncompromising versatility, ranging from light hearted romantic comedies and heart tugging dramas to taut suspense/thrillers and classic war time epics. I was able to view 14 of his indelible classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age including: The Divorcee (1930) with Norma Shearer in her Oscar winning role, Forsaking All Others (1934) starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, Trouble for Two (1936) aka The Suicide Club under an alternative title with Rosalind Russell, Night Must Fall also starring Russell along with Alan Marshall & Dame May Whitty, Rage in Heaven (1941) with Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders (one of my favorites that I love viewing on TCM), The Big House (1930) with Lewis Stone and Chester Morris, The Easiest Way (1931) co-starring Constance Bennett, Faithless (1932) with Tallulah Bankhead, When Ladies Meet (1933) starring future Oscar winner Alice Brady, Night Flight (1933) starring Clark Gable, John Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Lionel Barrymore & Myrna Loy, Hide-Out (1934) featuring a young Mickey Rooney, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) with the wonderfully superb actor Claude Rains and finally Lady in the Lake as well as Ride the Pink Horse (both film noirs were released in 1947 & both had the immense pleasure of being directed by its star Montgomery). 7

Not only was Robert Montgomery a brilliantly talented actor & director of films but during the Golden Age of Television as well when he hosted the Emmy-award winning television drama series Robert Montgomery Presents, which I had the great pleasure in viewing some of the classic episodes co-starring an amazingly gifted actor at the time James Dean. I absolutely enjoyed all of the films that he’s starred and yet I always felt that Robert Montgomery never really garnered the credit that he genuinely deserved; to me he was a vastly underrated awe-inspiring individual who toned his masterful craft into countless film and television productions. One of my favorite films that he starred in was a war time classic which I’ve always enjoyed viewing on certain occasions, especially during the Memorial Day Marathon on TCM1

They Were Expendable (1945) teamed Montgomery alongside John Wayne, Donna Reed & Ward Bond; as well as starring in the film, They Were Expendable also featured Montgomery directing a few uncredited scenes when director John Ford became ill. Robert Montgomery had a lucrative television/radio career as well; he hosted the CBS radio program Suspense for 6 months in 1948 when the show went from a half hour to a full hour, was president of the Screen Actors Guild from the years 1935-1938 and again from 1946-1947 (at which time, his presence during his reign on the Screen Actors Guild held a powerful, insightful and incredibly helpful contribution towards certain events which plagued the movie industry at the time….in particular, The House Un-American Activities Committee), he won Broadway’s 1955 Tony Award as Best Director for The Desperate Hours during the 9th Tony Awards ceremony held on March 27th, 1955, his television series on NBC Robert Montgomery Presents (1950) won the Emmy Award as the Best Dramatic Program of 1953 during the 5th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held on February 5th, 1953 and during the 21st Annual Academy Awards held on March 24th, 1949 in which he hosted, Montgomery accepted the Oscar for Best Picture (1948s Hamlet) on behalf of Laurence Olivier who was not present at the awards ceremony; he was also widely considered to be one of the best dressed men from Hollywood’s Golden Era. 2

Robert Montgomery has 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for movies at 6440 Hollywood Blvd and another one for television at 1631 Vine Street; during his lifetime, Montgomery was nominated twice for the Academy Award as Best Actor: as Danny in Night Must Fall during the 10th Annual Academy Awards held on March 10th, 1938 (the winner was Spencer Tracy for his role as Manuel in Captains Courageous with Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore and Melvyn Douglas) & as Joe Pendleton in Here Comes Mr. Jordan during the 14th Annual Academy Awards held on February 26th, 1941 (the winner was Gary Cooper for his role as Alvin C. York in the biopic Sergeant York starring Walter Brennan). Even though he was unable to win the coveted golden statuette for his breathtaking awe-inspiring performances in both his films, the resonance of his profound cinematic legacy lives on8

His daughter, actress Elizabeth Montgomery (April 15th, 1933-May 18th, 1995) also starred in many great classics also but is best remembered for portraying the iconic delightful witch/housewife Samantha Stephens on the hit TV series Bewitched as well as the malevolent title character in the classic made-for-TV film The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975). Over the years, I became a huge fan of actor Robert Montgomery and genuinely enjoyed his presence onscreen, whether through Turner Classic Movies, YouTube, DVDs or otherwise; some may feel differently about his acting but I honestly think that it is more of an acquired taste. Robert Montgomery nevertheless remains a personal favorite actor of mine and I am truly grateful for having the cinematic opportunity to view his incredible film legacy in which he has bestowed to countless other classic film fans/lovers for generations to come; I do hope that more individuals will be able to give Robert Montgomery and his films a chance worth viewing!5

Robert Montgomery - by George Hurrell 1932
Robert Montgomery – by George Hurrell in 1932

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