Unhappy Trails For A Hollywood Era.
By David Cohea, ReMIND Magazine
Like a Western riding off into the sunset (which it was), The Misfits also served as a black-and-white swan song of a Hollywood era that ended around 1961.
The movie’s misfits include a tired beauty (Marilyn Monroe) who never can get to the heart of things; an old cowboy (Clark Gable) weary of a changing West; an ex-World War II pilot turned crop duster (Eli Wallach) who only feels safe up in the air; and a drunken bronco buster (Montgomery Clift) who lost his ranch inheritance to his mother’s next man.
None of these folks are going much further than tomorrow (except maybe to drink); so much for Jet Age thrills.
Along with the A-list stars, Hollywood added further muscle with an Arthur Miller screenplay and putting John Huston — who already had Key Largo (1948) and The African Queen (1951) under his belt — in the director’s chair.
Filming, however, was difficult. Monroe’s marriage to Miller was disintegrating and she was drinking and using prescription drugs. She was often late for shooting. Huston had to use soft-focus lenses to hide the damage. Miller kept rewriting the script as the direction of filming changed. Huston was bitter and drank heavily, too. Delays were interminable. Production stopped altogether for two weeks when Monroe was hospitalized for depression. On top of all that, they were shooting in Nevada, where daily temperatures sometimes climbed over 100.
Still, expectations were high for the film. Numerous photographers were dispatched by the studio to take promotional shots; while many moments were preserved, Monroe looks washed-out and hard in the eyes, Gable looks angry and Clift hardly there.
Like a failed test flight in the desert, everything went downhill after that. Two days after filming wrapped on Nov. 4, Gable suffered a heart attack, and 10 days later he was dead, at age 59. The Misfits would be Monroe’s last film, too; the next year she was dead, at 36, from an overdose of prescription drugs. (Her death fueled conspiracy theories that she was murdered to cover up an affair with JFK.) Clift would die in 1966 at age 45, the long result of injuries sustained in a 1956 automobile accident.
Despite intense promotion for the film trumpeting its star power — producer Frank E. Taylor called it “the ultimate motion picture” — The Misfits premiered in February 1961 to a disappointing box office.
Reception has improved over the years, with Gable, Monroe, Wallach and Clift lauded for their performances.
The stars of The Misfits had all found glory in the 1950s — our memories of that time are rich with them — but by the close of 1961, something had changed. American involvement in the Vietnam War became official. Beatlemania was just around the corner. Soon the ’60s would be in full roar.
We wouldn’t have a chance to look back and remember for some time, and when we did, these misfits were nowhere in sight. Their glory days had ridden off into the sunset.