The final screen outing for stars Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, this is a sparky but rather shallow story of emotional frailty in the Nevada desert
Rarely has a film’s content been as overshadowed by its context as 1961’s ‘The Misfits’, re-released this week as part of a Marilyn Monroe retrospective at BFI Southbank.
Director John Huston drank his way through the production, falling asleep repeatedly during filming. As her marriage to screenwriter Arthur Miller collapsed, leading lady Monroe checked herself into rehab: her recovery was so rocky that all subsequent close-ups had to be taken in soft focus. Two days after the film wrapped, star Clark Gable died of a heart attack. Monroe would follow 18 months later, having loathed the film and her performance in it. Third lead Montgomery Clift survived for five more drink-fuelled years: his final words, to a friend who asked him if he felt like catching a late-night TV showing of ‘The Misfits’, were ‘absolutely not!’.
The tale of a down-on-her-luck divorcée (Monroe) who shacks up with a grizzled-but-lovable Nevada cowboy (Gable) and his rodeo-riding pal (Clift), ‘The Misfits’ is a problematic but provocative piece of work. Miller’s dialogue is as theatrically fruity as it gets – ‘You’re three dear, sweet, dead men!’ – while his overall treatment of Monroe’s character – dim, dizzy, innocent but oh-so-lively – feels patronising.
But there are powerful moments too: Eli Wallach’s performance as Gable’s widowed buddy is pin-sharp, his transformation from pitiable sidekick to soulless creep the most convincing thing in the film. And the climax is simply magnificent, as matters come to a head out at a remote salt flat and Monroe finally gives vent to her frustrations with the entire male gender.