The Misfits is a 1961 American drama film with a screenplay by Arthur Miller which was directed by John Huston. The picture stars Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift, with a supporting cast including Thelma Ritter and Eli Wallach. The Misfits was the final film appearance for both Gable and Monroe. The plot centers on a recently divorced woman (Monroe) and her time spent with a cowboy (Gable) and his friend (Clift) in the Western Nevada desert in the 1960s. The movie was not a commercial success at the time of its release but received positive critical comments for its script and performances.
In Reno, Nevada, Roslyn Tabor (Monroe), a beautiful new divorcée, meets aging cowboy Gay Langland (Gable). Guido (Wallach) and Gay invite Roslyn and her friend Isabelle Steers (Ritter) to Guido's place in the country to help her forget about the divorce. They arrive at the half-finished house Guido built for his wife, who had died during childbirth. They drink and dance. Roslyn has too much to drink, so Gay drives her home.
Eventually, the two move into Guido's half-finished house and start to work on it. One day after breakfast, Gay tells Roslyn how he wishes he were more of a father to his own children, whom he has not seen for some years. Later that afternoon, Roslyn and Gay have a fight when he decides to kill a rabbit that is eating from the vegetable garden they have planted.
When Guido and Isabelle show up, Gay suggests rounding up wild mustangs to sell. They go to a local rodeo in Dayton, NV to hire a third man for the job. Along the way, they meet Perce Howland (Clift), a friend of Gay's who is on his way to the rodeo to compete. Gay offers to pay for the broke Perce's $10.00 entry fee if he helps them with the mustangs afterward. In a bar Roslyn wins $145 on hitting a Paddle ball continually, she later gives some of the money to the church Lady. Outside the bar, Isabelle sees her ex-husband Charles and his wife of 19 years Clara, she decides to invite them to her home instead of going mustanging with Roslyn and the others.
At the rodeo, Roslyn becomes upset when Guido tells her how the horses are made to buck with an irritating flank strap. She declares that all rodeos should be banned. Later, after Perce is thrown by a horse, Roslyn begs him to go to a hospital, but he insists on riding a bull. He gets thrown again, resulting in a head injury.
Later, after Roslyn dances with Perce, he passes out in a back alley. When he regains consciousness, he sees her crying over him. He says that he never had anyone cry for him before and that he wished he had a friend to talk to. He tells her how his mother changed after his father died. She gave his stepfather the ranch his father wanted to leave to Perce. A drunken Gay then fetches Roslyn, telling her that he wants her to meet his kids, whom he unexpectedly ran into. But Gay causes a public scene when he discovers his children have not waited around.
Later on, during the drive home, a drunken Guido asks if Roslyn has left Gay and offers to take his place. Back at Guido's house, Perce comes to and nearly tears his bandages off, forgetting about his recent injury. Roslyn puts him to bed. She then sits down with Gay. He asks her if a woman like her would ever want to have a child with him. She avoids the issue, and Gay goes to bed.
The next day, Gay, Guido and Perce prepare to go after the mustangs. Roslyn reluctantly tags along. After they catch a stallion and four mares, she screams that she hates the men when she learns that the mustangs will be sold for dog food. She then tells Gay she did not know she was falling in love with a killer. He tells her that he did things for her that he never did for any other woman, such as making the house a home and planting the garden.
She begs Gay to release the horses. He considers doing it, but when she offers to pay $200, it angers him. Guido tells Roslyn that he would let them go if she would leave Gay for him. She rebuffs him coldly. Perce also asks her if she wants him to set the horses free, but she declines because she thinks it would only start a fight. He frees the stallion anyway.
After Gay chases down and subdues the horse all by himself, he lets it go and says he just did not want anybody making up his mind for him. They get into Gay's truck. As they're driving Roslyn tells Gay: I'll leave tomorrow, ok. The truck stops to pick up Gay's dog. Roslyn gets out and Gay, his heart melting watches as Roslyn joyfully untethers the dog. Roslyn gets into the truck and Gay says: "I bless you girl" He and Roslyn drive off under the starry night sky.
- Clark Gable as Gay Langland
- Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn Tabor
- Montgomery Clift as Perce Howland
- Thelma Ritter as Isabelle Steers
- Eli Wallach as Guido
- James Barton as Fletcher's grandfather
- Kevin McCarthy as Raymond Tabor
- Estelle Winwood as Church lady
The making of The Misfits was troublesome on several accounts, not the least of which were the 108 degree (42°C) heat of the northern Nevada desert and the breakdown of Monroe's marriage to writer Arthur Miller. Miller revised the script throughout the shoot as the concepts of the film developed.
Director Huston gambled and drank and occasionally fell asleep on the set. The production company had to cover some of his gambling losses. In a documentary about the making of The Misfits, Wallach told a story of Huston's directing a scene in which Wallach was at a bar with Gable. Huston told him that the most intoxicated he had ever been was the day before, even though he had seemed sober. Huston's lover, Marietta Peabody Tree, had an uncredited part.
Monroe was sinking further into alcohol and prescription drug abuse; according to Huston in a 1981 retrospective interview, he was "absolutely certain that she was doomed" while working on the film: "There was evidence right before me every day. She was incapable of rescuing herself or of being rescued by anyone else. And it affected her work. We had to stop the picture while she went to a hospital for two weeks." Huston shut down production in August 1960 to send Monroe to a hospital for detox. Close-ups after her release were shot using soft focus. Monroe was nearly always late to the set, sometimes not showing up at all. She spent her nights learning lines with drama coach Paula Strasberg. Monroe's confidant and masseur, Ralph Roberts, was cast as an ambulance attendant in the film's rodeo scene.
Gable insisted on doing his own stunts, including being dragged about 400 feet (120 m) across the dry lake bed at more than 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).
Thomas B. Allen was assigned to create drawings of the film as it was made. Magnum Photos had staff photographers, including Inge Morath and Eve Arnold, assigned to document the making of The Misfits. Morath married Miller, Monroe's former husband, soon after the film was released.
During production, the cast's principals stayed at the Mapes Hotel in Reno. Film locations included the Washoe County Court House on Virginia Street and Quail Canyon, near Pyramid Lake. The bar scene wherein Monroe playspaddle ball and the rodeo scenes were filmed in Dayton, Nevada, northeast of Carson City. The climax of the film takes place during wrangling scenes on a Nevada dry lake 12 miles east of Dayton, near Stagecoach. The area today is known as "Misfits Flat".
Despite on-set difficulties, Gable, Monroe, and Clift delivered performances that modern critics consider superb. Many critics regard Gable's performance to be his finest, and Gable, after seeing the rough cuts, agreed. Monroe received the 1961 Golden Globe Award as "World Film Favorite" in March 1962, five months before her death. Directors Guild of America nominated Huston as best director.
There were high expectations, given the star power of writer, director and actors. Producer Frank E. Taylor had heralded The Misfits as "the ultimate motion picture" before its release.
The Misfits was met with mixed reviews and failed to meet expectations at the box office, and has been historically referred to as a "box office disaster" of its day. Despite being shot in black and white, the final cost was about $4 million. Its original domestic gross was just over its estimated budget of $4,000,000, making $4,100,000 in its initial USA release. It has brought larger profits to United Artists since its release on DVD.
Gable suffered a heart attack two days after filming ended and died ten days later, November 16, 1960. Monroe and Clift attended the premiere in New York in February 1961 while Monroe was on pass from a psychiatric hospital; she later said that she hated the film and herself in it. Within a year and a half, she was dead of an apparent drug overdose. The Misfits was the last completed film for both Monroe and Gable, her childhood screen idol. Marilyn had, as an abandoned child, often claimed that Gable was her father.
The documentary The Legend of Marilyn Monroe (1966) includes footage shot while The Misfits was being made. Miller's autobiography, Timebends (1987), described the making of the film. The 2001 PBS documentary, Making The Misfits, did the same. Primary sources such as The Making of the Misfits by James Goode, Conversations with Marilyn by W. J. Weatherby, and Miller's account, particularly his assertion that The Misfits script was a "valentine" for Monroe, inspired the docu-drama play Misfits by Alex Finlayson, which was commissioned by director Greg Hersov. "Misfits" premiered at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester in 1996, directed by Hersov and starring Lisa Eichhornas Marilyn Monroe.
Arthur Miller's last play, Finishing the Picture (2004), although fiction, was largely based on the events involved in the making of The Misfits.