The Misfits (1961)

The Misfits
Directed by John Huston
Written by Arthur Miller
Seven Arts Pictures/Seven Arts Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Roslyn: If I’m going to be alone, I want to be by myself.

This isn’t Arthur Miller’s best work but it’s excellent to look at and you can’t beat the cast.

Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) is in Reno to get a divorce.  There she is befriended by worldly-wise Isabelle (Thelma Ritter).  They hit the bars together and meet up with pilot Guido (Eli Wallach) and his friend aging cowboy Gay (Clark Gable).  Obviously, Roslyn is a man-magnet and Gay and Guido are immediately vying for her attentions.  Gay tells her she should stick around and see the real West and Guido offers to put her up in his house in the desert.  Having nothing better to do, Roslyn agrees.

It is Gay and Roslyn that start up a romance.  They spend an idyllic time together in the house but we also see a developing friction between the ultra-sensitive woman and her lover, a man’s man if ever there was one.  Then Guido returns with the news that there is a herd of mustangs in the mountains that they can round up.  They hit a rodeo to find a third man to help.  This is reckless, sensitive Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift).  Soon he is also in the explosive mix of lusters after Rosalind.  Matters come to a head during the mustanging expedition.

This movie is famous for being the last on-screen work of Gable and Monroe.  It’s more than a curiosity however.  The leads and supporting players also do some of their best work.  If I had to choose among them, I would say Gable’s performance is the stand-out.  On the other hand, a lot of the dialogue didn’t ring exactly true to me and the ending didn’t really follow from the rest of the film.  I did think the theme of the changing West and changing male roles was very interesting.  The film is beautifully shot.


4 thoughts on “The Misfits (1961)

    • I read somewhere that he thought he was only given the opportunity to act twice: in Gone with the Wind and this one. I would argue with him but he certainly was wonderful in this.

  1. This is a fascinating film but I can see how it didn’t meet with a huge success on its initial release despite that amazing cast. A film about despair and the end of a way of life is a tough sell no matter how good the acting or direction.

    Though it’s heavy with gloom there is still much too admire even if Miller’s prose is at times weighty and tending towards pretension. Marilyn’s woozy sexuality coming through a haze of pills and booze at times still suits her character’s searching and displaced loneliness. Robert Mitchum was offered Gable’s role first but turned it down, a decision he later said he regretted, and he would have been wonderful but Gable’s weathered appearance and weariness actually suits the role better than Mitchum’s ruggedness would have at that point. It is one of the King’s best performances and serves as a terrific swan song.

    This wasn’t quite the end for Clift, he made a couple more films afterwards, but for all intents and purposes this was the end of the line and his sad broken looks make a powerful impact. He’s the exactly right actor for his role. Wallach scores well too but the great Thelma Ritter is somewhat shortchanged since she disappears about halfway through the picture. Her astringent tartness would have been most welcome later in the film when the real heavy going takes place but it’s great to have her there at all.

    • I should really be more conscientious with my fact checking! I had it in my head that this was the last film for all three but of course you are right.

      I think Gable brings a kind of innocence and nobility to the performance that Mitchum could not pulled off. It is his kind of bewildered disillusionment that makes the performance so moving. I think Ritter has more to do in this than her standard wise-cracking role. I love the scene where she is so delighted to meet up with her ex-husband and his new wife!

      Thank you for commenting on my blog!

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