The Misfits (1961 film)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Misfits is a 1961 American drama film written by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston, and starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, and Eli Wallach. It was the final film appearance for both Gable and Monroe. It was not a commercial success at the time of its release, but it garnered critical respect for its script and performances.
In Reno, Nevada, 30-year-old Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) has filed for a quickie six-week Nevada divorce from her inattentive husband Raymond (McCarthy). As Tabor is entering the Washoe County Courthouse with her landlady Isabelle (Ritter), Roslyn ignores Raymond's attempts to talk to her and reconcile and stays with Isabelle. Isabelle is also a divorcee. After the divorce papers are filed, Isabelle takes Roslyn to a cocktail lounge at Harrah's Reno for drinks, to let the reality of her new divorce sink in. While at Harrah's, they meet an aging cowboy named Gaylord 'Gay' Langland (Gable) and his tow truck driver best friend Guido (Wallach). After some good conversation, they invite Roslyn and Isabelle to Guido's old house in the Nevada country to help her forget about the divorce after Gay tells Roslyn that he is also divorced. The group arrives at the unfinished house Guido built for his late wife, who died several years earlier during childbirth. They all drink and dance. Roslyn has too much to drink, so Gay drives her home to Reno.
Eventually, Roslyn and Gay move into Guido's half-finished house and start to work on it. One day after breakfast, Gay tells Roslyn how he wishes he were more of a father to his own children, whom he has not seen for some years. Later that afternoon, Roslyn and Gay argue when Gay discovers a rabbit has been eating the lettuce in the garden. Gay states his intention to find and kill the rabbits which have been eating the vegetable garden they planted outside Guido's house.
When Guido and Isabelle later show up at the house, Gay suggests that they round up wild mustangs to sell. They then plan to go to a local rodeo in Dayton to look for and hire a third man for the job. In Dayton, they run into Perce Howland (Clift), a cowboy friend of Gay's, who is in Dayton to compete in the rodeo. Gay offers to pay for the broke Perce's $10 rodeo entry fee if he helps the group round up wild mustangs the next day. Isabelle sees her ex-husband Charles and his new wife Clara and decides to invite them to her Reno home instead of going to the rodeo with Gay, Guido, Perce, and Roslyn. Before the rodeo, Guido, Perce, Roslyn and Gaylord all drink at a Dayton bar, where wagers were made and won on Roslyn's ability to play a game of paddle ball. The group is nearly involved in a fistfight when a drunken patron at the bar spanks Roslyn's bottom as she plays paddle ball.
At the rodeo, Roslyn becomes somewhat upset when Guido tells her how the horses are made to buck with an irritating flank strap. She then declares that all rodeos should be banned. Later in the rodeo, Perce is thrown by a bucking horse, and Roslyn begs him to go to a hospital, but he insists on riding a bull he had already signed up and paid to ride. He gets thrown again, resulting in a head injury.
Later, after Roslyn dances with Perce, he passes out in a Dayton back alley. When he regains consciousness, he sees Roslyn crying over him. He says that he never had anyone cry for him before and that he wished he had a friend to talk to. He tells her how his mother changed after his father died, giving his stepfather the ranch Perce's father wanted to leave to Perce. A drunken Gay then fetches Roslyn, telling her that he wants her to meet his kids, into whom he claims he unexpectedly ran. When Gay discovers his children have already left Dayton, he causes a public scene outside the bar in Dayton.
Later on, during the drive home to Reno, a drunken Guido asks if Roslyn has left Gay, and offers to take his place. Back at Guido's house, Guido, intoxicated and sleepless, attempts to finish the patio he started. Perce awakens and nearly tears his bandages off, forgetting about his recent injury. Roslyn puts him to bed and sits down with Gay. He asks her if a woman like her would ever want to have a child with him. She avoids the issue, and Gay goes to bed.
The next day, Gay, Guido and Perce prepare to go after the wild mustangs, and Roslyn reluctantly tags along. After they catch a stallion and four mares, Rosalyn becomes upset when she learns that the mustangs will be sold and slaughtered for dog food. She then tells Gay she did not know she was falling in love with a killer. Gay tells Roslyn that he did things for her that he never did for any other woman, such as making the house a home and planting the garden.
After the horses are captured, Roslyn begs Gay to release the horses. He considers doing it, but when she offers to pay him the $200 she won playing paddleball, it angers him. Guido tells Roslyn that he would let them go if she would leave Gay for him. She rebuffs him, telling him he only cares about himself. Perce also asks her if she wants him to set the horses free, but she declines because she thinks it would only start a fight. Perce frees the stallion anyway.
After Gay chases down and subdues the horse all by himself, he lets it go and says he just did not want anybody making up his mind for him. They get into Gay's truck. As they are driving, Roslyn tells Gay that she will leave the next day. Gay stops the truck to pick up his dog and watches Roslyn joyfully untethering it. Gay and Roslyn realize that they still love each other, and drive off into the night.
- Clark Gable as Gay Langland
- Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn Taber
- Montgomery Clift as Perce Howland
- Thelma Ritter as Isabelle Steers
- Eli Wallach as Guido
- James Barton as Fletcher's grandfather
- Kevin McCarthy as Raymond Taber
- Estelle Winwood as the church lady
- Peggy Barton as Young Bride
- Phillip Mitchell as Charles Steers (Isabelle's ex-husband)
- John Huston as an Extra in Blackjack Scene
- Rex Bell as Old Cowboy
- Ryall Bowker as Man in Bar
- Frank Fanelli, Sr. as the Gambler at the Dayton Bar
- Dennis Shaw as Fletcher
- Bobby LaSalle as Bartender
- Walter Ramage as Old Groom
- Ralph Roberts as Ambulance Driver at Rodeo
- J. Lewis Smith as Fresh Cowboy at Bar
- Marietta Tree as Susan (Gay's Girlfriend getting on the Train at the beginning of the movie)
The making of The Misfits was troublesome on several accounts, not the least of which were the heat of the northern Nevada desert and breakdown of Monroe's marriage to writer Arthur Miller.
Director Huston gambled and drank, and occasionally fell asleep on the set. The production company had to cover some of his gambling losses. His lover Marietta Peabody Tree had an uncredited part. Miller wrote new pages throughout the shoot, revising the script as the concepts of the film developed.
Monroe was sinking further into alcohol and prescription drugs. Huston shut down production in August 1960 to send Monroe to a hospital for detox. Close-ups after her release were shot using soft focus. Monroe was nearly always late to the set, sometimes not showing up at all. She spent her nights learning lines with drama coach Paula Strasberg. Monroe's confidant and masseur, Ralph Roberts, was cast as an ambulance attendant in the film's rodeo scene.
Gable insisted on doing his own stunts, including being dragged about 400 feet across the dry lake bed at more than 30 miles per hour.
In a documentary about the making of The Misfits, Wallach told a story of Huston directing a scene where Wallach was at a bar with Gable. Huston told him that the most intoxicated he had ever been was the day before, even though he had seemed sober. The lesson for the actors was that an intoxicated person tries to act sober.