The Misfits On DVD
This existential meditation on the allure of the American West is gutsy and heart-wrenching. The male misfits in question are an aging cowboy, Gay Langland (Clark Gable); a lovelorn mechanic, Guido (Eli Wallach); and a burnt-out rodeo rider, Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift). When these tough men meet up in Reno with Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe), a beautiful blond and a misfit in her own way, they immediately fall for her openness, honesty, and passion.
All of these characters are starved for affection, but while the men are out to fulfill their personal needs, Roslyn's love extends to all beings—and she can thrive only in a universe where this is the norm. But she sees through Perce's immaturity and Guido's self-centeredness, and chooses Gay as the most solid candidate.
The battle of wills between Roslyn and Gay is the core of the film, and comes to life in a stunning climactic sequence in which the men pursue and capture a herd of wild horses. Roslyn has freed the horses from their fate at a slaughterhouse, but Gay recaptures the animals with his bare hands, and almost dies in the process. Only when Gay agrees to find another way to feel alive does Roslyn see a possible future with him. He must weigh the exhilarating sense of freedom his lifestyle gives him against the cruelty it entails. And he must learn compassion toward man and beast alike.
Playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Misfits as he was waiting for his divorce from Monroe to become final. Maybe that's why the movie feels at times like a psychodrama—the actress's vulnerability here is not simply a personal characteristic but part of the plot. Curiously, Clift's character, with its mother problems, also seems autobiographical, and Gable's age and physical exertion, also parts of the plot, were rumored to be factors in the actor's death soon after the shoot. The film turned out to be a swan song for Monroe as well.
The Misfits deals with inhumanity in a quintessentially American context, and John Huston was just the director to breathe life into such material. Like many of his films, this one is about unfulfilled dreamers—people doomed never to see their wishes come true. Guido and Gay hope to start a business together, but Gay chooses Roslyn instead. Only Roslyn, swimming against the current with her mad nobility, manages to fulfill her dream.
What's so moving is the protagonists' desperate attempts to communicate, to make sense of their existence in an irrational world. Huston masterfully conveys Roslyn's alienation and dislocation in Reno, her loneliness amid the local transients. By the same token, the desolate salt marshes where the horses run wild challenge the men to confront nature and be at one with it.
The acting is a tour de force across the board—a rare opportunity to observe three major icons at their most vulnerable. Gable and Clift do less to achieve more, in lean performances that do justice to the anti-heroes they play, while Monroe is more of a force of nature. The gentleness, the mood swings, the passionate honesty—she makes all of them wrenchingly authentic. It's the performance of her life.
The black-and-white transfer is dazzling. The images are crisp, the shades of black and gray beautifully alive. The focus is consistent and the mono sound powerful. Grade A entertainment.