The Misfits

Wowza!

The Misfits (1961)

     I have never been sold on Marilyn Monroe as anything but a ditz with an outrageous body. In the handful of pictures I have seen, she always comes off as ignorant and naive so that I feel no option but to assume this is how she was off-screen. In her last work, however, Monroe gives us an entirely different person to consider and one that had me a bit baffled.

     The Misfits was a movie outwardly surrounded by tragedy. Not only was it Monroe’s last completed film before her mysterious death, but it also marked the last appearance of Clark Gable, who suffered a heart attack the day after shooting wrapped and died 11 days later. Ironically, he was quoted as saying on the last day on set, “Christ, I’m glad this picture’s finished. She [Monroe] damn near gave me a heart attack.” Some did blame Monroe for that heart attack because her unreliability on the set –showing up late, etc.– left the older actor in the desert heat for extended periods of time and even prompted him to do his own stunts to fight the boredom. Besides those two, the movie also co-starred Montgomery Clift, who after being somewhat disfigured in a car accident during the filming of Raintree County had become an alcoholic and would make only two more films before dying in 1966 of heart disease. A doctor was on set at all times for both Monroe and Clift.

     Directed by John Huston, The Misfits is a tale of the random adventures of five individuals thrown together somewhat by chance. Monroe’s Roslyn is in Reno to secure a divorce from a man who was emotionally absent from their relationship. She rooms with Isabelle (Thelma Ritter), a middle-aged divorcee who has made a life of standing witness at divorce trials. The film commences with mechanic Guido, expertly played by Eli Wallach, examining Roslyn’s beat up but brand new car –a divorce gift from her husband. When he spots the attractive Roslyn he offers to drive the two to the courthouse. The three later reunite in a bar where Guido is drinking with friend and cowboy Gay (Gable). The four hit it off and the men escort the women out of town to Guido’s incomplete house in the desert.

     Despite Guido’s clear romantic interest in Roslyn from the get-go, Gay is the one who manages to coax the young woman into a relationship of sorts despite their considerable age difference. The quartet later picks up bull rider Perce (Clift) to help them go “mustanging” and this man also takes a shine to Roslyn. We learn quickly that Roslyn is made hysterical by the idea of harm to defenseless creatures. She objects to Gay’s desire to shoot rabbits nibbling at their vegetable garden, is horrified that the capture of mustangs is so they may be sold to a dog-food manufacturer, and takes to tears when she sees Perce thrown from a bronco and then a bull. The movie closes on Gay and Roslyn driving away from the remote mountain scene where the gang had wrangled six horses with us uncertain whether the two will reconcile their differences and the gal will stay on in Nevada.

     The Misfits was the first instance when I witnessed Monroe in a character that was realistic to the physicality she brought to the screen. The men in this movie treat her exactly as she is: a voluptuous, young, beautiful creature distracting enough to lead to traffic accidents. In the other pictures I have seen, Monroe’s extreme body shape always seemed secondary to whatever character she took on as if she was a woman who just happened to have enormous breasts. Her emotional acting was also astonishing. Although Roslyn still has a young personality marked by naiveté, she is also deeply troubled. Much of Monroe’s acting here is conveyed only through her face. She also offers some surprising outbursts of anger at her on-screen contemporaries. The Misfits was written by Arthur Miller for Monroe, his wife at the time, which I think is why it worked out so well for her performance-wise.

     Gable, too, gives a strikingly different performance than those to which audiences were accustomed from his work at the peak of his career. He gives a particularly good show when drunk and screaming atop a car for his adult children who have fled the premises. Some contend he was mirroring the Method acting styles of his costars. The man also was surely at home in the part of a cowboy given he enjoyed farm life off-screen as well.

  • The Misfits is set for 1:30 a.m. ET Sept. 12 and 2:15 a.m. Nov. 19 on TCM.

Source: Robert Osborne, TCM.com

Advertisements

One Response

  1. Arthur Miller based the character of Roslyn on Marilyn herself. They were married at the time, and he saw what a deeply troubled person she was–traumatized by a tumultuous childhood and pigeonholed and taken advantage of by the studio. She had a rough time, and I think part of her tragedy is that still, to this day, nearly 50 years after her death, she is misunderstood.

    Thank you for this wonderful review of a film I consider to be one of Marilyn’s best. I wrote a small birthday tribute to her on my blog, if you would like to read it: http://backlots.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/birthday-tribute-marilyn-monroe/. Thanks again for your great review!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: