This movie was shot in black and white in 1961 and runs 125 minutes. It was directed by John Huston who directed some of the greatest films of all times (e.g., The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre).
The movie has a great cast with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, and Thelma Ritter playing the principal roles.
Monroe plays Roslyn Tabor who has just obtained a divorce and is disillusioned. This is considered her finest dramatic role. The screenplay is by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller who was the husband of Monroe at this point in their lives.
The movie can be understood on multiple levels including how the author and star were very different personalities capable of loving and accepting one another just as the Gable and Monroe characters were able ultimately to do just that in the movie. Unfortunately for Miller and Monroe, real life didn’t follow the movie script.
The movie is set in Reno, Nevada, “the biggest little city in the world”, where many came to get quick divorces in the days when divorce was often difficult to obtain in other states.
Roslyn/Monroe meets her about to be ex-husband on the courthouse steps and he doesn’t want the divorce. She does because he was never there, even when he was physically there. She tells him: “You’re not going to make me sorry for you any more.” We will soon see that in many ways Miller has given his wife the best lines in the movie. She is the most philosophical, the most caring, the most aware person---anything but the dumb blonde that she was so often type cast in her movies.
Eli Wallach meets Monroe as he is a tow truck driver who comes to look over the brand new Cadillac that she got from the husband she is about to divorce. Wallach is smitten and later sees her at one of the casino bars and introduces her to the Gable character.
Eli Wallach is a former World War II pilot who was studying to be a doctor before the war sidetracked him. He then married and started building a house out in the desert outside Reno. His wife dies when the car doesn’t start and he is unable to get her the medical care she needs.
Gable is a cowboy who will do most anything as long as it isn’t working for wages. He is the one who moves into Wallach’s half finished house with Monroe and settles down growing a garden and behaving far more civilized than he ever expected to be. At one point the rabbits are eating his garden so he gets a rifle to go out and kill them and Monroe gets upset with such an idea. Gable is still going to do it but Wallach shows up and so he never goes through with it. But we clearly see the clash of ideologies between the two with potential storm clouds rising on the horizon of their love life.
Gable and Wallach decide to go mustanging. Out in the desert are wild horses, mustangs, that can be caught and sold as horse meat. Not many of them are left but Wallach has spotted some from the air and so they go after them. But they need a third person and so they go to a rodeo to pick up another cowboy to help out. This is where the Montgomery Clift character comes into the picture. He is a not too successful bronc-rider who is more likely to get kicked in the head than win any contest with a horse or bull. He never expected to be on the rodeo circuit as he expected to eventually inherit his father’s ranch. But his father dies and his mother remarries and offers his a job for wages and feeling insulted---and recognizing his inheritance is not going to happen---he takes off.
While at the rodeo we almost meet Gable’s kids. Gay/Gable goes to get Roslyn/Monroe to introduce them but by the time he does this they are long gone---because Gable is drunk. We soon see that everyone falls in love with Roslyn---all three male leads in the movie want her and at one point or another are willing to betray their friendship with the other men in order to win her love. At one point Wallach says he will help her IF she will go with him---she says he has to have a gift to do the right thing? Roslyn is wise about love, however, as she has already experienced how it is easy for men to say they love you but a lot harder for them to maintain a real relationship. She has never been loved---not by her parents of by her husband.
They are all “misfits” as the movie title labels them. This is the key message of the movie. They are also all decent people. They are not out to hurt anyone. They are misfits because modern life just doesn’t have a place for them anymore.
The final scenes are of the mustanging effort out in the desert. Wallach, Gable, Monroe, and Clift are there together. We soon learn that there are not really enough mustangs left to make the effort worth while. But Gable keeps saying that: “It’s better than wages.” After the horses are all caught and tied up, Gay is about to let them go for Roslyn’s sake when she offers to buy them---which is seen as an insult by Gay so he goes forward with his plans to sell them for horsemeat.
In one scene we see Monroe, a tiny figure at a distance surrounded by the endless desert, screaming at all of them, berating them for what they are about to do. She screams that they are “killers, murderers…you’re three dead men”.
Clift then takes the truck and Monroe and drives to the horses and cuts them loose. Gay chases after and engages in a terrific struggle to recapture one of the horses. This is a powerful, exhausting, man and horse struggle, man against nature, where the man wins. It is a very symbolic struggle. At the end, Gay wins and is exhausted, and then elects to cut the horse loose. He recognizes that both he and the horse are dying breeds, both free and wild.
It was never about money to Gay. It was about horses, about excitement, about the chase, about flow, about not working for wags, about being able to use their skills with horses, skills that are no longer valued in a modern mechanized world.
Roslyn sees what they are doing as being cruel---but they are not trying to be cruel. Fro them it is what they do well---they actually care about the horses. You see Gay stroking the stallion when they finally have him tied down.
Gay sees that society has changed, that it is all turned around. What he once did was good and noble, but not anymore. When they use to go mustanging the horses were used as childrens’ pets, not sold as horsemeat. He recognizes that he has to find another way to be alive.
At the end, Gay and Monroe drive off together with his dog---just the two of them. They care enough about one another to make the adjustments necessary to survive in a very harsh and unaccepting world. They have decided to no longer be misfits, they feel that they fit together.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER