To the strains of Alex North's insinuating score, the puzzle-piece titles of The Misfits might seem to promise a complexity the film to follow doesn't entirely deliver, but rather the imagery intends to suggest the inability of its characters to fit into society or connect neatly with each other. Working from an original screenplay by playwright Arthur Miller, director John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) deconstructs Hollywood's cowboy myth with a mythic Hollywood cast: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift.
The picture opens, unexpectedly, as a comedy of divorce, with Monroe's Roslyn Tabor dispensing with her inattentive husband (Kevin McCarthy) in Reno, Nevada. The chronically dissatisfied Roslyn hits a bar with her wry friend Isabelle Steers (the always brilliant Thelma Ritter) and immediately draws the attention of two men: recent acquaintance Guido (Eli Wallach), a mechanic and pilot, and his friend, an aging, Brylcreemed cowboy named Gay Langland (Gable). Smitten, the men invite the women to drink the day away at Guido's desert ranch house, in disrepair since Guido abandoned it after his wife's death. Roslyn winds up staying there and transforming the house into a home again, under the watchful eyes of the sexually hopeful men.
Roslyn is a part custom made by Miller to suit his wife Monroe's tragic bombshell image. Roslyn muses, “I always end up back where I started,” left alone. She warns Gay that she's not interested, but he persists, and she entertains the possibility of a life with him over the days when she's fixing up the house. A man might call her a tease—Guido seems to think so—and eventually Monroe begins to take to a third man, rodeo rider Perce Howland (Clift). Perce proves more sensitive than the other men, both in his emotions and his morals.
Among the more interesting ideas at play in The Misfits is the isolating influence of gender expectations. Isabelle cracks, "Cowboys are the last real men in the world, and they're about as reliable as jackrabbits." Roslyn responds, "Is anybody any different? Maybe you're not supposed to believe what people say. Maybe it's not even fair to them." And perhaps Roslyn isn't fair when she insists that Gay end his practice of scraping up money by mustangin' (roping and selling wild horses for slaughter). But despite his protestations, for Gay, it's clearly not just about the money, but an essential part of retaining his sense of masculinity. Ironically, his machismo stands in the way of growth. She’s unable to abide the casual cruelties of men (rodeos are also a sore point, as Perce nearly kills himself for sport).
The Misfits was a notoriously troubled production, with harsh shooting conditions and a general air of deterioration. As her marriage was collapsing, so was Monroe, whose rehab stint shut down production. Huston was in a drinking and gambling phase, Gable died days after the film wrapped (many blamed his weakened constitution on the demands of starring in the film), and Monroe died the following year. All this Hollywood history (and the post-reconstructive-surgery appearance of Clift) haunt the film, with the final scene made more poignant by knowing it’s the last of two movie stars, and there's an added irony to Roslyn's fatalistic plea for human compassion: “We’re all dying, aren’t we? All the husbands and all the wives. Every minute. And we’re not teaching each other what we really know, are we?”
MGM's Blu-ray debut of The Misfits scores with a strikingly attractive black-and-white hi-def image. The all-important contrast is perfect, and the impressively clean picture shows quite a bit of detail, especially in comparison to its DVD counterpart. Overall, it's a handsome, filmically natural transfer, paired with an faithful DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 audio presentation that capably and clearly delivers the dialogue, music and, in the climax, some lively effects. The only bonus feature here is the film's “Theatrical Trailer” (3:43, HD), but it's nice to see another vintage film get a good treatment in hi-def.
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