Sunday, August 23, 2009


John Huston's "The Misfits" (1961). Let me start by saying that this film is a bit tough to review since most of the action takes place internally. With that being said, I'm going to give this my best shot. The Misfits is a dark film about a group of four misfits trying to find themselves in against the backdrop of a bleak desert landscape. If you are looking for a movie packed with action, The Misfits is not for you. But if love great dialogue and acting, lots of character development, and tension in the air that runs so thick that you could cut it with a knife, then this is the movie for you.
"The Misfits" is about four characters with little direction in life. They all seem to be running from something and searching for a happiness that they cannot find. There is Roslyn, played by Marilyn Monroe. She is a dancer who just went through a divorce. Then there's Gay, played by Clark Gable. He is a tough, cynical cowboy. Stuck in his ways, he refuses to work a steady job. Instead, the desert is his home, and he makes his living rounding up horses and selling them whenever he feels like it. He also has children whom he rarely sees. Next there is Guido ( Eli Wallach). He is a disillusioned war veteran who suffered a devastating loss of his wife during childbirth. His character is quietly desperate and saddening. Finally there is Perce (Montgomery Clift), the seemingly carefree and idealistic cowboy.

Gay and Guido want to head out to the desert to get away and find themselves, or lose themselves, whichever the case may be. They meet Roslyn and her wizened landlady Isabel, excellently played by Thelma Ritter. Roslyn wants to get away too, since she has just undergone a bitter divorce. So all four head out to the desert to stay in Guido's old house, the one his wife died in. There is plenty of drinking and fun. This is the most enjoyable part of the movie to me, just taking in these great personalities that on the surface don't have a care in the world, and listening to them talk. Gay and Isabel decide to live there for a while, and Guido drops by every now and then to visit.

Things are not as smooth as they seem, though. Soon they have to make some money so Gay and Guido decide they need to rustle up some horses to sell. "It's better than wages", as Gay always says. They need an extra hand and they go to a rodeo to find one. They pick up an old friend Perce to help them. This is when things start to go downhill. As we learn more about these characters, the less likable and the more believable they come. Guy and Rosilyn are already having a bit of a falling out at times. Rosilyn's innocent optimism clashes with Gay's tough as nails outlook on life. Both Guido and Perce seem to have their sights set on Rosalyn too. At the rodeo, there is a very harrowing scene when Gay has a durnken meltdown. He sees his daughters, goes to find Rosalyn to introduce them to her. Before he knows it, his daughters have left, and he has a complete breakdown. Gay's sadness literally punches you in the face. You can feel his remorse for living his carefree lifestyle and ignoring his family.

Tensions begin to mount as the need for cash becomes more serious. An inebriated Perce rides a bull to try to earn some cash and is almost killed. They need to go round up horses to make some cash, and this is where the true tension begins to set in. When they get to where the mustangs are there are not as many as they thought. They will only make about 150 dollars. You see, they sell them for dog food. Isabel is appalled when she finds this out. Watching as they round the horses up is very intense, brutal, and saddening. Roslyn and Gay are almost at their breaking point. Watching how this final drama plays out is fascinating. By the end of this movie, these characters really open up and we see them how they are really are, the good and the bad. Do they find happiness? Well, some do and some don't.

What I liked most about this movie is the natural feel of most of the dialogue, the impeccable acting, and the gorgeous cinematography. The screenplay, written by Arthur Miller, was about his soon to be ex-wife Marilyn Monroe. At times the dialogue is a bit stilted, but most of it flows very naturally. All of the acting here is top notch. Even Marilyn Monroe does a great job. This would be her and Clark Gable's last screen role. The desert cinematography is gorgeous and bleak, It perfectly mirrors the inner desolation of the characters. This is amovie I have to watch every few years or so. I never grow tired of it. Highly recommended.


T.L Bugg said...

I can't agree with you enough. The Misfits is a film I think gets unfairly overlooked, and its certainly got a lot going for it. Great review.

Steve Smith said...


Anonymous said...

I concur - that scene where Roslyn is practically pulling her hair out when they're wrangling the horses gives me goosebumps when I think about it. Hard evidence of Monroe's acting ability (which she demonstrated in multiple other films also...).

Thanks for highlighting this oft-forgotten film.