Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Misfits 1961

        The other night I watched “The Misfits”, John Huston’s great sad film with a friend who had never seen it. I’ve seen it many times; the first was a partial viewing in 1960 when I was 14. For some forgotten reason I saw it those many years ago with my brother in law who took me one night to see it at my neighborhood Loew’s.
             Maybe he was waiting to meet my sister at my family’s luncheonette that was a few blocks away from the theatre and was looking to kill some time. I was enthralled watching this strange black and white movie but Michael was uncomfortable and fidgety. “Let’s go,” he finally said. “I can’t take any more of this.”
            I was upset and left unwillingly. It would be years before I would finally see the complete film, probably on a video and I was as enthralled with it as I was when I was thirteen. Destroyed and stomped on by critics and audiences alike it was a big flop when it was first released, but is now considered a classic and a great American film. 
             The story and the cast was not what 1961 audiences were expecting of their superstars. This wasn’t the Marilyn of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Some Like It Hot.”  She was still voluptuous and sweet but she was struggling with her life and her failing marriage to the playwright and author of the screenplay Arthur Miller, and it showed.
           It showed so much on her face that filters had to be used on her close-ups to hide the hard life and its a little disconcerting to see her all soft while Gable in his scenes with her was in sharp hard focus. This was of course their final film and both are superb, method meets old Hollywood in all their open wounds and vulnerability. The third open wound appears in the film as a down on his luck rodeo cowboy, beaten and bruised and played by the real life beaten and bruised Montgomery Clift who by the way is also terrific. Set in Reno and the surrounding desert over a short period of time, the film opens with Monroe with the help of her boarding house landlord played with perfection by Thelma Ritter getting ready for a divorce. Ritter her arm in a sling adores Marilyn and it shows in her performance as she mothers her and calls her “my darling girl”. It is a lovely and real performance and when Ritter leaves the film its as if a wonderful friend has left our house. 
           On the way to the courthouse they get a lift in Eli Wallach’s truck who is an Italian jack of all trades and immediately tries to make Marilyn which gets him no where. Later over drinks they run into Gable an old friend of Wallach’s and the meeting of the two melds and melts into a love affair that spreads itself out in the desert at the unfinished home of Wallach’s that he started to build for his late wife and himself.  
          This is a film about loss and remorse, about lost loves and failed marriages, about death and desire and a country’s changing ways and a west gone forever. The film is symbolic and full of poetry and metaphors autobiographical and movie magazine flash, sensation and gossip. It hurts to watch this film partly because we know what the future holds for these damaged goods and misfits and it’s painful at times to view, we almost want to turn our eyes away from the screen but we can’t, its just too good and with an ending that always reduces me to uncontrollable tears. One of the ten best films of 1961. Best actress, screenplay, supporting actor and supporting actress.


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