I questioned whether or not I should do a post about this film. It had such an effect on my psyche and mood, I didn’t know if I wanted to revisit it. Then I realized that’s why The Misfits is so amazing. Sometimes I need to challenge myself, because that is merely a dare to learn something new. So here we are, me doing a review of this movie.
I would say this is one of Marilyn Monroe’s less popular films, but then again, I only know what I know, so maybe it’s not. Either way, she is fantastic in it. Probably because Arthur Miller, her husband, wrote this part for her, and boy, did he do it right. I’ll get more into that later.
This is probably the first movie I’ve ever really seen with Clark Gable. I’ve sort of seen Ben-Hur [Editor’s Note: Professor Brown informed me that Gable wasn’t actually in Ben Hur, and upon further inspection, IMDb says he was an uncredited extra, which explains why I don’t remember seeing him.] and Gone With the Wind, but not in their entirety (collectively, those movies are approximately 241 hours long). This was actually the last movie either of them appeared in before they died, and according to my picture book Movie Icons: Monroe, by Paul Duncan, “As a child and orphan, Marilyn often fantasized Clark Gable was her father” (p160). Oddly enough, I think casting him in this role opposite her was perfect due to that strange Oedipus Rex complex going on between them.
Side note: between Marilyn’s mouth pursing and Clark’s overly expressive eyebrows, there is some major facial emoting happening in this film. Consider yourself warned.
The real draw for me to this film is Montgomery Clift. I. Love. Monty. Clift. I owe this love to my film professor Dennis Brown over at the good ole’ Webster University. What a mess this guy was. Clift, not Brown. From what I can tell, Professor Brown has it very much together. I’m about to start reading a biography about him. Again, Clift, not Brown. I actually think I’ve already read Brown’s biography. Here’s Clift’s Wikipedia page. Skim over it, seriously. His life should be a fucking movie. OH, WAIT! I want to write movies! Let it be known, that I, Deanna Beaton, on this day, November 13, 2010, plan on writing a biopic about Montgomery Clift. That’s how copyrights work, right? Intellectual property, and all that jazz? Don’t believe this guy was a hot mess? While shooting this movie, Marilyn once told him, “You’re the only person I’ve ever met who’s more screwed up than me,” (p 167). Now THAT is really saying something.
(This clip is missing the voice over in the beginning, but the visuals are much better than the other trailer, so just ignore the first 25 seconds that seem to be completely unrelated to the movie.)
About this movie.
Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) is a newly divorced woman in Reno when she meets Guido (Eli Wallach) and Gay (Clark Gable, and yes, his name was Gay. Try saying something about it. He’d kick your ass to next Tuesday and then have sex with your wife. He is the original Chuck Norris.), a couple of rambling man cowboys. The guys convince her to stay with them out in the country for a while now that she’s a free woman. While Guido is hungry for her attention, Gay is the one who captures her eye. Because they’re cowboys and “anything’s better than wages,” Gay and Guido pick up their old partner Perce (Montgomery Clift) to help them wrangle some wild horses for money. With all three men vying for her affection, things get complicated once Roslyn finds out exactly what will happen to these wild horses.
Because this is an Arthur Miller story, things are actually a tad more complicated than that, but that is the general plot of the film. That’s also why you just need to watch it for yourself.
I actually didn’t know until writing this post that Arthur Miller wrote the script. I just thought it was all an amazing coincidence that Monroe’s role in this film fit her perfectly and was eerily similar to her in real life: she is a magnetic woman begging for attention and love, especially from a fatherly figure, but she’s smart enough to realize when people are using her. Early on in the film, Guido explains this perfectly when telling Gay, “One minute she looks kinda dumb, brand new like a kid, and the next minute… She sure moves, don’t she?” A little later on, Guido is toasting Roslyn for helping him finish his house. Replace “Roslyn” with “Marilyn” and I think you have a fairly accurate representation of what Arthur Miller probably thought about his (soon to be ex-) wife: “You have the gift of life, Roslyn. The rest of us, we’re just looking for a place to hide and watch it all go by.”
A lot of people, when describing this movie, have said Roslyn and Gay fall in love. I want to make it very clear that is not what happens. Roslyn falls into wanting to be loved by Gay, in the exact same way I’ve read Monroe herself fell into wanting to be loved by the men in her life. In fact, Gay hugs her and she responds, “I don’t feel that way about you.” Soon after, though, the two are fairly intimate with each other, in a rushed and superficial kind of way. Later on, Gay gets frustrated by Roslyn getting in his way, so she turns to Perce. Although he tries to hide it, Gay is visibly jealous.
The two of them never really patch things up all the way–how can you when you’ve only known each other for such a short period of time; days, weeks, maybe–so when Gay tells Roslyn the horses will be made into dog food and she sees firsthand the kind of cruelty used to wrangle the horses, she goes into a frenzy. She begs the men to stop what they’re doing. She even offers them $200 to let them go–$80 more than what they would get paid for bringing them in–but Gay refuses to accept her offer.
Any semblance of a relationship is shot when he snaps back at her, “I was just wondering who you think you’ve been talking to since you met me.” (Hello, daddy issues. Tell me that’s not something your dad has said to you. Or is that just me and my smart ass?) Guido offers to let the horses go if she’ll go out with him, but she promptly puts him in his place, telling him in no uncertain terms to go to hell.
Perce, suddenly ashamed of his own participation in the wrangling of a mere six mustangs, cuts them free. Gay chases one down and grabs a hold of the rope still dragging from its neck. He manages to strong arm the stallion down and tie it to the truck before cutting it free himself: “I don’t want nobody making up my mind for me, is all.” Roslyn and Gay then drive away together in a fairly ambiguous ending up for your own interpretation. In my mind they parted ways soon after, but according to IMDb, everybody thinks they ended up together. IMDb can suck it for all I care.
I said I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do a post about this film. I said that because this film really brought up a lot of emotions in me, and it literally altered my state of mind. After watching so much Marilyn, I started feeling needy and victimized (unnecessarily so, I might add), much like her character. I got too attached to Perce, just like Roslyn, and empathized too much with him: his rodeo wounds hurt me, too; his fractured personal life made my heart ache for him. Despite his fairly minor role, Clift had a very large impact on me in this movie. He is a mesmerizing actor who was phenomenal as Perce.
The part that really, really affected me–as in, I was upset for the rest of the night; my mood soured by this–was the sequence where they are wrangling the mustangs. Roslyn is so obviously torn up that this is happening, and it is the first time anyone has ever made them think about what it is they are doing. The only reason she is in the country with them in the first place is because Gay told her the country is where she can go to relax and be free. Lo and behold, he is taking away their freedom and lives, and justifies it by saying, “They’re nothing but a bunch of misfit horses.” Amidst her begs for them to stop, she screams bloody murder at them, “God’s country? Freedom? I hate you! You’re three dear, sweet, dead men.” Despite her protests, they just keep on doing it. In the end, Gay does set them free, so all is well that ends well, but it is not easily forgotten.
Much like In America, The Misfits elicited such a visceral emotional response in me, I can’t help but be moved. It is an American classic and terribly fantastic. I hope you get a chance to see this film, because it is most definitely worth it. Despite Clark Gable’s ridiculously unflattering pants.