Drama · Western

The Last Film of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable

A May-December romance in the desert. Image: Belfast Telegraph

American playwright Arthur Miller once wrote a screenplay for his wife, Marilyn Monroe, called The Misfits (1961). It’s a somber, take-no-prisoners story, set in the bleak landscape surrounding Reno, Nevada.

“Nevada is the Leave-It State,” explains Thelma Ritter in the film, meaning it’s the place to leave your spouse, your money and your nuclear fall-out. (Nevada played host to 928 nuclear tests from 1951-1992.¹)

The landscape here is hard and dry, punctuated by scrub and rocks. It makes you thirsty just looking at it.

Monroe plays a newly-divorced woman who becomes involved with an aging cowboy (Clark Gable), a man as tough as the Nevada desert. It’s an odd pairing: Gable’s brusqueness vs. Monroe’s stubborn sensitivity. Sometimes she seems so delicate she might crumble, yet she never turns down a good fight.

In one of their relationship power struggles, Gable calls Monroe “silly”. Monroe says Gable doesn’t respect her feelings, and Gable argues she doesn’t respect him.

Added to this is Monroe’s Appeal to men in general. Eli Wallach plays a self-absorbed bush pilot who thinks Monroe will give him Prestige. Montgomery Clift is a soft-hearted cowboy who is drawn to her vulnerability.

The truth is, this group doesn’t have anybody but each other. They are misfits, like the wild mustangs in the Nevada mountains. These horses are captured by Gable and Co. and are sold to a dealer who, in turn, slaughters them for pet food.

The Misfits is rich with symbolism and features Monroe’s and Gable’s finest dramatic performances.

Montgomery Clift (L), Gable and Eli Wallach examine a mustang. Image: Getty

Monroe’s character is a demanding one – for herself and the audience. She’s a mournful soul who wants life to be Romantic and hates it when it’s not. Gable asks her, “What makes you so sad? I think you’re the saddest girl I ever met.”

However, she has a way of getting to the heart of a matter by asking maudlin questions. “We’re all dying, aren’t we?” she asks. “All the husbands and all the wives. Every minute. We’re not teaching each other what we really know.”

She can’t stand to see anything killed, which conflicts with Everything Gable Is About. When a rabbit threatens to eat the lettuce in their garden, she begs him not to kill it. Yet, when the men round up the mustangs, she becomes hysterical and suggests they kill themselves.

Nevertheless, Gable tries to explain his view of Life. “Honey, we all gotta go sometime, reason or no reason,” he says. “Dying is as natural as living. If a man is too afraid to die, he’s too afraid to live.”

As you can see, Gable’s character stampedes his way through life. He Makes The Rules, but he also has a tender soul. For example, when he unexpectedly runs into his children and misses the chance to say goodbye, he’s crushed. Yet, when he struggles with a wild mustang stallion, he refuses to be defeated.

He’s so compelling you forget this is Clark Gable, Movie Star, on the screen.

Monroe considers Gable’s proposition. Image: Christie’s

The Misfits was a troubled production. Both Monroe and Clift had dependencies on prescription medication, while director John Huston had a little too much fun with Reno’s nightlife.

Meanwhile, Arthur Miller had a habit of re-writing several pages of dialogue the night before – or morning of – a shoot, which added to Monroe’s stress level and is said to contribute to their marital breakdown.

Gable was, apparently, the calming influence on the production.² He also performed most of his own stunts, including the scene where he’s dragged by a truck across a dried lake bed.

The Misfits would be the last completed film for both Gable and Monroe. Gable had a heart attack the day after filming finished; he died eleven days later. Monroe would die of an overdose 18 months after the film’s release.

Clift would appear in three more films before his death in 1966.

Now, we might have made things seem a bit scandalous and/or morbid, and that isn’t our intent. The Misfits is a Grown-Up film with complex characters and life’s Big Questions. You ought to see it.

Notes:

The Misfits: starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift. Directed by John Huston. Written by Arthur Miller. United Artists, 1961, B&W, 125 mins.

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35 thoughts on “The Last Film of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable

  1. Fantastic write-up of a great film! You captured it so well, Ruth. It’s tough to watch but pulls you in, probably in part to the thin veneer between the story/characters and the actors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been feeling so burnt out, lately, that writing anything at all has been a huge struggle, but reading your post has given me a little boost. The Misfits sounds fascinating, what a cast, I really want to seek this one out. It sounds like a film of mythic importance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel this is a worthwhile film on its own merits – never mind its significance to Monroe and Gable – even if a person doesn’t end up liking it. It is truly well done in every way.

      Also: I hope your writing mojo returns.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I watched The Misfits last weekend and found it haunting and incredibly sad. A rare movie where art imitating life sends a shiver down your spine because you know the fate awaiting Marilyn and Clark Gable on the completion of filming. Beautifully shot in black and white. It’s one of those films that just wouldn’t be the same in colour.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So true – this film would not be the same if it were done in colour. The black and white cinematography gives it an almost other-worldly feel. Your word “haunting” is a perfect description of the film.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful article on what I agree are not only Gable and Monroe’s last film performances but also their best. Clift, Ritter and Wallach are marvelous as well, and Miller’s script is profound and poetic if unrelentingly grim and downbeat. You have made me need to pull out the dvd and watch this again!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice! This is actually my favorite film with both Monroe and Gable. I found Gable a little too invested in his macho image in his earlier career and Monroe’s “dumb baby talking blonde” image was just so wrong. But I feel like in this film, they both achieved a level of psychological complexity with their characters and shed a lot of their earlier image baggage. Monroe especially really shows her true colors here.

    Tam May
    The Dream Book Blog
    https://thedreambook.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was no doubt Marilyn Monroe’s best performance ever. A near excellent movie, I got to watch on the Big Screen, whilst residing down under, when it was shown at the Art Gallery there.
    Reading this, I recalled, how when I was watching this movie, I wondered how much of the character she plays was reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe herself, in real life. Her sadness, the way the horny men are attracted towards her beauty, sexuality and innocence.
    Marilyn Monroe is not among my all time favourite stars, but I’ve always sympathized with her. It’s really sad how much she suffered, majority of her adult life. And such a beautiful person. I’ve always had a soft corner for stars that have gone through depression and medication; like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley & Parveen Babi; to name some. AND today, I’m on medication myself, and dealing with my own stress and depression. And surviving, on my own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s sad to know that you face these things, but inspiring to know that you’re dealing with them and still living your life.

      You saw this film on the big screen?! I admit I’m a bit jealous. I bet it was gorgeous!

      It truly is sad to think how much Marilyn Monroe and others in Hollywood have suffered.

      Thanks for dropping by, and for your always insightful comments. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. One of my favourite Monroe movies I think. Its overall sadness doesn’t come over as pretentious intellectual gameplay though, which is the case with many dramas nowadays.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Considering the talent involved, I always expect more from THE MISFITS. But I must say that it’s always interesting and, along with BUS STOP, shows that Marilyn was becoming a better dramatic actress. It would have been interesting to see where her career might have taken her from that point.

    Liked by 1 person

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