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Film / The Misfits

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Let's watch Marilyn Monroe play paddleball!

The Misfits is a 1961 drama film directed by John Huston, adapted by Arthur Miller from his own 1957 short story of the same name. Miller's then-wife, Marilyn Monroe, heads the cast along with Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

Roslyn Tabor (Monroe) has come to Reno to get a quickie divorce from her neglectful husband Raymond (Kevin McCarthy). One day she and her friendly landlady Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter) go to a cocktail lounge, where they meet aging cowboy Gay Langland (Gable) his friend Guido (Eli Wallach). Guido, who is enchanted with the beautiful Roslyn, invites her out to his unfinished house in the desert, but while there she falls for Gay instead. As it turns out, both guys are massive jerks who want Roslyn for themselves.

Gay and Guido decide to round up some wild mustangs to earn some money. They hire Perce Howland (Clift), a slow-witted rodeo rider, to help them round up the mustangs. Roslyn gets upset when she sees Perce getting hurt in the rodeo. After the rodeo, the group goes out to the desert to round up the mustangs. Roslyn gets even more upset when she finds out the mustangs are going to get turned into dog food.

The Misfits became a legendary Troubled Production. Temperatures in the Nevada desert were 120 degrees in the sun. Director Huston battled a drinking problem and kept passing out on set. Marilyn Monroe's out-of-control addiction to pills was an even bigger problem, which often left her unable to work or unfit to work if she actually made it to the set. Her collapsing marriage to Miller—she announced their separation a week after the production concluded—was another problem. However, she ended up largely a scapegoat to cover up John Huston's massive gambling problems; having spent most of the production gambling, the director ended up $50,000 in debt to various casinos. Production was halted for a week so that United Artists could raise the money (after Huston's begging of friends for loans and donations yielded very little). Marilyn Monroe was initially going to spend the week off in her bungalow, but was persuaded to check into a hospital by her doctor (after the latter was given a call by the director). Once she was in the hospital, Huston then broke the story that production was shutting down because of her. No one on set believed it, but that's the story the press ran with. Montgomery Clift was going blind. Eli Wallach was the healthiest cast member, and ended up being the last surviving star of the film.

Famous as the last completed film for both Gable and Monroe. Gable had a heart attack just two days after shooting wrapped, and died in the hospital eight days later. Monroe's erratic behavior and drug addiction were making her unemployable. She was fired from her last film project, Something's Got to Give, before she died of a drug overdose in 1962.

The making of the film inspired Arthur Miller's final play, Finishing The Picture.

Not to be confused with the musical group, even though they did get their name from this film.


  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the original 1957 short story, Guido is described as bald and overweight. In the movie he is physically fit with a full head of hair.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Gay is significantly older than Roslyn, and even has a daughter who's close to her age.
  • All There in the Script: Guido's last name is actually Racanelli.
  • Amicable Exes: Isabelle is on good terms with her ex-husband, and is happy for him to have married her friend.
  • Author Avatar: Arthur Miller seemed to have written a little of himself into Guido. Of course, Guido is far from a good person, but he's much smarter than Gay and Perce.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Roslyn is the most beautiful person in the cast, and also the kindest. She's The Heart of the gang.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: When Gay tries to rationalise that Roslyn likes him because he's manly and tough, she responds "I liked you because you were kind."
  • Berserk Button: If you're a rabbit, stay well away from Gay's lettuce.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: When we first meet Guido, he seems quite a nice, friendly guy. Then when he dances with Roslyn, we learn there's something a bit off about him.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Roslyn decorates a closet in Guido's house with pinups of Marilyn Monroe.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Deconstructed with Guido's previous marriage to his childhood friend, which seemed to end up being a distant, dysfunctional and loveless one.
  • City Mouse: Roslyn is an urbanite who's not used to the countryside, and is the proverbial fish out of water. Unusually for this trope, the men learn from her.
  • Closer to Earth: Roslyn and, to a lesser extent, Guido.
  • Clothing Damage: The back of Perce's shirt gets torn in the rodeo.
  • Courtly Love: Perce tells Roslyn that he loves her, but his love for her manifests in intense respect and platonic caring.
  • Covert Pervert: Gay, who secretly admires Roslyn's behind while she's riding.
  • Cowboy: Gay and Perce are arguable deconstructions. Times seem to be passing Gay by, as he reminisces about the days when he used to catch mustangs and sell them as gifts to children, as opposed to selling them for dog food.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Guido drunkenly driving himself and Roslyn almost to death.
    Guido: How do you get to know somebody, kid? I can't make a landing, and I... can't get up to God, either. Help me. I never said "help me" in my life. I don't know anybody. So how do I land, honey? Will you give me a little time? Say yes. (Beat) At least say, "Hello, Guido".
  • Divorce in Reno: At the time, when no-fault divorce was rare, Nevada's easy divorce laws made Reno a mecca for people looking to get out of marriages. That's why Roslyn is there.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Guido. Then again, he was blind drunk and bitter.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Roslyn can't stand it when Gay goes to shoot a rabbit that's eating his vegetable garden, and disapproves of the rodeo when she finds out a flank strap is used to irritate them into bucking. When she finds out that the mustangs are meant for dog food, she loses it.
  • Gaussian Girl: Roslyn literally glows on screen.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Clark Gable's character's name is actually Gay, and judging by the way he interacts with Roslyn and other women, he's definitely not homosexual. Though he and Guido are pretty close.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: As played by one of the greatest screen beauties to have ever lived, Roslyn naturally is considered a great beauty in-universe. In the first scene, Isabelle says they stopped using the car because all the local men kept rear ending it for a chance to talk to her.
  • Hero of Another Story: We get glimpses throughout the film of Guido's backstory, and we're told how he became what he is in the film, but some details like his marriage remain a mystery.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Gay and Guido.
  • Hypocrite: When Roslyn is ranting to the guys about them rounding up the horses for dog food, Guido comments, "She's crazy."
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Roslyn, who is more or less blissfully unaware of the men admiring her body.
  • It's All About Me: Guido, which Roslyn calls him out on, but this applies to Gay and Perce as well, who are just as self-absorbed.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Gay when he discovers a rabbit has been eating the lettuce crops. Roslyn is horrified that he'd kill an animal who "doesn't know any better", and we never see him actually do it, suggesting she did convince him. However, rabbits can actually prove quite destructive to a farm if there's enough of them (and there's no guarantee it was just one).
  • Lap Pillow: Perce lays his head on Roslyn lap when they talk together in a Dayton back alley.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Perce, who had an accident a while back, assures his mother over the phone that "My face is fine. It's all healed up, just as good as new." Montgomery Clift had been in a serious car accident in 1956 that scarred his face and damaged his pretty-boy good looks.
    • Roslyn's characterization was tailored even more closely to match Marilyn Monroe's real life as the writing went on. There are even famous glamour photos of the real woman stuck to Roslyn's closet door. The "saddest girl I ever saw" exchange between Gay and Roslyn was taken from a conversation she and Arthur Miller had.
  • The Lost Lenore: Guido is still mourning his deceased wife.
  • Love Triangle: Downplayed. Both Gay and Guido are interested in Roslyn, but never actively fight over her with each other.
  • Male Gaze: Not even in a serious role could the studio not use Monroe's looks to sell the film. Most obvious in one scene where Gay and the camera both stare at Roslyn's bottom in tight jeans.
  • Never My Fault: Guido doesn't take responsibility for his wife's death.
  • Only Sane Woman: Roslyn has enough sense to object to some of the more psychotic hobbies of cowboys.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Eli Wallach, a notable teetotaller, once discussed in an interview how he was in a scene where Guido is drunkenly watching Roslyn dancing with Gay. John Huston came up to Eli, and told him that the most drunk that Huston had ever been was when he tried to stay sober on a horseback. Eli realized that Huston was giving him acting advice.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech
    • When Guido offers to let the horses go if Roslyn will go away with him instead of Gay, she tells him that he is selfish and doesn't care about anyone but himself.
    • She then lets loose with a rant after the others finish binding up the horses.
    Roslyn: Horse killers! Killers! Murderers! You're liars! All of you, liars! You're only happy when you can see something die! Why don't you kill yourself to be happy? You and your God's country! Freedom! I pity you! You're three dear, sweet, dead men!
  • Running Gag: Multiple times when meeting a man, he showers Roslyn with politeness and attention, while barely acknowledging Isabelle.
  • Scenery Porn: Some of the aerial shots look gorgeous.
  • The Simple Life is Simple: Double subverted. The farm itself is initially presented as a beautiful, serene spot away from the hustle and bustle of a town. And Roslyn adjusts very well to growing crops and living without electricity. However, it's illustrated that in this area, people often have to do whatever they can for money (which is a trade-off for their independence). Roslyn discovers that animals are often hurt for the survival of the humans (and that the dog food is made from horse meat). But it's ultimately a positive lifestyle choice for her, and the ending is happy.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: An unintentional example with romantic music playing as Gay admires Roslyn's behind.
  • Stepford Smiler: Gay sees the sadness in Roslyn, who notes that people tell her how happy she is.
  • Stepford Snarker: Guido is a less sympathetic example, but he hides his loss, regret and self-loathing, the shell of the man he once was, with smartass comments.
    Gay: What's eatin' you?
    Guido: Just my life.
  • Title Drop: Gay calls the mustangs they're rounding up "misfit horses".
  • Toplessness from the Back: Roslyn, when Gay wakes her up after she spends the night with him. On one take Monroe dropped the bedsheet, exposing her breasts. The producers nearly used this take, because The Misfits was already having problems with censors, before going with the more modest take.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Isabelle vanishes after meeting up with her ex-husband and his new wife, with the justification that they're spontaneously going to spend the week with her (as the rest of the film takes place entirely up the mountain on the mustang trip).
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Roslyn doesn't want to see harm come to any living thing, and she weeps for Perce (who she barely knows) when he's injured in a rodeo.
  • Worst Aid: In-universe. Roslyn is baffled by Perce not only going back into the rodeo when he's injured the first time, but also that he doesn't go to the hospital for his head trauma and instead goes out drinking.