In a Nutshell: The Misfits (1961)

clark gable marilyn monroe the misfits

Directed by: John Huston

Co-stars: Marilyn Monroe, Eli Wallach, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter

Synopsis: The last film of two icons of the screen, The Misfits is a poetic end to the careers of both Gable and Monroe. Gable is Gay Langland, an aging cowboy in Reno who avoids responsibility and anything tying him down. He and his buddy Guido (Wallach) run into Roslyn (Monroe), a depressed ex-dancer who is in Reno getting a divorce. She’s been staying with Isabelle (Ritter) to establish her residency requirement for the divorce. They all have nowhere to be and no one to answer to, so they decide to head out to Guido’s house in the Nevada desert. Although Guido actively pursues her, Roslyn falls quickly for Gay, and he for her. They decide to stay at Guido’s house alone and live there together. But Roslyn’s delicate sensitivity and Gay’s hard-headed masculinity don’t see eye to eye and their differences show themselves on everything from killing bunnies eating their garden to worrying about their friend Perce (Clift) getting hurt in the rodeo. The final straw is when Roslyn accompanies the men on a trip to round up wild mustangs, or “misfits” for dog food.

Best Gable Quote: “Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it, it’ll take us right home.”

Not At All Fun Fact: Gable suffered a heart attack three days after completion of the film and was diagnosed with coronary thrombosis. He died just days later, on November 16, 1960, after suffering a second heart attack.

My Verdict: A poetic and fitting goodbye. The Misfits is far from a perfect film, but his performance is a divine send-off.Look everyone, see, I can really act! I always could!” And in that same vein it feels like we were cheated out of more such performances. The film itself is preachy and talky, like a poem that goes on too long. It is a bit painful to see Clark looking so deteriorated.  Decades and decades of heavy smoking and drinking and taken their toll and instead of looking like his actual age of 59, Clark looks more like 70. Marilyn’s ghosts were beginning to show and her performance is more because of it–the fluff and glitter were stripped away. Who would have ever guessed that this would be the last film for two legends.

Gable, Monroe and Clift were indeed perfectly cast as a band of wandering misfits.

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It’s on DVD
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And that does it, folks! All of Clark Gables films! Two months and all 66!

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3 Responses to In a Nutshell: The Misfits (1961)

  1. Ginger says:

    Great review! In my opinion, Clark’s performance in “The Misfits” was THE best of his career. He nailed it. I did not appreciate “The Misfits” until I was over 40 and realized that I knew or had met people through life’s journey who reminded me of Guido, Isabelle, Roslyn, Perce, and Gay. Arthur Miller had a brilliant way of showing that things are not always as they seem and that the other person may be dealing with issues below the surface.

    My favorite Gable line is Gay’s response to Isabelle when she is excited about running into her ex-husband with his new wife, Isabelle’s oldest friend, who is “sweeter than ever.” Gay dryly responds, “She must be to make you so glad to see her.”

  2. Coco B says:

    Sadly, my least favorite of all his movies. I too learned to understand it better as I got older and with the help of my husband who “helps” me watch this one. I look to Gable in his private life and many or most of his characters and see dignity and control. Not in this movie so I have a hard time with the image of it. Gable is the gentleman we all need but not so in this movie. I do appreciate the effort but don’t like the subject matter at all.

  3. Ginger says:

    @Coco B: I agree that it is very difficult to watch the scene in which is Gay is calling for his children outside of the bar. I find that I look away from the screen during that scene or hit the skip button. It is also very difficult to watch an almost sickly looking Gable in the film. Somehow I can’t imagine Rhett Butler aging the way that Clark Gable did.

    What I love about the movie is that it gave Clark the opportunity to step outside of the “lovable rogue” role in which MGM always cast him. In my humble opinion, Gay Langland embodies someone who has almost lost it all because of his refusal to change. He looks down his nose at people who work for “wages” and at the women he uses because he thinks that they want to change him. However, his steadfast refusal to change has caused him to lose his home, his wife, and his children. He is on the brink of losing what livelihood he has because he is getting too old to compete in the rodeo and to wrangle wild horses. To his credit, he realizes that he has to change if he wants to pursue a relationship with Roslyn. Sadly, there are many Gay Langlands out there who let pride rob them of so many meaningful things. Gable is so convincing. To borrow Meredith’s words, the movie was a divine send-off for him.

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