The Misfits (1961)

Deep in the distant desert of Nevada, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift star in this 1961 drama. The film is about the rodeo, mustangs, and unrequited love to the naked eye, but is actually rich with depth through themes of abandonment, loneliness, and isolation.

The setting is fitting for these characters, since the interactions they have with one another seem fulfilled, but are actually detached and empty. They surf through the vast space following a goal to round up mustangs to sell to the “dealer” to make dog food. Monroe has trouble wrapping her mind around the reality that “in order for one to live, one must die.” Monroe and Gable have a slight romance, but really it is an act of desperation for family, for companionship.

What’s funny is the very fact that the film’s title doesn’t seem to reflect the characters in the most obvious way. They are all searching for the same thing, something that cannot be replaced by money or land or even the open sky. Gable was abandoned by his children, Monroe was abandoned by her father, so there you go.

They are misfits from the world, yet not from each other. The ending is rather open, and no one can predict whether the relationship between Monroe and Gable will survive. In fact, I doubt it will. They need each other, but do they love each other? This is the way Gable lives his life – the circle of life, the necessity of evil for good, the need for things rather than the want of it all. Monroe simply wants to be with a man who is there, in mind and spirit, a necessity born into a romance.

There’s a tragic undertone throughout the film. All three stars were within 5 years of their deaths. Clark Gable died ten days after shooting ended from a heart attack, Monroe a year later in 1962 from her overdose of barbiturates, and Montgomery Clift in 1966 from a mix of things – rumored suicide – but truly it was his alcoholism and drug abuse that led to his unavoidable death from a heart attack.

It’s a great film with a seemingly happy ending, and perhaps its the final appearances of these legendary faces that leave me feeling rather empty. It could be the vacant space they venture into, and the vast space they leave behind. They drive off into the stars with no predictions, no boundaries, no walls to keep them safe from the unknown threats of the future.

Four stars.

The Misfits (1961)


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