Film Review: ‘The Misfits’

Ben Miles

On a recent Friday night, I came across a forgotten film treasure on a PBS television outlet; it’s titled “The Misfits,” a 1961 jewel of a movie made under the direction of John Huston, with a screenplay by playwright Arthur Miller. Add to that dynamic duo of dramatic artists the formidable acting talents  of screen legends Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift and you have the line-up of a great art film, which ponders many philosophical questions while offering plenty of sexuality and literal horseplay beneath an easily followed plot.

The story is a tweak on the old formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl. In the plot of “The Misfits,” however, the boy is Gaylord, an old cowboy(Gable), the girl is Roslyn (Monroe) , a sensitive lover of life, and there are a couple of (cow)boys ( Montgomery Clift, as Perce and Eli Wallach, as Guido) vying for the favor of the girl.

A modern day western, shot in the northern Nevada desert and filmed in beautiful black and white (cinematography by Russell Metty), “The Misfits” of the title refers to the wild mustang horses that roam and romp through the spacious desert land. They are an awkward fit in that arid geography, but so too are the characters we encounter; therefore, the title metaphorically describes them as well as the mustangs they choose to chase, rope, capture and hold to be sold to dog food manufacturers.

When Roslyn learns of the intended destination of the captured mustangs she goes into an emotional meltdown that alters the plans of the cowboys. Rich in performance and ripe in the provocation of thought “The Misfits” was at the time of its release by United Artists thought to be a flop at the box office, costing $4 million to produce, it brought in just $4.1 million in ticket sales. Over the decades, however, “The Misfits” has brought significant profits to United Artists through home video and subsequent releases.

“The Misfits” was the last film for both Clark Gable, who suffered a heart attack two-days after filming was completed and died soon afterward, and for Marilyn Monroe, who the year after the film’s release died of what was believed to be a drug overdose. Many critics now consider “The Misfits” to be a movie masterpiece. I concur.

What: Film,  “The Misfits”

Who: Staring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift

Length: 125 minutes

How: On Demand


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