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.


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


clark gable marilyn monroe the misfits


It was on November 4, 1960, 53 years ago today, that Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe filmed what would be their final scene ever onscreen. Sitting in the cab of a pick-up truck and gazing at the night sky as they traveled through the desert, Marilyn inquires, “How do you find your way back in the dark?” Clark, in a grainy and rather husky tone, responds, “Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it, it’ll take us right home.” The music swells, the screen fades to black, and two stars are gone from us.

I’ve had many a Clark Gable fan say to me that they can’t bear to watch The Misfits because Clark looks so sickly. I agree that he does. It has always puzzled me how his widow, Kay, and others have been quoted as saying he was in perfect health at the time and what a shock his heart attack was. He looks nearly like a skeleton, it’s rather haunting. Maybe when you’re that close, you just don’t see what others on the outside see.  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.

clark gable the misfits

My favorite shot of Clark Gable on the set of “The Misfits”

Declining appearance nothwithstanding, we have Magnum photographer Eve Arnold to thank for the iconic images taken on the Reno set of the film. Arnold, easily one of the most prolific female photographers of the century, lived to be 99, dying just last year. In her obituaries, she is labeled over and over as the woman who took some of the best pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Arnold had a decades-long friendship with Monroe, and ultimately photographed her from her early starlet days until her early demise.  Arnold was much more than a Monroe photographer, however.  She took breathtaking shots of everyone from poor migrant workers and the homeless to JFK and Queen Elizabeth II. Of this varied career, Eve said, “I don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary; I see them simply as people in front of my lens.”

Eve’s work on The Misfits  would be considered gorgeous regardless, but the fact that we are gazing at a man who was in the very last days of his life makes it even more haunting. Monroe would live for a while longer, dying in 1962, but The Misfits was her final finished film.

View some of Eve’s work below.

clark gable

This article is one I found during my recent trip to Los Angeles. It was published in the Los Angeles Times to commemerate Clark Gable’s 100th birthday. I particularly enjoyed this article because it is very casual in style–just the author describing what Clark was like while he talked to him. An interesting glimpse inside the man. Particularly funny is the description of Clark trying to run a simple errand and getting accosted on the street:

A few minutes later he came out of the elevator wearing a double-breasted, camel hair wrap-around coat, a tan, wide-brim fedora hat, and the Gable grin. He was taller and more rugged looking than I had expected, every inch of his 6 feet the movie star. I introduced myself and we shook hands. He headed out the Park Avenue door with me following. I’d expected a limo to be waiting, but he started walking briskly uptown with me alongside. We exchanged some pleasantries about the cold weather. He asked me if I liked guns.

“Not much,” I said. “I had an M1 slung over my shoulder for three years as an infantryman.”

“I was in the Air Corps myself,” he said.

Someone shrieked, “Clark Gable!” Within minutes we had a small crowd following us. By the time we had reached 57th Street and Madison Avenue, the crowd had become a parade. Gable seemed as unconcerned about them as drum major leading a band.

We entered Abercrombie & Fitch followed by the entourage. A man wearing a green apron over his black suit, obviously expecting Gable, greeted him with a handshake and led us to the elevator. Someone blocked the door to allow us to get in alone. We went up one flight and entered a room furnished like a hunting lodge, which in a way, it was…

While we were stopped for a light at Madison Avenue and 50th Street, a woman on the corner shrieked, “Clark Gable!” Before the light changed, traffic was stopped and a hysterical mob of women were trying to open the cab doors. Gable managed to lock them. He sat calmly, smiling and waving, until the police arrived and cleared the crowd.

 Somewhere, in some source that can obviously not be trusted, I read that Clark was rude to his fans. That can not possibly be true, as stories like the one above seem to be the norm, not the exception. No matter how crazy the fans got, Clark kept his cool and knew that he was where he was because of them and he always appreciated them.

A few years later, the reporter visited Clark at his home in Encino.

We went into the living room where Martin, his houseman, brought us iced tea in huge highball glasses. I asked Gable what he thought of the continued success of GWTW.

“Those revivals are the only thing that keeps me a big star,” he said. “Every time that picture is re-released, a whole crop of young moviegoers get interested in me.”

“What do you remember about the film’s premiere in Atlanta?” I asked.

“You should have seen the way those Southern belles looked at Carole. She was so damn beautiful.”

“How did the audience react to that first screening?” I asked.

“You’da thought I’d won the second Civil War for the South. The Atlanta papers called it the biggest news event since Sherman.”

I shifted uneasily in my seat as I made notes. “Back problem?” Gable asked. I nodded.

“Me too,” he said. “Let me show you some exercises. First thing is to never get up from a chair without resting your hands on your knees first and pushing up. Don’t just stand up.” He demonstrated some of the exercises he did when his back troubled him. 

The interview ended because his fifth wife, Kay, had returned from grocery shopping and he wanted to help her carry in the “grub.” He stood on the front porch waving goodbye as I drove away.

Awww. I love that he said that about Carole. He could have said anything first, but he said how beautiful Carole was. Clark truly had a love-hate relationship with Gone with the Wind. In many ways he was thankful for it, as it kept him popular. But in others he felt it limited him and also he was rather bitter about not getting a share of the profits.

A few years after that, the reporter meets up with Clark on the set of The Misfits.

Much of the picture was to be shot in the blistering desert 50 miles from Reno, where the temperature sometimes rose to 135 degrees in the afternoon. I went there to report on the filming. When I arrived on the set, Gable was sitting in a director’s chair under an umbrella that afforded little shade from the boiling sun, and waiting impatiently for Monroe to arrive for a scene with him. He was dressed in worn jeans, battered boots and a worn cowboy hat for his role as a middle-aged cowboy although he was then 59. He’d recently lost 30 pounds and he looked fit, although I’d heard he had a heart problem and Parkinson’s. He waved me over and offered me a sip from a bottle of whiskey he was holding. His hand and head were shaking.

“My doctor would kill me if he knew I was drinking in this heat,” he said, “but I’m so goddamned bored hanging around waiting for Marilyn to show up. I know my lines and hers ass-backwards and I’ll bet the farm she doesn’t have a clue about hers when and if she does show.”

“How do you like working with Marilyn?” I asked.

“On or off the record?”

“Off,” I said.

“She’s the rudest, most impossible actress I’ve ever worked with.”

 That’s interesting, what he said about Marilyn. No surprise he felt that way, I am sure most on the set did. He was apparently nice to her in person but that isn’t the first time I have heard him complain about her. Also, this isn’t the first time someone said Clark had Parkinson’s. I have heard several people mention the shaking he had in the last years of his life. If he did have Parkinson’s, it was undiagnosed; it was not listed on his death certificate as a pre-exisiting condition and he wasn’t taking any medication for it. Kay claimed that before his heart attack, he had never been sick the entire time they were together.

Read the article in its entirety in The Article Archive.


This post is part of Bette Classic Movie Blog’s Moustaches for Movember Blogathon. Movember is a campaign in which men grow moustaches over the month of November to raise funds for prostate cancer.  You can learn more about the cause here.

You think of Clark Gable and you think of that familiar moustache (well, that and maybe the ears…) It’s funny that the mustache has become so synonomous with the image of Clark Gable, considering he didn’t want one to begin with.

Clark was a clean freak, the kind who took showers multiple times a day and who reportedly shaved his chest hair because he considered all that extra hair “un-clean.” So it seems unlikely he would willingly sport a moustache. And he wasn’t willing…at first.

The first time Clark grew a moustache was in 1930 in the play Love, Honor and Betray with Alice Brady. He was playing a French gigolo and the part called for some upper lip adornment. He tried a fake one at first but it would often come off during romantic scenes so he was forced to grow a real one. He shaved it off as soon as the play closed.

Clark Gable Alice Brady

Clark and Alice Brady in Love Honor and Betray

A clean shaven  Clark emerged on the Hollywood scene in 1931, playing mostly gangster roles and fitting the part nicely.

Clark Gable A Free Soul

Clark in A Free Soul

In 1932, Clark appeared with his very on screen first moustache, although it was a fake. In Strange Interlude, Clark’s character ages 20 years and a fake mustache was applied halfway through the film to show him aging. He hated it.

Clark aging not-so-gracefully in Strange Interlude:

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

Starting out baby-faced...

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

A little older, here's the fake moustache's appearance...

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

Older and getting grayer...

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

And looking like Colonel Sanders.

His next role as Giovanni in The White Sister also called for a moustache, just as Ronald Colman had had in the previous 1923 version.

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Clark in The White Sister

I am not sure if he actually grew one for the role or if it was fake, but it appears to be real in his next picture, Night Flight.

Clark Gable Night Flight

Clark in Night Flight

The moustache was real in Clark’s next role as a Broadway producer in Dancing Lady. I think by this time he was becoming used to it. Clark was absent from the set for several weeks due to a high fever. He had to have his teeth extracted and because of the surgery, his moustache was shaved off. So, when he finally returned to the set, he was again sporting a fake.

Clark Gable

Clark in Dancing Lady

I think Clark changed his mind about the moustache around the time he won the Oscar for It Happened One Night.  Popular before the film, his fame now soared and his moustache was copied by millions of fans.

Clark Gable It Happened One Night

Clark in It Happened One Night

As it was now a part of his film popularity, Clark’s  feathers were ruffled when he had to shave the moustache off for historical accuracy to portray Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty.

Clark Gable Mutiny on the Bounty

Clark in Mutiny on the Bounty

He wasted no time growing it back and there it was in his following two films, Wife vs. Secretary and San Francisco.

Clark Gable

Clark in Wife vs. Secretary

Clark Gable

Clark in San Francisco

But Marion Davies, his costar in his next film, Cain and Mabel, claimed to be “allergic to moustaches” so he had to shave it off to play Larry Cain.

Clark Gable

Clark in Cain and Mabel

During the shooting of Cain and Mabel, he was called back to do some retakes from San Francisco and had to sport another fake!

The moustache is back in Love on the Run.

Clark Gable

Clark in Love on The Run

In 1937, Clark was set to play nineteenth century Irish politician Charles Parnell in the biographical drama Parnell. The real Parnell had a full beard. For whatever reason, despite the fact that in between shooting films Clark often grew a full beard while out on hunting trips, Clark refused to grow a beard for the role. The compromise was some very unflattering long sideburns, or “mutton chops”.  Why Clark thought that was better than a beard is beyond me! And the film was famously a flop.

The real Charles Parnell

Clark Gable Parnell

Clark as Parnell

Myrna Loy Clark Gable

Clark and Myrna Loy in Parnell

 Clark’s moustache was of course one of the components in making him the perfect Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, as Margaret Mitchell describes Scarlett’s first view of him:

He was a tall man and powerfully built. Scarlett thought she had never seen a man with such wide shoulders, so heavy with muscles, almost too heavy for gentility. When her eyes caught his, he smiled, showing animal-white teeth beneath a close-clipped black moustache.

Clark Gable Gone with the Wind

Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

Cammie King (Bonnie Blue) famously said that one of her few memories of the set is that Clark’s moustache tickled.

Clark Gable Cammie King Gone with the Wind

Cammie King and Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

The moustache was here to stay through the late 1930’s to the early 1940’s. The skinny, sculptured mustache had given way to a thicker, more modern look.

Clark Gable They Met in Bombay

Clark in They Met in Bombay

But in 1942, Clark enlisted in the Army Air Corps and only commanding officers could have facial hair. And so, with much publicity, Clark shaved off his famous moustache.

Clark Gable

Clark shaving off his moustache after joining the Army

Clark Gable

A moustache-less Clark receiving his shots after joining the Army

Once he graduated from officer’s school, the moustache was back. But this time, it was thicker and more of a “man’s moustache.” Probably the lack of time and utensils to do a proper trimming while stationed overseas…

Clark Gable

Officer Gable

Clark Gable

Officer Gable


Post war, the moustache was here to stay, becoming grayer, but staying put.

Clark Gable Command Decision

Clark in Command Decision

He did make one moustache-less appearance in Homecoming, during a flashback sequence. I’m not sure if the scene was shot last so he could shave off the moustache or what, but it is definitely gone.

Clark Gable Homecoming

Moustache-less in one scene of Homecoming

By the twilight of his career, his moustache was a security blanket that he knew fans expected. I don’t think any producer would have requested a bare-faced Clark at this point.

Clark Gable Teacher's Pet

Clark in Teacher's Pet

When you look at The Misfits, it would be hard to imagine Gay Langland without a moustache…it’s just something an aging Reno cowboy is expected to have.

Clark Gable The Misfits

Clark in The Misfits

Visit Bette’s Classic Film Blog to view all of the Moustache for Movember posts and visit here to donate to the cause.