Title: The Misfits
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Thelma Ritter
“The Misfits” stands as the last completed film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, but its value and engagement extends well beyond that trivia question value, or any of the other salacious stories behind its troubled production. An unusual and illuminating ensemble drama from director John Huston and screenwriter Arthur Miller, the 1961 film is long on color and a bit short on plot, but so striking for the empathy it radiates for its fringe-dwelling, booze-happy characters.
Set in Reno, the story centers around Roslyn Tabor (Monroe), a freshly divorced but still downhearted woman who, with her landlady Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter), hooks up with Gay Langland (Cable), an aging womanizer and ex-cowboy, and his pal Guido (Eli Wallach), a widowed mechanic and part-time pilot. An awkward bundle of uncertain parallel and crossed attractions, the quartet repair to Guido’s cabin on the outskirts of town, where lots of drinking and talking (mostly the former) ensues. Everyone here is emotionally stunted or closed off and self-medicating to varying degrees, and alcohol is the most popular air-quote remedy. Gay and Guido figure there’s some money to be made rounding up mustangs, and they eventually stumble across Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift), a somewhat sensitive drunken rodeo drifter who fits right in with their clan. Isabelle eventually takes her leave from the group, but Roslyn hangs around, and heads to the Nevada flats to witness Gay and company flush out the wild horses.
Miller’s script is poetic, and cuts right to the heart of Monroe’s screen appeal (“You make a man feel happy,” says Gay), which is all the more fascinating when one considers the fact that their off-screen marriage was unraveling during the production. Monroe was also heavily into alcohol and prescription drugs (director Huston was boozing heartily during shooting as well), which seems evident in a couple carousing scenes. Gable, who suffered a heart attack a couple days after filming ended and passed away 10 days later, is compellingly gruff but also worn and weathered; one can almost feel the skin cancer emanating forth from the screen.
The most remarkable thing about The Misfits is, while wringing consistent conflict out of the tension between Rosyln’s idealism and tenderness and Gay’s hard-edged, way-of-the-world practicality (they also have an argument about shooting rabbits), the degree to which it provides seemingly raw, real-world snapshots of its stars. Even though they reportedly did not get along that well off set, Gable and Monroe have a nice chemistry that also retains a certain standoffish quality. This serves the material well when Roslyn begins to seemingly contemplate a burgeoning affinity for Perce; Monroe’s searing vulnerability most comes through in one of these sequences. There’s also an undeniable melancholic sadness to Monroe’s performance, which hints at personal demons long kept from the public eye.
Housed in a regular Blu-ray case with a color cover shot of its three stars, The Misfits arrives to Blu-ray on a 50GB dual-layer disc, in a superlative, 1080p AVC-encoded 1.66:1 widescreen transfer. Russell Metty’s black-and-white cinematography is well textured, and if there’s a steady, low-grade grain throughout there are certainly no problems with edge enhancement. The soundtrack is solidly mastered in DTS-HD, preserving its original mono presentation. Spanish and French mono overdubs are also available, along with optional English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. The big strike, though, is the baffling lack of supplemental material here. Apart from the cursory chapter stops and a copy of the movie’s trailer, it’s barren, which just feels wrong. Apparently there’s a 2002 episode of Great Performances that focuses exclusively on the making of the movie, and Wallach — who just received an honorary Academy Award — is still alive, and has previously told amazing anecdotes about the film’s production. Why neither are included or utilized here is a mystery, and most unfortunate, too, as The Misfits is a film which deserves a rejuvenation of its wounded reputation and general under-appreciation.
Written by: Brent Simon