Monday, December 1, 2008

Apple #354: The Misfits (movie)

While I was home, I watched The Misfits on TV again. It's such a terrific movie, and the characters so hit me where I live, I can't get it out of my head.

It stars Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, and a fourth guy named Eli Wallach. I mean, with those actors, how can you go wrong?

Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift in The Misfits
(Photo from Sixties City)

These four characters end up in Reno, Nevada, for various reasons. Monroe's character, Roslyn, is there to get a divorce. Guido (Eli Wallach) is hanging out there in between jobs. Gay Langland (Gable) is an old cowboy who is Guido's friend and is building a house very slowly nearby. Clift's character, Perce, is on his way to a rodeo. The four of them meet up in a rag-tag assemblage, and the men plan to go out to the desert to round up some mustangs they've heard about. This used to be a demanding, macho, very-cowboy thing to do, but now the only people they can sell the horses to are dog food manufacturers. So the whole thing is kind of doomed.

The people themselves are hanging on at the edge of their own lives. Each of them has been through some pretty rotten stuff, and they're at the point where their lives could be set drifting into nothing forever, or could be reclaimed for something purposeful and wonderful. So they're all living on a last-ditch world-wise hope that something, just one thing, might turn out to be decent.

The paddle-ball scene. Clark Gable is at the far left, in the white hat.
(Photo from

The three men each fall in love with Roslyn, in their own way and for their own reasons. She seems to have chosen Gay, the old cowboy, but then her choice is threatened when she goes with them to the desert and watches them roping the mustangs. She learns what they're planning to do with the horses, and her anguish and anxiety about what they're doing threatens to turn everything -- the mustang-rustling and the relationships -- to chaos.

I'm not going to tell you any more except to say, my heart breaks at several moments during this movie.

It turns out, there are some pretty fantastic facts about this movie.

The script was written by Arthur Miller.
  • He based the movie on a short story called "The Last Frontier of the Quixotic Cowboy." The story he wrote was essentially about getting his own divorce in Reno, Nevada, before he met and later married Marilyn Monroe.
  • Miller turned the story into a movie for her, at the suggestion of a friend of Miller's who said, "that's a woman's part she could kick into the stands."
  • However, his marriage to Monroe was in shreds by the time the movie was filmed. She was often late for filming -- where Miller was on set -- in part because she was having an affair with another man.

Monroe with Miller, on the set.
(Photo from the interior of a book of Magnum Photos of the movie's filming, published by Phaidon)

  • Their marriage officially ended by the end of that year.

The film was made in 1960, released in 1961.
  • 3 days after the movie was completed, Clark Gable had a heart attack. 11 days later, he died.
  • Monroe went to rehab following a sleeping-pill overdose while the movie was being made. One year later, she died of a suicidal drug overdose.
  • Montgomery Clift, who had been in a terrible car accident some years previously and had had reconstructive surgery on his face, died unexpectedly of a heart attack 4 years later.

Montgomery Clift. On the left, early in his career. On the right, late in his career, after the accident, in Judgment at Nuremberg. He's got gray added to his hair, but his face doesn't have that sharpness it did before the accident.
(Photo from I'm still trying to define myself...)

See, and the creepy thing is that Montgomery Clift's character gets royally banged up in the movie, too.
(Photo from Coffee coffee and more coffee's blog)

Everybody was drinking, just about
  • Marilyn's issues with alcohol and pills were pretty well-known at this point. Besides the fact that she was having an affair, they were the other reasons she was often late to the set.
  • Montgomery Clift's reliance on alcohol was less well-known, but he did abuse it in part of his self-torture over his homosexuality. He was also taking various medications due to the trauma from the car accident. Clift and Monroe shared a doctor who was on call 24 hours a day during filming.
  • Director John Huston was often hung over or drunk. After having stayed up late gambling and drinking, sometimes he even slept during filming. He reportedly told Eli Wallach on one occasion that the previous day he had been more drunk than ever before in his life though he had appeared sober. The point was that Wallach should use that as his model for how to act like a drunk person who tries to appear sober.

John Huston, next to Marilyn. He spent a lot of nights gambling in the casinos at Reno.
(Photo by Eve Arnold, sourced from PBS)

  • (Another tidbit about John Huston: the editor of the Nevada newspaper Territorial Enterprise announced that they'd hold a camel race down the streets of Virginia City, Nevada. An editor at the San Francisco Chronicle called his bluff and showed up with a bunch of camels and some contestants, John Huston among them. So the Enterprise had to hold the race, and Huston wound up winning. Not sure if he was drunk or sober while atop his camel.)
  • Wallach is the only person who seems to have escaped the wreckage surrounding the making of this movie.

It was Clark Gable's last movie.
  • As I mentioned before, the 59 year-old Gable had a heart attack 3 days after filming was completed, then died 11 days later. But wait, here's more:
  • Lots of people say that Gable insisted on doing his own stunts, and that the extraordinary effort was what brought on his heart attack. Huston, however, wrote in his biography: "This is utter nonsense. Toward the end of the picture there was a contest between Clark and the stallion the cowboys had captured. It looked like rough work, and it was, but it was the stunt men who were thrown around, not Clark."
  • Gable was not fit enough to pass the physical that the insurance company required. So he went on a crash diet and stayed in bed for a week before the insurance company doctor's exam.

Clark Gable on the set of The Misfits. Looking a little ragged, but still with his quintessential panache.
(AP Photo from an article about photos from The Misfits going up for auction.)

  • Gable is reported to have said, on the last day of filming, "Christ, I'm glad this picture's finished. She [Monroe] damn near gave me a heart attack."
  • He also is said to have remarked to Arthur Miller:
"This is the best picture I have made, and it's the only time I have been able to act."

It was Marilyn Monroe's last movie.
  • People usually say Something's Got to Give (1962) is her last movie, but it was never completed, so this is actually her final complete performance.
  • She loved Clark Gable. He was one of her screen idols. At first she was terrified of working with him, but soon,
"Everything he did made me shiver. . . . Whenever he was near me, I wanted to grab him around the neck and hold him forever. I never tried harder in my life to seduce any man."

(Photo of Gable & Monroe from Sixties City)

  • Huston later wrote of her:
"She was in very bad shape. She was really in no condition to do the picture. She shouldn’t have been anywhere near the camera if truth be known. She had this terrible worry about sleeping. She had by then become reliant on pills. She needed them to put her to sleep and then to wake her up again."

Marilyn, 1962, shortly before her death.
(Photo by Arnold Newman)

  • She was taking 6 or 7 Nembutals per night. One night, after filming a scene in which Gable says, "Honey, we all got to go sometime, reason or no reason," she took too many Nembutals and had to have her stomach pumped.
  • She was sent to detox for two weeks, during which time the doctors switched her sleeping pills and the movie's production was shut down.

The crew, without Marilyn, returning to LA while she was in the hospital.
(Photo by Cornell Capa, sourced from PBS)

  • After she got back, her close-ups were all shot in soft focus. Huston later said he didn't know how she did it, but she pulled up something from in herself to finish shooting.
  • She later said she hated herself in The Misfits, and of all the movies she'd been in, she liked it the least. (I don't think she was in a position to judge, given that she was all about self-destruction by that time.)
  • Huston thought her performance was "unique and extraordinary."

(Photo by Eve Arnold)

People called the movie a failure at the time. But I and many others now disagree.
  • Production cost almost $4 million. That was a huge amount of money to spend on a movie at that time. With the big-name stars, it was supposed to be a big audience draw.
  • However, most viewers were puzzled or even disturbed by the film. It wasn't a western or a cowboy movie that was like anything they expected. Even most critics at the time were disappointed.
Say, where did I see this guy?
In Red River?
Or A Place in the Sun?
Maybe The Misfits?
From Here to Eternity?

Everybody say, "Is he all right?"
And everybody say, "What's he like?"
Everybody say, "He sure look funny."
That's Montgomery Clift, honey!

Starting in the back, that's Frank Taylor the producer, Arthur Miller standing on the ladder, John Huston with his arms folded, Eli Wallach sitting sideways, Montgomery Clift with his hands clasped, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable.
(Photo by Elliott Erwitt, sourced from a 404 Page Not Found)

IMDB, The Misfits, biography of Montgomery Clift,
Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK, The Misfits (1961)
Bill Harry's Sixties City, The Misfits
PBS, Great Performances, Making The Misfits
Pop Matters, Making the Misfits reviewed by Jonathan Kiefer
Wikipedia, The Misfits (film)
Museum of Hoaxes, The Virginia City Camel Race
Official Reno & Lake Tahoe Blog, International Came Race Celebrates 50 years in Virginia City

Lots more photos are available at these sites:
PBS Great Performances, On the Set of The Misfits
About 1/3 of the way down a Russian Live Journal blog of all sorts of Magnum Photos
The Marilyn Monroe Collection
Website of Ralph L. Roberts, Marilyn's personal masseur
Marilyn Monroe photographs by Eve Arnold


  1. Apple lady, you rock so hard. I now have 'The Right Profile' in my head. That's Montgomery Clift, honey!

  2. ya'll dead! except Eli!

  3. GREAT film! Monty was wonderful...still hard to watch the phone booth scene though.
    Well done Apple Lady


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