TCM’s star of the day is Montgomery Clift, and my film pick for the actor is The Search, which airs today at 4:00 P.M. (EST).
The Search follows a young Czech boy named Karel Malik (Ivan Jandl) who flees a refugee center in postwar Germany to find his mother (Jarmila Novotna), whom he was separated from when they were sent to Auschwitz. Lost and not knowing where to go, Karel is soon found by an American G.I. named Ralph “Steve” Stevenson (Montgomery Clift), who takes the frightened boy to his home to try to help him out. Steve begins to form a strong bond with Karel and teaches him to speak English. With no clue as to the whereabouts of Karel’s mother, Steve makes plans to take him to America. Meanwhile, Karel’s mother is also desperately searching for her lost son despite the news of his possible death.
With many of the film’s scenes shot on location amidst actual ruins of postwar Germany, The Search makes for an authentic look at life after WWII without adding Hollywood touches. And what makes the film feel so genuine is nine-year old Ivan Jandl’s performance as Karel. He’s really the heart of the story, and he gives one of the best child performances I’ve seen. Because he spoke no English, Jandl had to learn his lines phonetically, and the delivery of his lines works to his character’s benefit and makes his role feel more real. For his work on the film, Jandl won a special Oscar and a special Golden Globe as the Best Juvenile Actor of the year.
Montgomery Clift gives one of the best performances of his career here as the compassionate American soldier taking care of the young concentration camp survivor. While he made his film debut in Red River, audiences first saw Clift in The Search, and from the get-go he proves to be an enduring presence of the silver screen. His role of Steve is also a little different from the other roles he became known to play. Here he has a much more positive outlook on life and is a generally content person, whereas in films like A Place in the Sun and I Confess there is an underlying darkness and sadness to his character.
For Clift’s performance in the film, he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor (he lost to Laurence Olivier’s self-directed performance in Hamlet). He was eventually nominated for Best Actor two more times for A Place in the Sun and From Here to Eternity, and once for Best Supporting Actor for Judgment at Nuremberg. Fred Zinnemann, who would direct Clift again in From Here to Eternity, also received an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The Search received another nomination for Best Screenplay, and won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story.
This is a film that deserves to be more widely seen. It’s an incredibly tender film without being overtly sentimental, and it’s an overall heartwarming story. Along with being one of Clift’s best screen performances, The Search is one of the best films he appeared in period.
I wrote this as a part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the banner below to read more posts!