MGM // 1961 // 125 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 23rd, 2011
It shouts and sings with life! It explodes with love!
Gay: "What makes you so sad? You're the saddest girl I've ever
Roslyn: "You're the first man who's ever said that. I'm usually told how happy I am."
Gay: "That's because you make a man feel happy."
Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe, All About Eve) has just gotten a divorce. Her husband was an emotionally unavailable, physically abusive man and she's relieved to finally be free of him. Shortly after the matter is settled, Roslyn meets Gay Langland (Clark Gable, Gone With the Wind), an aging cowboy who spends his days rounding up wild horses. The two quickly make a connection, and soon Roslyn finds herself traveling to Gay's Nevada ranch and getting to know his pals Guido (Eli Wallach, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and Perce (Montgomery Clift, Red River). It all goes well enough for a while, but things take a sour turn when Gay invites Roslyn to join him on a round-up.
When you consider the production history of The Misfits, it's a wonder that the cast and crew actually managed to put together a coherent film, much less a compelling one. Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, and director John Huston were all suffering from a variety of addictions and severe personal problems, Huston and writer Arthur Miller were clashing over the script (which was re-written and significantly tinkered with quite a bit over the course of production), Miller and Monroe were in the process of splitting apart, and lead actor Clark Gable was suffering from health problems. The film is not quite an American masterpiece, but it is a deeply felt film about wounded souls made by and starring people whose troubled personal lives often seem to spill right onto the screen.
Pretentious and obvious though it may be at times (Miller was convinced that he had written a masterpiece; the excellence of his writing is occasionally discounted by the fact that the screenplay seems so intent on constantly assuring the viewer of its excellence), The Misfits offers a genuinely riveting look at the elusive nature of the American dream. Time has passed these individuals by; for one reason or another they are pushed into the corners of the country as society marches on without mercy or grace. For a while, there is joy in the notion that they might find comfort in the company of each other. Alas, even that simple goal proves to be a romantic bubble popped by life's small realities.
The film would be a mournful experience on its own, but the effect is amplified by the knowledge that the movie offers the final screen performances of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable (she died a year and a half after the film was completed, while he died merely ten days after shooting wrapped). There is the sobering sense that the aching weariness they bring to their characters is imported directly from their own lives. True, it remains impossible to know just how much of what we're seeing is real and how much is merely acting. Even so, our knowledge of what these two were going through and when they would pass away is bound to inform our viewing experience.
Most elements of the film are inconsistent, but the ups are far more plentiful than the downs. Huston's direction crackles with energy when it needs to, but the film mostly falls in line with the director's tenderer, character-driven work. At its best, Miller's screenplay rattles with an eloquent, burning desire for life's unattainable essentials. Clark Gable is more magnetic than ever in the role of Gay, bringing so much weathered charm and gravitas to the character. Gable always had a solid screen presence, but rarely has his acting seemed as nuanced as it does in this film. Likewise, Monroe brings new shades to her familiar screen persona, highlighting the frustrated insecurity hiding at her core. Eli Wallach is riveting in his role as the pilot, while Montgomery Clift has a couple of masterful scenes as the rattled rodeo cowboy.
The Misfits arrives on Blu-ray sporting a surprisingly handsome 1080p/1.66:1 transfer. This is another cheap catalogue release from MGM (there's not even a disc menu), but there seems to have been more work put into this release than into many of their recent catalogue outings. Detail is strong throughout, there are very few scratches or flecks, contrast is excellent, darker scenes benefit from above-par shading and the film's natural grain structure has been left intact. This is a compelling film visually and it receives the transfer it deserves. The sound is also solid, though it'll probably make less of an impression on most viewers. Dialogue is free of crackling and hissing, Alex North's sublime score (one of the composer's most emotionally involving efforts) comes through with clarity and the brief action scenes actually pack a surprising punch. Sadly, the only supplement included is the film's theatrical trailer (this is a film begging for an in-depth documentary).
Most of the major participants hit a weak point at some point. Huston struggles with pacing issues at times. Miller's screenplay occasionally overstates elements and sometimes stumbles over simple things -- what happens to Thelma Ritter's character, exactly? Gable has a scene of angry drunkenness that he can't quite sell. Monroe sometimes has trouble conveying her character's more complicated emotions. Clift turns in an unfocused, spaced-out performance that's just as likely to wreck a scene as to fill it with nervous intrigue. The movie isn't a mess, but there are moments when it threatens to be.
The Misfits isn't a great film, but it hits greatness just often enough to remain an unforgettable experiences. Despite its missteps, this is a significant, ambitious film well worth seeing. MGM doesn't bring any new extras to the table with this Blu-ray release, but the transfer is strong enough to warrant an upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated