The Misfits

The Misfits


Reviewed by: James Benefield

The title of The Misfits could barely be more apt. This contemporary Western saw the last performances of an ailing Clark Gable and an out-of-control Marilyn Monroe. He died fewer than two weeks after shooting; she was disappearing into drink and drug addiction, sped up by a messy divorce with the film's writer. It also saw Montgomery Clift battling addiction brought on by repressed homosexuality and the after effects of a near-fatal car crash, and director John Huston barely keeping afloat due to his own alcoholism and gambling addictions.

It was remarkable anything came out of the shoot at all – the film certainly feels disjointed. But between the creaking of the plot and tone, and the jumpy character development, is a film studded with incredible performances and moments of eye-watering intensity.

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Monroe stars as a melancholic dreamer, who is finalising the legality of her divorce. She meets ex-cowboy Gay (Clark Gable), who proposes marriage to her within hours of their meeting, and rodeo rider Perce Howland (Clift) who has been screwed out of owning his dead father's farm. They all take a road trip to outside Reno, in order to catch some wild Mustang horses – and make a quick buck. On the way, they meet ex-pilot Guido (Eli Wallach) and lose (for no apparent reason, and probably due to the film's many alleged rewrites) Roslyn's friend Isabelle (Thelma Ritter).

In a strange way, Monroe's performances prefigures Audrey Hepburn's role in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Roslyn is impossibly glamorous, but she has a hard time connecting with people. Her precocious, sometimes detached, reflections on her situation help to distance her from others, as much as her beauty and magnetism tends to both attract and intimidate. Roslyn eventually unravels in the desert, in a cruel use of a very wide, long shot from director Huston. Monroe inhabits the role, becomes the role – and with everything we now know about Monroe's final years, it becomes uncomfortably hard to say where the boundaries of fact and fiction lie.

Elsewhere, Gable proves the film's undoing as the ex-cowboy. Distracted by girls and money, rather than cattle steering and land rearing, he brings the film's final third to a typically John Huston conclusion. This aggressive, visceral climax feels out of place with the brooding of the film's first 100 minutes – however, some may find in its visceral nature a sense of catharsis.

It's impossible to say this is a successful film, but some of the interest lies in its failures. The grab-bag of different elements, from Roslyn's meltdown to Huston's violence and the sleaze of Clark Gable's Gay, adds up to something chaotic and capricious, but consequently captivating. The powerhouse jumbles everything about a little more, and what we're left with is an incredibly flawed film but an essential slice of cinema history.

Reviewed on: 20 Dec 2010
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An unhappy woman takes a road trip with two strangers, looking to round up wild horses.
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Director: John Huston

Writer: Arthur Miller

Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter

Year: 1961

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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