There’s always a certain frisson when you watch a film and you know that behind the scenes, in some fashion, art was imitating life. You certainly get that with this, which was the final film of both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, who had by this point in their career been deemed surplus to the requirements of a changing, ruthless industry. It’s shocking that it flopped on its initial release, given the sheer calibre of people involved – the aforementioned Gable and Monroe are joined by Montgomery Clift as well as exemplary character actors Thelma Ritter and Eli Wallach, it was directed by John Huston (who had by then already made The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen), and the script was written by a certain playwright called Arthur Miller. On paper, it sounds like the best film in the world. While it doesn’t quite manage to be the sum of its parts, it’s still a fascinating curio.

A predictably troubled shoot, it was made in almost unworkable conditions due to the Nevada desert in high summer, and further complicated by the ongoing breakdown of Miller’s marriage to Monroe. The playwright had to be on set every day and was having to constantly rewrite the script, and none of this was helped by Huston’s habit of drinking and gambling at every opportunity and even falling asleep on set. The director reportedly lost so much money from his card debts the production itself had to subsidise him lest they found themselves without a director. Monroe also had her demons – she was by now sinking into a dependance on alcohol and subscription drugs, and filming was put on hold for two weeks while she was admitted to hospital for a detox. Soft focus lenses had to be used for her close-ups, her brain was so frazzled she would always arrive late and sometimes not at all, she struggled with her lines. And all this on a film called “The Misfits”.

Despite all that, the film is amongst the best work of everyone involved. Gable thought it was his finest performance – based only on rough cuts however, as he had a heart attack two days after it wrapped and died ten days later. Monroe would never finish another film, sliding into oblivion and being found dead 18 months later. There’s an overwhelming sadness to this swansong for them, which is a kind of farewell to an era, and a love letter to the bittersweet silver screen.

THE MISFITS
Art Imitating Life10
Proof that Marilyn Monroe was a very talented actor, who could have gone on to become a great one8
John Huston was kind of the Oliver Reed of film directors8
Everyone else involved is also really on form8
The general public pretty much ignored it at the time5
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I'm pretty sure they only talk about men
8Overall Score

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