Review: The Misfits (1961)

The Misfits (1961)

Directed by: John Huston | 124 minutes | drama, western | Actors: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, James Barton, Kevin McCarthy, Estelle Winwood, Peggy Barton, Rex Bell, Ryall Bowker, Frank Fanelli Sr., John Huston, Bobby LaSalle, Philip Mitchell, Walter Ramage, Ralph Roberts, Dennis Shaw, J. Lewis Smith, Marietta Tree

The film ‘The Misfits’ (1961) will always have a tinge of tragedy. The production was far from flawless. The persistent heat in the Nevada desert, where the film was shot, caused significant delays, but that was the least major problem. The trio of legendary protagonists caused much more unrest. Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift all had their own problems that affected the production. Gable, 59 now, was still a charming personality but felt the years were counting. Monroe was divorced from Arthur Miller (who had written the screenplay for ‘The Misfits’ especially for her, making her character strikingly similar to the actress herself) and suffered from depression and addictions. Monty Clift had a long history of health problems and regularly fled into alcohol and pills. In short, it was a nice bunch of ‘misfits’ together. Add in the sometimes tyrannical director John Huston – a notorious heavy drinker himself – and you’ve got production full of problems, which it’s a wonder the film was ever completed.

‘The Misfits’ revolves around a group of people who have been more or less rejected by society. Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe) is a former stripper who moved to Reno (Nevada) to divorce her husband Raymond (Kevin McCarthy). She is supported in this by her landlady, the seasoned and cynical Isabella Steers (Thelma Ritter). By chance, she meets Guido (Eli Wallach), a widower who served in the Air Force during World War II but now earns a living as a car mechanic. He introduces Roslyn to his friend Gay Langland (Clark Gable), an old cowboy who refuses to say goodbye to his old life and just messes around a bit. The men propose to go to Guido’s dilapidated home in the desert to clear his mind. Both men compete for the hand of the beautiful and childishly innocent Roslyn, who eventually decides to move into Guido’s house with Gay. So far, she’s been enjoying life in the great outdoors, but that changes when Gay, along with Guido and Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift), a young, out-of-work rodeo rider who is also looking for meaning in life, go hunting for wild mustangs. to revive old times. All that animal cruelty clashes with Roslyn’s innocent idealism, and she must risk losing their friendship…

Just because of all the history surrounding it, “The Misfits” is a memorable movie. Gable died just 11 days after shooting finished and shortly after he said he was glad the film was over because Marilyn nearly gave him a heart attack with her treatments. Guess what the Hollywood legend died of… This was also her last film for Monroe; ‘Something’s Got to Give’, which she started shortly before her death in 1962, was never finished. And Clift’s career was all but over; he would make only three more films (including the rock-solid 1961 court drama ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’) before dying in 1966 at just 45 years of age. However, you do ‘The Misfits’ short if you only judge the film on its peripheral matters. This film is the only one in which Monroe shows that she really had serious acting qualities, although that is unfortunately limited to the second and by far the best half of the film. Gable also played a much more intense role than he was used to. According to screenwriter Miller, the actor even said afterwards: “This is the best picture I have made, and it’s the only time I’ve been able to act.” And he didn’t say a word too much.

‘The Misfits’ is a melancholic and realistic look into the lives of some outcasts; people who have been overtaken by time and the fast-paced society. They don’t think about changing their lifestyle. In a way, this film bids farewell to the classic American dream and the free life of the cowboys in the wild west. This idea is symbolically portrayed in the last half hour of the film, in which the men spectacularly hunt the mustangs. This intense and stunningly filmed sequence of scenes is by far the strongest part of the film, which is otherwise unbalanced mainly because of the script. The rather boring first half of the film is very out of tune with the second part. Also, not all characters are not equally well developed by Miller. The role of Perce, for example, is not much and it is thanks to the method acting of the tormented Clift that the rodeo rider has become a fascinating character. Also, the character of the always brilliant Thelma Ritter (‘All about Eve’, 1950) disappears for good about halfway through the film; puzzling but most of all very sad. Miller reportedly deleted some scenes from Eli Wallach (“The Magnificent Seven,” 1960) upon request because La Monroe didn’t want them to compete with her. It doesn’t detract from the acting performance, but you still have the feeling that it didn’t get the most out of it. For example, you never really get to know the characters. Why are they the way they are? Who knows may say.

Despite the excellent black-and-white cinematography of Russell Metty (‘Touch of Evil’, 1958) – which manages to give the arid desert landscape of Nevada something almost paradisiacal – and the at times strong acting performances – in which Clark Gable in particular rises above himself – this poetic character study did not get its hands on when it was released. Fortunately, the film is slowly gaining popularity, but it will always be remembered for its problematic production process and its tragic stars. Documentary maker Gail Levin took it literally in 2002 to make a film about it, by making the interesting ‘Making the Misfits’. But the film itself is well worth watching. Seeing three of Hollywood’s greatest legends in action is always special, and the utterly captivating final half hour is a wonderful metaphor for the end of the bygone days of the traditional American Dream.

Comments are closed.