Posted: 05/21/2011

 

The Misfits

(1961)

by Jef Burnham



Now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment.


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Both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe made their final screen appearances in this drama helmed by John Huston (The African Queen) and scripted by Death of a Salesman-playwright Arthur Miller. Gable and Monroe are joined onscreen by an all-star supporting cast including Eli Wallach (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), Montgomery Clift (Red River), Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and Thelma Ritter (Rear Window). And with that much talent in one place, you must be thinking that this film is sure-fire winner, right? By all rights, it should have been, but in fact it’s a hammy, unfocused mess.

The film follows beautiful divorcee Roslyn (Monroe), who shacks up with aging cowboy Gay Langland (played by a rough-looking Gable) in the Nevada countryside to pursue a more carefree life than that to which she is accustomed. Wallach and Clift appear as Gay’s closest friends, who, as it happens, are also vying for Roslyn’s affections. The film’s major set pieces are a rodeo in which Clift character rides and a mustang hunt in the mountains; but the rest of the film finds the characters wandering around in a constant drunk.

The Misfits is incredibly flawed, and ultimately all its ultimately stem from Miller’s screenplay. While it does provide for some striking imagery in the film’s climactic sequence, the dialogue is far more suited to the stage than the screen. Now, to say that the dialogue borders on melodramatic would be an enormous understatement. It lacks subtlety almost altogether, and is structured in such a way that each ten-or-so-minute sequence is followed by one of the characters, usually Roslyn, delivering a lengthy, melodramatic speech about the value of life and love. Yet somehow, through all the characters’ monologuing, it’s still hard to put your finger on what it is exactly that Miller’s trying to say with the film. Even in the “climactic” mustang-roping sequence, in which the three men attempt to capture wild horses to sell to a dog food factory, where the message ought to be clear, it is still somehow muddled. The theme obviously deals with humanity, freedom, and the hypocrisy of the Western ideal, but Miller’s deference for each and every character on top of the constant monologuing makes any definitive interpretation exceedingly difficult.

In keeping with the quality of MGM’s concurrent Blu-ray releases of The Manchurian Candidate and Some Like It Hot, the quality of the HD transfer for this 50th Anniversary Edition of The Misfits is indeed terrific, highlighting the gorgeous, black and white cinematography by Russell Metty (who three years early shot Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil). But like the aforementioned other releases from MGM, there is no main menu on The Misfits BD. As such, the film simply plays upon insertion of the disc and will loop forever if you let it. The only way to access the single special feature on the disc (the theatrical trailer) is through the pop-up menu which appears over the film itself. As a consumer of home media, I like to dictate when the film will begin. Furthermore, even if the movie is paused, menus simply should not be laid over the film image. To me, that’s downright disrespectful to the filmmakers.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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