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USA 1961
Directed by
John Huston
125 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Misfits

With a notably mixed star cast, The Misfits is one of those movies whose mystique exceeds its filmic merits. By all accounts a gruelling shoot, Gable died of a heart attack a matter of days after its completion and Monroe, for whom this was also her final film, was on the spiral leading to her death the following year. During filming she was also openly having an affair with Yves Montand whilst haplessly infatuated hubby Arthur Miller, who scripted this from his own play, looked on.

Set in Reno, Nevada where Monroe’s Roslyn Taber has come to get a divorce, Huston’s film is part elegy to the cowboy mythos, part meditation on loneliness. The former represented by Gable’s aging but manly cowpoke Gay Langland, the  latter is represented by Monroe’s melancholy divorcee who can’t shake off her sense of the inconstancy of humankind.  

What starts off as a unplanned hedonistic escape from the familiar as Roslyn sets up house with Gay (something which happens with inexplicable rapidity develops into a nightmare as Gay and his dumb-ass mechanic buddy, Guido (Eli Wallach), decide to go mustering wild mustangs. With a third man, a young rodeo performer, Perce (Montgomery Clift), they set out, accompanied by Roslyn.  

Whilst much of the film as it develops the narrative is quite banal, if not downright tedious, particularly a long section given over to Clift’s rodeo antics and general male machismo, the round-up in all its pathos (they can only find six horses, one of them a foal) the film’s centerpiece seen from Rosylyn’s perspective, is a powerful symbol of man’s (and it its very much the male of the species we are dealing with here) inhumanity and stupidity as for a few lousy dollars  the three men set about trapping the horses (who, like themselves, are misfits) which will be turned into dog food. The irony of their actions is only brought home to them by Roslyn's revulsion at their plan.

Monroe is an incongruous presence here part sex-kitten, part serious dramatic actress, Huston lingering over her curves more than her personality, which pretty much comes down to looking for the right man to depend upon(and she has plenty to choose from). Clift is awkward as a seemingly simple-minded cow-hand (presumably he has fallen on his head too many times) and Eli Wallach plays a variant on his usual unctuously two-faced character. Thelma Ritter pops her head in occasional as another member of the witless crew. Gable is not particularly well-suited to the role of an itinerant cowboy but he throws himself commendably into the role and the film is a far-from-shabby swansong for the legendary star.




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