|THE MISFITS (1961)|
|Roslyn: "Did you ever think about gettin' married again?"
Gay: "Oh, I think about it; never in daylight."
|Time: 124 mins.|
THE MISFITS is one of those films that most people have heard of but never seen. This cache is due to the fact that it's the last feature film starring either Clark Gable or Marilyn Monroe. A great loss to the world of cinema, especially if you're one of the lucky ones who've actually seen this picture. Written for Monroe by then husband, the renowned playwright Arthur Miller, THE MISFITS gives her the most dynamic and poignant role of her career. This may have been conceived for his wife, but Miller is no slouch and he gives all three leading men juicy parts to chew on as well. Though I consider myself a fan of Gable, I have not seen many of his films. He's such a man's man and even here, at the age of 59, he's still drop dead sexy. I can't imagine how any woman could resist him. That he's also a damn good actor only makes him all the more irresistible. Of course, when you complete the trio with director John Huston, you have to figure that this will be, at the very least, a very interesting cinema experience. It's that and more. THE MISFITS is an emotional roller coaster ride that will have you glued to the screen, praying that these two people are able to weather the storm and come out happy on the other side.
The film opens with Guido (Wallach) meeting Rosalyn (Monroe) and her friend/landlady Isabelle (Ritter) as she's on her way to get a divorce. He's almost rendered speechless by Rosalyn's presence. She's unlike any woman he's ever seen in Reno. They happen to bump into each other again in a local bar where he's drinking with his buddy Gay (Gable), who's trying to convince Guido to hit the open road again to round up some horses. The group decides to share a drink. Gay is also duly impressed with Rosalyn, but he hides his desire a bit better than Guido. Isabelle warmly warns Rosalyn against getting involved with a cowboy, which only makes Gay smile. Fresh from her divorce, she claims not to be interested in love, but is clearly attracted to Gay. Not wanting to let her go, Gay suggests she join them out in the dessert, give herself some time to think about her next move. Why not? They move the party out to Guido's unfinished ranch house, where romance sparks between Rosalyn and Gay, much to Guido's dismay. He allows them to stay at the ranch, where they proceed to make it into quite a nice little home.
Gay has never worked that hard for a woman or a home. When Isabelle and Guido next visit, they can't believe all the changes and how happy the couple looks. For a woman who wasn't ready to move on, she seems to have found someone awful quickly. Though infatuated with each other, there are cracks in the veneer of this new relationship. Neither understands where the other is coming from. Rosalyn is upset by the violence of the outdoor lifestyle, which Gay just brushes off as her being silly and unreasonable. To escape this battle, they go to a local rodeo with Guido and Isabelle where Gay hopes to pick up a third man to help them wrangle some local mustangs. They find an old friend, Perce (Clift), a young cowboy who's hoping to earn some cash by riding in the rodeo. After taking one look at Rosalyn, he agrees to help them with the horses as well. Rosalyn is initially excited by her first rodeo, but is horrified when Perce is thrown from the horse and knocked silly. She begs Gay to make him stop, but he ignores her pleas. A second injury that knocks Perce unconscious causes a further rift between the couple.
The final straw comes during the mustang roundup. This intense and exciting sequence showcases Rosalyn's growing horror over the fate of these strong, free creatures. In a confrontation on the high desert between Rosalyn and the three men everything about these characters and their darkest traits are revealed. She howls at them like a banshee and each man is forced to search his soul for the answer that will ultimately win her heart. Only one will master his emotions and make the correct decision, not because of Rosalyn, but because it's the right thing to do. In the end, she leaves with the man who not only respects her, but also allows her to run free. I'll give you one guess which one that is. He may have been old, but he's still the star. The roundup finale is one of raw emotion and powerful images. The stark desert, the running horses, Marilyn screaming, it doesn't get better than this.
This is without a doubt a poignant glimpse of the dramatic potential Marilyn had inside her. It's a shame she wasn't able to stretch this part of her onscreen persona more. The drama of her life suggests that she would have had a lot of experience to pull from. In THE MISFITS, she may still be the blond that all men what to possess, but her sweet innocence and intelligence make her overt sexuality all the more powerful. She knows what her appearance does to men, she just doesn't know why. All she wants is someone to respect her and love her for more than just her body parts. It's a heartbreaking performance that really is the core of the film. Gable, though sweet and charming, also gets to show a more sensitive side in this film. He's playing a man trying to come to turns with the fact that his lifestyle is quickly disappearing and that everything he held dear is vanishing in the wind. There's real sadness behind his smiling eyes and you just want to hold him in your arms and soothe it away.
Wallach and Clift round out this famous quartet, giving powerful performances as the two cowboys unable to gain their hearts' desire. The former is eaten away by bitterness at the loss, the latter is just glad to have been around her essence, if only for a short time. Thelma Ritter is the consummate wise-cracking sidekick and she's does her usual good work here. The cinematography and art direction are wonderful, making the desert look like a welcome paradise instead of a forlorn wasteland. Huston takes a story that could have been a hokey melodrama and turns it into a disturbing, emotional treasure. There's almost more not being said by the actors in their looks and movements than there is dialogue. Like the mustangs they hunt down, these characters are misfits from normal society, people who see and feel things differently from the rest and are quickly becoming extinct. They need to band together if they're going to survive. Their story ends up a happy one, but the road to get there is filled with trouble. Much like life. If you're interested in seeing a powerful drama about real people, then you should check out this classic. At the very least, Gable and Monroe make for an intriguing screen couple.