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1001 Overlooked Movies - The Misfits (1961)

An aging cowboy must choose between his independent lifestyle and the affections of a beautiful young divorcee.

Directed by: John Huston
Starring: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, Kevin McCarthy

Deconstructing the Western genre and the remnants of the American Dream, 'The Misfits' script, penned by Arthur Miller, is ambitious and moving, even whilst a touch pretentious at times, and John Huston’s direction brings out several excellent performances that serve as career highlights for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable.
It’s a tragically dark little film; both in terms of its tone and its place in film history. This is the last completed film for both Gable and Monroe - Gable dying days after filming ended, and Monroe passing away just over a year later. These themes are prophetically reflected throughout the film; there’s endless discussion of death, life, and what it means to go on living in a changing world where you feel lost and alone. Marriage, divorce, and human relationships are also key thematic points as well, linking up with the fact that Monroe and Miller’s marriage was completely breaking down during filming. The passing of time has pushed the film’s already well written explorations of the American Dream into having an expanded view that includes Hollywood history. It accidentally has become a piece that demonstrates the frailty of our on screen legends, but as they are themselves arguably our most glamorous access points into the American Dream, the film has not had its focus weakened by real world events, instead they reinforce it.
'The Misfits' is not only notable for its depressing place in history however; as I have said it features a number of excellent performances, with Clark Gable impressing in a more challenging role than those he normally took, and Marilyn Monroe demonstrating once and for all that that she could not only act, but act very well. Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter support the film, with Clift and Wallach both giving very good, memorable performances. There’s a lot of humanity to this film, and the whole cast reinforce that fact by playing their parts in ways which feel complex, stripped of pretension, and in some way dirty and "real". This approach is no doubt partially responsible for the very negative reaction that the film received upon its first release, which is a real shame as there is such good work and it went largely unrecognized during the stars' lifetimes.
'The Misfits' is a curious film, one that marks the passing of Hollywood icons whilst exploring the tattered remains of the American Dream. It is a fascinating mixture of "reality" and fiction, as real world events seem to have bled into and shaped the script whilst it evolved on set. Famously troubled during production, and then largely disliked by critics when it was released, it is perhaps not surprising that 'The Misfits' is often overlooked, and yet it definitely deserves to be seen and appreciated by more people today. If you don’t know this one then I urge you to check it out; it’s both historically important, and very affecting.

The official '1001 Movies List' includes the following movies from 1961 - Splendor in the Grass, Last Year at Marienbad, La Jetee, One-Eyed Jacks, Lola, Breakfast at Tiffany's, La Notte, Jules et Jim, Viridiana, The Ladies' Man, Through a Glass Darkly, Chronicle of a Summer, The Hustler, West Side Story

James Walpole
For more from James, visit his site 'Mr Rumsey's Film Related Musings'.