Most helpful positive review
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2013
So much history here.
The credits are as formidable as you'll ever find: a play by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston. Russell Metty as DP, Alex North composing the terrific score. The perfomers: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter. For Gable and Monroe, "The Misfits" would be their last; for Clift, his third-to-last.
Monroe and Miller were divorcing during the shoot, and Miller was quickly rewriting his original play in order to take these personal changes into account. Especially in the first half, there's a lot of talk about divorce: Monroe's Roslyn is in fact getting a divorce when the movie starts. The larger theme around all this is how that we don't really know our loved ones and partners as intimately as we might think. The movie is about a group of misfits in the larger society -- cowboys stuck in the wrong century, or naive angels in a cynical, lustful, bloody world -- but they're also misfits in their personal relationships. It goes so far as to suggest that even spouses are misfitted to each other at the core. And there's some truth (if not the whole truth) to that idea. Miller and Monroe were misfitted to each other, for example.
The movie's name refers to the cast, too. Take Montgomery Clift. Miller worked Clift's horrible accident obliquely into the script. "Naw, Ma, my face is fine, it's all healed up," he tells his mother on the phone in one scene. Later, there's a scene where he's lying in Monroe's lap, his head bandaged from getting thrown by a horses and bulls in the Reno rodeo, while he talks about his mother. Audiences would be reminded of Clift's car crash and how Elizabeth Taylor had rushed to the scene and had cradled him in much the same way. Monroe famously said of Clift, "The only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am." Even though he was still handsome, it was in a ravaged way, and he was so thin and frail-looking that a stiff breeze might have blown him over.
If Clift was in "worse shape" according to Monroe, she was still in pretty bad shape herself, only living beyond the shooting of this film by a year and a half. At least Huston didn't feel the need to shoot Clift (or an unwell Gable, for that matter) in soft focus, like he did with Monroe for several scenes because she looked terrible from trying to detoxify from booze and pills. And yet she's still so beautful, even here -- perhaps especially here. Despite audiences not wanting to see a depressed Monroe, preferring her instead to be dopey, to speak slowly, and to have some sexy snap, this remains her best performance. The breathy, dopey mannerisms are not to be found here; instead, we get a unhappy character as performed by an unhappy actor. There's one brief moment that doesn't work at all in the film, but works in the meta-context we've constructed around her legend. After her three drunken beaus stumble into Eli Wallach's unfinished house, she remains outside for a moment, looks up at the stars, and simply says, "Help." She never found it -- not in this life, anyway.
Clark Gable survived the shoot by two days. Legends have built up around this: Gable insisted on doing his own stunts, allowing a mustang stallion to drag him for 400 feet on a desert floor (true) ... Gable basically seething himself to death while waiting in frustration for Monroe to show up on the set (also true) ... but probably the real reasons were a lifelong 3+ pack-a-day habit and the fact that he lost 40 pounds in a few weeks in preparation for the role. (Always dangerous to do if one is over 50 years old.) Even if the real reason was so prosaic, it's still hard not to think that his heart just gave out after giving EVERYTHING of himself to the role of the aging cowboy and mustang wrangler. The scene where this Golden Age of Hollywood relic cries out for his children is an astonishing thing to see. There was a great actor underneath all the varnish of "image" with which he had shellacked himself. On seeing the rushes, even he agreed it was the performance of his lifetime. You should see it.
5 stars out of 5 -- quite simply, a must-have for anyone who cares about the history of movies. One caveat, though: the mustang-wrangling scenes will be extremely tough for animal lovers to watch. Even if you don't particularly care for animals, watching the horses getting yanked roughly by ropes may make you into a temporary member of PETA. No wonder Monroe screams at the men who do it.