But from today’s perspective, it’s no stretch to say The Misfits was also a harbinger of the iconoclastic American cinema of the late 60s and early 70s. Its rebellious, wholesale questioning of the nation’s underpinnings was echoed in countless later films, from The Graduate to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In addition, the film presented an evolving image of women - of blond bombshells anyway – that, while not exactly feminist, at least conceded that broads were capable of serious thought and opinions, not to mention melancholy and deep regret. With The Misfits, Huston and writer Arthur Miller may well have created the very first hippie film.
Gable’s introduction is equally inspired. Here he plays an aging, hard drinking cowpoke named Gay Langland. We meet him at the train station, where he is in the process of dumping a chatty heiress from St. Louis in such a smooth, tender manner she’s oblivious to the break-up. This is clearly not the first time Gable has discarded his romantic baggage on eastbound trains, and in dizzyingly effective visual shorthand he becomes the embodiment of the wildly macho frontier spirit. But in the relatively civilized confines of downtown Reno, that spirit seems more caddish and irresponsible than ruggedly heroic, and this conflict of perceptions will drive the rest of the film.
When Monroe and Ritter accompany the men to Wallach’s rustic desert cabin for an evening of drinking and dancing, Monroe’s breathy voice becomes a celebratory instrument of the splendors of Existence, without a hint of the sexual double-entendre that laced her oratory in earlier films. Monroe’s work here is truly impressive, and if Arthur Miller’s intent was to establish his wife’s dramatic bona-fides, as is often rumored, then his efforts were wildly successful.
A splendid job has been done with the B/W transfer. It’s clean, rangy and crackles with a vibrant tonality. The day-for-night scenes have an other-worldly glow that’s simply beautiful to behold. While shot with nets – supposedly to hide Monroe’s emerging wrinkles – the image retains a pleasing crispness and all the detail one could want. The diffusion gets a bit heavy in one scene - an intercut conversation between Gable and Monroe at the breakfast table and the shots don’t really match - but otherwise DP Russell Metty shows extremely good judgment with the use of filtration.
The audio track, available here only in the original mono, is remarkably robust and clean for a film featuring so many noisy, uncontrollable locations. If there was significant dialogue replacement, as logic suggests, it’s blended so seamlessly there are no audible hints.
The only bonus material on offer is The Misfits’ teaser, and it’s an interesting blend of the film’s rather stark title animation – moving graphics were all the rage in 1961 – and freeze frames from the production. As one would expect with this heavyweight cast, the trailer focuses mainly on the stars while revealing little in the way of narrative.
It would take a long time for The Misfits to recover from the critical drubbing it received in 1961 - along with its perception as a cursed production – and be recognized as an American cinema essential. Despite some unevenness and a draggy second act, The Misfits successfully captures a disturbing spirit of iconic transition and shifting zeitgeist. Ardent fans of Gable and Monroe weren’t ready for Huston and Miller’s warning of national decline and decadence; a warning that has been borne out a thousand times in the following decades. This fiftieth anniversary edition offers illuminating perspective on the film’s uncanny predictive powers. It is not unusual for a movie to be a reflection of its times. But with chilling accuracy, The Misfits was an ominous reflection of times to come