Marilyn Monroe gave her last screen performance as a neurotic divorcee who falls in with three variously damaged men in John Huston’s affecting portrait of the lost, lonely and broken in the modern American West.
Haunted by the imminent mortality of many of its stars — it was the last film Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe made before their respective deaths, while Monroe famously described co-star Montgomery Clift as “the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am” — The Misfits defines that overused word “elegiac.” At her most vulnerable and affecting, Monroe plays a divorcee who falls for an over-the-hill cowboy (Gable) in Reno. When she learns that he and his pals — a boozy, mother-fixated rodeo performer (Clift) and an Italian-American biplane pilot (Eli Wallach) — make their living by rounding up wild mustangs to sell to slaughterhouses, she lashes out at their brutal, unfeeling world. The misfits of the title refers first to the doomed wild horses, but as Arthur Miller’s affecting screenplay makes apparent, it applies most acutely to this crew of the lost, lonely, and broken in an American West whose heroic myths have long turned to dust. “Gable has never done anything better on screen, nor has Miss Monroe” (New York Daily Post).
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