Misfits, The (1961)

The Misfits (1961), directed by John Huston.

Here is a case where it is hard to separate the poignancy of the story from the production of the film, the actors from their characters. Clark Gable's last film, Marilyn Monroe's last film: both died soon after. Montgomery Clift lived a while longer, but was in the middle of "the longest suicide in Hollywood history". (As I write this, Eli Wallach is still working in his 90s [Later: RIP 2014]). A "troubled" production, you can read the details in the wikipedia. A hard-drinking director is a bad influence on the crew.

It's a rambling plot, mostly about a group of people, their conversations and relationships. But given that, it's one of the finer films I'd never seen before. Arthur Miller wrote this while married to Monroe: maybe this punches my American playwright ticket for another six months.

Monroe is the center of the picture and is in almost every scene. Again, it's hard to separate her acting from her personal problems, but at times the performance is amazing. Her uncertain, distracted demeanor is perfect for the role of a woman in Reno for a quick divorce. She's like a sex goddess just starting to reach the age of wisdom, sad but with a good heart, still willing to hope.

She falls in with gal pal Thelma Ritter and they hook up with real cowboy Clark Gable and his pilot buddy Eli Wallach. Much drinking, dancing, and driving in the desert. She moves in with Gable, but then becomes distracted by quirky, busted up rodeo rider Montgomery Clift.

Then it's up into the mountains to catch wild mustangs. What they don't tell her until it's too late is that no one rides mustangs anymore ("Kids ride motorscooters these days") and these will be sold to a dealer who slaughters them for dogfood. This is the crisis segment: arguing about it, chasing down the horses, roping them and tying them to the ground. No stunts here, it's all done for real and is both cruel and impressive.

It reveals a chasm of time and culture, and between men and women. The men are of that old world where everything living kills to survive, and even kind men can kill. It's true, but she's not having it, doesn't want to think or hear about it. She's crossed over into that fantasy realm where blood and killing are always wrong and no one ever causes pain intentionally. In the end, it looks like she may win the argument.

Strangely enough, Gable's acting style helps here. He's old school, enacting a character, where the others are more "method", living the parts. He symbolizes the old world, but their new realism, fantasy realm or no, breaks him down in the end. He says he can no longer recall the way the world used to be: "It's like trying to remember a dream."

How is it that Monroe whacking the paddle-ball in the bar is not an iconic image for her? It's an amazing scene.

A tiny technical point: a movie convention is to show views through binoculars as two intersecting circles. That's not what it looks like when you use them. They do it correctly here.

Available on Blu-ray, for rent from ClassicFlix. Netflix has no version of this on any media, but they do have a "making of" DVD!

Some fine photography here.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4b/Misfits3423.jpg