The Misfits (1960)

February 13th, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter; USA 1960, 120 min.

Nearly four month in production, shot in chronological order, THE MISFITS was the most expensive black and white film in 1960, costing 4$m, roughly 31$m in todays money. A stellar cast helmed by John Huston at the zenith of his career, and written by the intellectual giant of the era Arthur Miller – whose script was based on his own short story, what could go wrong? Even Henri Cartier-Bresson was on board, leading a team of nine photographers shooting in the Nevada desert. The result seemed disappointing at the time, even though today THE MISFITS is very much a cult outing, appreciated much more that it was forty- five years ago.

Roslyn (Monroe), a newly divorced night club dancer, fancies the “simple” life away from the city. Unfortunately she meets two cowboys (Gable and Wallach) and a rodeo rider (an intense Monty Clift ), who catch horses with lassoos, just like in the good old days. The men are a cynical bunch, full of macho values and more often drunk than sober. Roslyn soon discovers the reason for their bravado: the men are fully aware the mustangs they catch, are destined for the abattoir, soon to be dog food. Having flirted with the whole trio, Roslyn goes for Gay (Gable), the oldest and most stable, also, perhaps because of his humanity – after one of the most shocking scenes ever committed to film, involving wild horses being savagely rounded up – Gay decides to let the horses escape, even though he knows his career is finished. THE MISFITS is an elegy for an America long lost, profit is the only game in town, and Huston’s poetic masterpiece is a long good-bye, shot in alluring black and white by Russell Metty. The grainy pictures somehow recall a ‘romantic’ Hollywood lost to colourful, spectacular super-productions. THE MISFITS has stood the test of time, a worthy forerunner for many “late Westerns” of the eighties and nineties, which confront a rotten the present with a make-belief past: fables for grownups.

The melancholic atmosphere almost presaged doom, spilling into real life: Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller lived in different hotels during the shooting, and were divorced shortly afterwards; Miller would soon marry Inge Morath, one of the nine photographers present. Montgomery Clift would die an untimely death after a serious accident; Monroe would never finish another film, and Clark Gable suffered a fatal heart attach before the premiere. MT


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