The Misfits (1961 film)

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The Misfits
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Huston
Produced byFrank E. Taylor
Written byArthur Miller
StarringClark Gable
Marilyn Monroe
Montgomery Clift
Thelma Ritter
Eli Wallach
Music byAlex North
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byGeorge Tomasini
Color processBlack and white
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • February 1, 1961 (1961-02-01)
Running time
125 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million
Box office$4.1 million (US/CAN rentals)[2]

The Misfits is a 1961 American drama western film written by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston, and starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift. The supporting cast features Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach and Kevin McCarthy. The Misfits was the last completed film for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. For Gable, the film was posthumously released, while Monroe died in 1962.

The plot centers on a newly divorced woman (Marilyn Monroe) and her time in Reno and Northern Nevada, spent with her friendly landlady Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter), an old school cowboy (Clark Gable), the cowboy's tow truck-driving and plane-flying friend (Eli Wallach) and their rodeo-riding, bronc-busting friend (Montgomery Clift) in Dayton, Nevada, and in the western Nevada desert in 1960. The Misfits was a commercial failure at the time of its 1961 release but received critical acclaim for its script and performances. Its reputation has shifted over the following years, and many critics now consider the film to be a masterpiece and one of the best films of the 1960s.


In Reno, Nevada, 30-year-old Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) has filed for a quickie six-week Nevada divorce from her inattentive husband Raymond (McCarthy). As Tabor is entering the Washoe County Courthouse with her landlady Isabelle (Ritter), Roslyn ignores Raymond's attempts to talk to her and reconcile and stays with Isabelle. Isabelle is also a divorcee. After the divorce papers are filed, Isabelle takes Roslyn to a cocktail lounge at Harrah's Reno for drinks, to let the reality of her new divorce sink in. While at Harrah's, they meet an aging cowboy named Gaylord 'Gay' Langland (Gable) and his tow truck driver best friend Guido (Wallach). After some good conversation, they invite Roslyn and Isabelle to Guido's old house in the Nevada country to help her forget about the divorce after Gay tells Roslyn that he is also divorced. The group arrives at the unfinished house Guido built for his late wife, who died several years earlier during childbirth. They all drink and dance. Roslyn has too much to drink, so Gay drives her home to Reno.

Eventually, Roslyn and Gay 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 argue when Gay discovers a rabbit has been eating the lettuce in the garden. Gay states his intention to find and kill the rabbits which have been eating the vegetable garden they planted outside Guido's house. Roslyn is vehemently opposed to the idea of killing the rabbits, for any reason. This is a recurring theme in the movie - Roslyn's fear of death and change in general.

When Guido and Isabelle later show up at the house, Gay suggests that they round up wild mustangs to sell. They then plan to go to a local rodeo in Dayton to look for and hire a third man for the job. In Dayton, they run into Perce Howland (Clift), a cowboy friend of Gay's, who is in Dayton to compete in the rodeo. Gay offers to pay for the broke Perce's $10 rodeo entry fee if he helps the group round up wild mustangs the next day. Isabelle sees her ex-husband Charles and his new wife Clara and decides to invite them to her Reno home instead of going to the rodeo with Gay, Guido, Perce, and Roslyn. Before the rodeo, Guido, Perce, Roslyn and Gaylord all drink at a Dayton bar, where wagers were made and won on Roslyn's ability to play a game of paddle ball. The group is nearly involved in a fistfight when a drunken patron at the bar spanks Roslyn's bottom as she plays paddle ball.

At the rodeo, Roslyn becomes somewhat upset when Guido tells her how the horses are made to buck with an irritating flank strap. She then declares that all rodeos should be banned. Later in the rodeo, Perce is thrown by a bucking horse, and Roslyn begs him to go to a hospital, but he insists on riding a bull he had already signed up and paid to ride. He gets thrown again, resulting in a head injury.

Later, after Roslyn dances with Perce, he passes out in a Dayton back alley. When he regains consciousness, he sees Roslyn 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, giving his stepfather the ranch Perce's father wanted to leave to Perce. A drunken Gay then fetches Roslyn, telling her that he wants her to meet his kids, into whom he claims he unexpectedly ran. When Gay discovers his children have already left Dayton, he causes a public scene outside the bar in Dayton.

Later on, during the drive home to Reno, a drunken Guido asks if Roslyn has left Gay, and offers to take his place. Back at Guido's house, Guido, intoxicated and sleepless, attempts to finish the patio he started. Perce awakens and nearly tears his bandages off, forgetting about his recent injury. Roslyn puts him to bed and 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 wild mustangs, and Roslyn reluctantly tags along. After they catch a stallion and four mares, Rosalyn becomes upset when she learns that the mustangs will be sold and slaughtered for dog food. She then tells Gay she did not know she was falling in love with a killer. Gay tells Roslyn 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.

After the horses are captured, Roslyn begs Gay to release the horses. He considers doing it, but when she offers to pay him the $200 she won playing paddleball, it angers him. Guido tells Roslyn that he would let them go if she would leave Gay for him. She rebuffs him, telling him he only cares about himself. 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. Perce 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 are driving, Roslyn tells Gay that she will leave the next day. Gay stops the truck to pick up his dog and watches Roslyn joyfully untethering it. Gay and Roslyn realize that they still love each other, and drive off into the night.



Monroe and Gable

The making of The Misfits was troublesome on several accounts, not the least of which was the sometimes 100 °F (38 °C) heat[5] 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.

Meanwhile, while her marriage to Arthur Miller had issues, Marilyn Monroe was drinking too much after work, and was using prescription drugs; according to Huston in a 1981 retrospective interview, he was "absolutely certain that she was doomed" a conclusion he reached while working on the film:[6][date missing]"There was evidence right before me almost every day. She was incapable of rescuing herself or of being rescued by anyone else. And it sometimes affected her work. We had to stop the picture while she went to a hospital for two weeks."[6] Huston shut down production in August 1960 when Monroe went to a hospital for relaxation and depression treatment. Some close-ups after her hospital discharge were shot using limited soft focus.[6] Monroe was nearly always late to the set, sometimes not showing up at all. She spent her nights learning newly written lines with her drama coach Paula Strasberg. Monroe's confidant and masseur, Ralph Roberts, was cast as an ambulance attendant in the film's rodeo scene. The other actors did not complain to Monroe about her lateness–-they knew they needed her to finish the movie. Gable reminisced with Misfits author James Goode saying, "Long ago, if an actor was late, they were fired."

Clark Gable insisted on doing some of his own stunts, but not including the scene of being dragged 400 feet (120 m) across the dry lake bed at more than 30 miles per hour (48 km/h). Director John Huston said after Gable's death he would never have allowed Gable to do the more dangerous stunts.

Veteran Western actor Rex Bell (who was married to Clara Bow) made his final film appearance in a brief cameo as a cowboy. Bell was lieutenant governor of Nevada at the time.

Thomas B. Allen was assigned to create drawings of the film as it was made. Magnum Photos had numerous staff photographers, including Ernst Haas, Inge Morath, and Eve Arnold, all were assigned to document the making of The Misfits. Inge Morath later married Miller, Monroe's former husband, a year after the film was released.

During production, the cast's principals stayed at the now imploded Mapes Hotel in Reno. Film locations included the Washoe County Court House on Virginia Street, and Quail Canyon, near Pyramid Lake.[7][8] The bar scene wherein Monroe plays paddle ball and the rodeo scenes were filmed in Dayton, Nevada, east of Carson City. For the final three weeks of shooting, Miller and Monroe moved to the nearby Holiday Hotel and Casino, now the Renaissance Hotel, on Center Street in Reno. The Renaissance Hotel no longer has a casino. The climax of the film takes place during wrangling scenes on a Nevada dry lake twelve miles[8] east of Dayton,[9] near Stagecoach. The area today is known as "Misfits Flat".[10]

Filming was completed on November 4, 1960, twelve days before Clark Gable's death,[11] and The Misfits was released on February 1, 1961, on what would have been Gable's 60th birthday.[12]


There were high expectations, given the star power of the writer, director and actors. Producer Frank E. Taylor had heralded The Misfits as "the ultimate motion picture" before its release.

Box office[edit]

The Misfits failed to meet expectations at the box office and has been historically referred to as a "box office disaster" of its day.[13] Despite being shot in black and white, the final cost was about $4 million, which was the estimated budget. The film grossed $4,100,000 in its initial USA release. It has brought more substantial profits to United Artists since its release on DVD.

Critical reception[edit]

Despite on-set difficulties, Gable, Monroe, Clift and Wallach delivered performances that modern critics consider superb.[14] Many critics regard Gable's performance as his finest, and Gable, after seeing the rough cuts, agreed.[15] Monroe received the 1961 Golden Globe Award as "World Film Favorite" in March 1962, five months before her death. Huston was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film.

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, 97% of 30 critics have given The Misfits a positive review and an average rating of 8/10.[16]

In 2005, the film was nominated by the American Film Institute in the AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores list.[17]


Gable suffered a heart attack two days after filming ended and died ten days later on November 16, 1960. Monroe and Clift attended the premiere in New York in February 1961, while Arthur Miller attended with his two children. Monroe later said that she hated the film and her performance 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. As a child, Monroe had often claimed that Gable was her father.

Monroe in The Misfits

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 Eichhorn as Marilyn Monroe.[18]

Arthur Miller's last play, Finishing the Picture (2004), although fiction, was primarily based on the events involved in the making of The Misfits.

In 2005, Portland Magazine published "Maine's Misfits,[19]" a story on Ever After Mustang Rescue, a farm in Biddeford, ME that rescues mustangs. Writer Stacey Chase refers to the 1961 film throughout the story.

Discovered scene[edit]

In August 2018, an un-released nude scene where Marilyn Monroe exposes herself while making love with Clark Gable, and which was thought to have been lost, was discovered.[20]

Home media[edit]

The Misfits was released to DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on May 8, 2012 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD and on May 10, 2011 on Blu-ray.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE MISFITS (A)". United Artists. British Board of Film Classification. February 9, 1961. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  2. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  3. ^ Goode, James (1963). The Story of The Misfits. Bobbs-Merrill. p. 121.
  4. ^ "TCM Breakfast Club Screening" (PDF). HOME (Manchester). Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  5. ^ Arthur Miller (1995). Timebends: A Life. Penguin. p. 470. ISBN 978-0-14-024917-0.
  6. ^ a b c Greenberg, Peter S. "Saints and Stinkers". Rolling Stone (Interview) (337). Interviewed by John Huston. p. 25.[date missing]
  7. ^ Miller, 1995, p. 508
  8. ^ a b James Goode (1986) [First Published 1963 as "The Story of The Misfits"]. The Making of the Misfits. Limelight Editions. p. 55,123. ISBN 0-87910-065-6.
  9. ^ Rocha, Guy. "Myth #60 - Myths and "The Misfits"". Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2010-04-17Sierra Sage, Carson City/Carson Valley, Nevada, January 2001 editionCS1 maint: postscript (link)
  10. ^ "Misfits Flat". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-04-17.
  11. ^ "Behind the Camera: The Misfits". Retrieved 2014-04-12.
  12. ^ Crowther, Bosley (February 2, 1961). "The Misfits (1961): Gable and Monroe Star in Script by Miller". The New York Times. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 'The Misfits,' which came to the Capitol yesterday....
  13. ^ Hardy, Phil (1983). The Encyclopedia of Western Movies. p. 279. ISBN 9780706425550. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  14. ^ The Misfits - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  15. ^ Miller, Arthur (1987). Timebends. New York: Grove Press. p. 485. ISBN 0-8021-0015-5.
  16. ^ The Misfits at Rotten Tomatoes
  17. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  18. ^ Finlayson, Alex. Plays. Oberon Books. London, 1996.
  19. ^ "Maine's Misfits".
  20. ^ "Marilyn Monroe's lost nude scene from The Misfits resurfaces". The Daily Telegraph. 2018-08-13. Retrieved 2019-02-14.


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