Review: The Misfits (1961)

The Misfits, directed by John Huston and written by Arthur Miller, is an undeniably intriguing film. It holds a significant place in film history while also featuring unexpected and outstanding performances from the lead actors.

The Misfits is notoriously for being screen icons Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe final roles. Gable died 11 days after filming completed after suffering from a massive heart attack and Monroe died about a year and a half later of a drug overdose. Coincidentally, this also marks one of Montgomery Clift’s and Thelma Ritter’s final performances.

Set in and around Reno, Monroe stars as Roslyn, a recent divorcee. She meets Guido (Eli Wallach), a widower, who instantly falls in love with the sexy Roslyn. He allows her to move into his abandoned home (that is filled with memories of his dead wife), hoping this gesture will help Roslyn return his feelings. But, when Roslyn is introduced to Gay (Clark Gable), an aging cowboy, the two men compete for her affections, allowing for their worst traits to surface. Along the way, the trio meets Perce (Montgomery Clift), an old friend of Gay’s, who makes ends meet as a rodeo participant.

The men then find an easy way make fast money: capturing and selling wild horses (“misfits”) to make dog food. When Roslyn learns this, she protests, leading to the film’s emotional and disturbing conclusion.

As a whole, this is a stellar production. Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, and Eli Wallach all deliver fantastic performances. Thelma Ritter, as expected, adds plenty of humor and off colour remarks. Additionally, any John Huston and Arthur Miller collaboration is something that should not be missed out on. In fact, there is so much that can be written about The Misfits, but I think it is necessary to focus on the film’s most important and captivating element: Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe’s performance in The Misfits is something to note. Her impact on American culture has been analyzed for decades; Marilyn Monroe is, after all, why feminist film theory exists. But with this role, she steps away from that one image that clouded her film career: Marilyn Monroe, standing over a subway grate with her white dress blowing up (from The Seven Year Itch).

Don’t be mistaken: The Misfits depends on Marilyn Monroe’s sexuality quite frequently (how could it not.) But because Roslyn is a character with depth who, despite being a former prostitute, acts as the group’s moral compass, Monroe is able to prove something that is typically forgotten when people hear her name.

Marilyn Monroe had talent. In fact, she had so much talent that she was able to mold herself into a persona that to this day some people find stupid and pointless. Her roles, filled with innuendos still spark endless debates. And that is why The Misfits is Marilyn Monroe’s most noteworthy performance because while you are watching this film, you can easily forget that you are that same woman from The Seven Year Itch.

Updated October 19, 2010

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