The Misfits, film review: Marilyn Monroe gives an extraordinary performance

(PG) John Huston, 122 mins. Starring: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift
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The Independent Culture

It is instructive to read Arthur Miller's account of the making of The Misfits in his autobiography, Timebends. In his account, the film sounds calamitous. His marriage to Marilyn Monroe was breaking up. He had written the script for her but her behaviour on set was erratic in the extreme.

Under the influence of her acting coach Paula Strasberg, increasingly dependent on sleeping drugs and reluctant to stick to Miller's text, she almost caused the movie to be abandoned.

Against the odds, she gives an extraordinary performance. It's an artless one that at times seems phoney, but what she does convey in uncanny and febrile fashion is her character's power of empathy, whether it is her sympathy for the cowboys (Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift) out of kilter with a modern, wages-based world, or for the wild mustangs they plan to kill.

The film has an elegiac feel not just because of its subject matter but because it was the final film for both Gable and Monroe. In terms of John Huston's work, it prefigures Fat City in its treatment of machismo and alcoholism. There are also echoes of Miller's plays. With their yearning for an outdoors life on the plains, Gable's and Clift's characters have traces of Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman. Gable and Clift are exceptional in roles that celebrate and subvert their usual screen images.