The Misfits, 1961.
Directed by John Huston.
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.
Roslyn – wounded, shivering and cynical after her divorce – meets experienced cowboy Gay and move in with him. Harm to innocent creatures is a recurring theme as Roslyn becomes increasingly distressed by the masculine aspects of Gay’s lifestyle, and is evident when Gay’s friend Perce is injured in a brutal rodeo.
Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Clark Gable seem to exist in an era, whereby Hollywood is all glitz and glamour. Studio stars dress impeccably and look perfect. The iconic Monroe of Some Like it Hot; the cheeky charm of Gable in Gone with the Wind; the boyish sincerity of Clift in From Here to Eternity. The extended run of The Misfits at the BFI puts all three together in a different dusty landscape, at a point whereby their stars were beginning to fall and tragically, all three would pass within six years. The production was a nightmare – director John Huston was drinking and gambling. Monroe needed drugs to wake up and more to go to sleep. Clift was falling apart after a road accident a few years prior. Clark Gable was the one ‘gent’ on set – and he suffered a severe heart-attack two days after production, dying ten days later.
It’s not a comfortable viewing. All three actors – and Eli Wallach – are square pegs in a circular world. Opening on Rosalyn (Monroe) as she prepares herself for her divorce in court, she‘s already forging a path of her own. Rosalyn, alongside divorce ‘expert’ Isabelle (Thelma Ritter), share a cab with Guido (Wallach), an immediate sucker for Rosalyn and then, in a bar, his older cowboy friend Gaylord Langland (Gable). The four of them strike a bond, all drifters in this regimented world. They drink, and dance, and while Isabelle is content in seeing the obvious flirtations between Rosalyn and the men, it is clear that they are puffing their chests up in competition. Though Guido’s dance-moves are a pull for Rosalyn, it is Gay’s wily, confidence that takes her attention away. But things change as they get to know each better. Drunken rodeo-drifter Perce Howland joins the foursome and Isabelle is drawn away to her ex-husband, leaving Rosalyn alone with the three conflicting personalities – all of which are desperate to win her affections.
Written by Arthur Miller, he remained on set throughout production shaping and shifting the characters to suit the traits of the stars. Miller was also struggling to support Monroe, a woman Huston claims “was no longer capable of helping herself”. This peaked when the production had to be halted as Monroe was hospitalised, stalling the production for two weeks. As the unexpected swan song for Monroe and Gable, it is marred by their death soon afterwards – but it also highlights their isolation in the world of Hollywood. In fact, Clark Gable was requested by Monroe herself as she looked up to him so much. She claimed, as a little girl, that Gable was her father! Considering his rogue-like demeanour in Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night, in The Misfits, it is fitting that he still has a playboy edge. This is seen when we first meet him, shuffling a lover onto a train, keen to move on a find another lady to serenade. This is the same type of character, only many years later and without his youth.
The Misfits toys with the changing world as the 1960’s dawned, whereby the expectations of a man are challenged. How can you be a Father if you’re separated from your children? How can you be a wife, if you are desperate to wander and see more of the world? The final act, as the group attempt to round-up the horses, is difficult. The momentum gained as the team moved from house to rodeo and, finally, to the desert is lost – but it isn’t without its merits. Marilyn Monroe, screaming out into the desert, calling and demanding more from humanity is immediate and arresting. Montgomery Clift’s phone call to his mother in his introduction is heart-breaking. In addition to Gable’s flippant comments about his age, the reason The Misfits is so thoroughly engaging, is because it often hints at a deeper truth. Huston has captured a moment of change and honesty. The story carries weight, as we know the depression and dependencies behind closed doors – and we only wish this wasn’t the final appearances of such unforgettable stars.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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The Misfits is currently playing at the BFI on Southbank. You can buy tickets for the film, and others in the Marilyn Monroe season, by clicking here.