Finding one's place in this sometimes dreary world can be a difficult endeavor. Some people simply wander, drifting from town to town, person to person, and life to life, in an effort to discover some semblance of meaning or peace. So difficult can this journey be, that sometimes it can feel like the universe itself has given up on us, has abandoned us cold and alone in some dark corner to fend desperately for ourselves. And so, some either out of necessity or by choice become outcasts, segregated to the very fringe of civilization, in some hazy, dry desert of molten rock and deferred dreams. John Huston's 1961 film 'The Misfits' is a story of such people, lonely and disillusioned, and all so utterly lost. For a brief moment they find comfort in each other and forge a home of their own, a place to belong, a place to simply be. But unfortunately for some of these outsiders, the world's heavy toll may simply have been too much.
The story follows a recently divorced beauty named Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) as she befriends an unlikely group including Gay, an aging cowboy (Clark Gable), Guido (Eli Wallach), a widowed war veteran pilot, and Perce (Montgomery Clift), a kind-hearted rodeo rider. Romance blossoms between Roslyn and Gay, but conflict arises when a more cruel and savage aspect of the cowboy's lifestyle is revealed. Written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller, the screenplay is richly textured and thematically deep, with dialogue that is both colloquial and strikingly insightful.
The combination of Miller's perceptive words and the cast's brave performances add up to a powerful and moving experience. Considering its author, it should come as no surprise that the film is mostly dialogue driven, and through these extended scenes of conversation Miller is able to not only form believable and fully developed characters, but those that balance a level of natural speech with more purposeful thematic observations. Gable's antiquated cowboy, lamenting a world that has changed for the worse around him, is both charming and heartbreaking, and the actor brings just the right amount of heroic leading man and broken outcast to the role. Wallach is also remarkable as Guido, and even though the character takes a less sympathetic turn in the last act, his well-rounded and complex performance still lends a deeper understanding to his unsavory actions. As Perce, Montgomery Clift adds a more lighthearted atmosphere to the group, but still brings a strong and moving emotional heart to the character.
At the center of it all, though, is Marilyn Monroe, who is electrifying and tragic as Roslyn, a woman whose striking beauty makes her the object of desire for many she meets. She is like an angel floating through the tortured existence of each of the weathered men who cross her path. They instantly open up to her, pouring their hearts out, and in return she listens and comforts. But clouded by her appearance, all they seem to see is an idealized version of a more wounded soul. The character is so much more than fantasy, however, and Monroe gives perhaps her best performance as she reveals the pain lurking beneath her innocent exterior. She and Gable bring their individual cinematic and personal baggage to the screen, enhancing their characters in a way no other performers could. These are all damaged people, worn out by the cards life dealt them and the hard choices they've had to make, and the script and performances don't shy away from these sometimes harsh realities. The actors, writer, and director instead present them in a nuanced manner that slowly peels back deeper layers one by one until we at last reach their vulnerable cores.
While the main attractions here are the writing and performances, Huston's direction fuses all these elements together in an artistic, restrained manner. The director wisely gives his actors room to breathe by staging many scenes with minimal coverage and several sequences in single master shots, which allow the performances to grow and evolve uninterrupted. Even with this more straightforward approach, the film is still full of many memorable cinematic moments including the wonderfully staged and edited paddle ball sequence. The choice of black-and-white cinematography is also of note, bringing its own level of gloom and melancholy that casts its players in the perpetual gray shadow of a colorless world. In addition, the final act of the film features some particularly strong directorial choices. The manner in which Huston presents the harsh and violent horse wrangling climax strips the cowboy's actions of any possible romanticism, and instead delivers the event in a harsh level of unfiltered realism.
While in many ways a brilliant film, 'The Misfits' is not without some minor faults. The character of Isabelle (wonderfully performed by Thelma Ritter), who plays a fairly large role in the first half of the movie, just sort of disappears at one point and never shows up again. It's understandable that her character simply wouldn’t fit in with the latter half of the story, and the moment or her departure actually signals a shift toward some darker territory, but it still seems a bit abrupt. Also, though the writing and performances are strong, some scenes do run dangerously close to bordering on the melodramatic, making a few lines seem a bit too insightful for their own good. Thankfully, even when sequences do go slightly over the top, Huston's direction tends to hone things back in line.
In short, 'The Misfits' is a powerful examination of loneliness and longing. Through its group of wounded souls who have either lost or never found their own place in life, Miller and Huston probe deep down into the melancholy heart of humanity, and return with some strong and insightful observations.
'The Misfits' is provided in a black and white 1080p/AVC transfer in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. For the most part, the video here is quite strong.
The source print itself is in rather good condition with only a few rare instances of damage or age visible. A moderate level of grain is present throughout, preserving a richly textured film-like quality. Detail is fair, though certain scenes are stronger than others. Some close-ups of Monroe are particularly soft, but were apparently shot that way intentionally. While depth is not overly impressive, there are instances of some nice dimensionality. Contrast is strong with intense, yet still natural whites, and black levels are mostly great and only appear slightly elevated from time to time.
While a little soft, the video here is still strong and preserves the original intent of the filmmakers well.
Audio is available in an English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, Spanish, French, and Portuguese Dolby Digital Mono tracks, and Italian and German DTS Mono tracks with English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, Castilian, and Dutch subtitle options.
Dialogue is crisp and clean and carries a surprising fullness for a mono track. Thankfully, there are also no signs of age or distortion. Dynamic range is fairly flat, but the track does show some scale in the rodeo scenes. Bass is essentially nonexistent, though balance between the dialogue, effects, and beautiful score is handled nicely.
Overall, this is an accurate and respectful audio presentation that serves the movie well.
Unfortunately, outside of a trailer, there are absolutely no supplements included with this release. For such a great film with such an interesting, and at times troubled production history, it's a real shame that no behind the scenes featurettes, documentaries, or retrospectives are presented here. This film deserved better treatment.
'The Misfits' is a fine example of deep, thoughtful writing and powerful performances coming together in a fairly straightforward, yet still artful manner. The video and audio are both respectable and even though there are no real supplements, this classic film is strong enough to warrant a recommendation.