A disturbing but captivating film about modern cowboys who have lost their purpose in a world that has robbed them of the West into which they were born. THE MISFITS was Gable's and Monroe's last film. Whether or not the strenuous stunts and bronc-busting feats he performed killed Gable is still in debate, but he certainly gave one of the finest performances of his career for the fade-out.
Gay (Gable) and sidekicks Guido (Wallach) and Perce (Clift) are cowboys without saddles, driving a pickup about the West in search of odd jobs. Their talk is laced with thin bravado, and they have more of the past to discuss than the future. In Reno, they meet recently divorced blond voluptuary Roslyn Taber (Monroe), who has left her successful businessman husband. She is a one-time stripper who is seeking truth and a meaningful relationship with anyone who can relate to her idealistic notions. Gay is twice Roslyn's age, has no noble purpose, and intends to round up "misfit" horses, those wild mustangs too small for rodeo or ranch work, so they can be ground up for dog food. They tentatively begin a romance, but these "misfits" have a few things to prove to themselves and to each other first.
This is an awkward film, even though it has many fine moments, most of them Gable's--when he gets drunk and begins calling for his long-lost children, his spirited horse-breaking scenes (he did not employ a double), and some of his nostalgic scenes with Monroe. Gable had his misgivings about what he called the "arty" qualities of Miller's script, but he eventually did more with his introspective role than the playwright could have expected. Monroe has her moments (e.g. screaming in the middle of the desert while she watches Gay and his buddies fighting one particularly spirited mustang), but is often weak and directionless in her part. She tries adopting Actor's Studio methods and deadpanning her scenes while belying her altruistic lines with a jiggling, tight-skirted image. Miller's presence at the on-location scenes in Reno and Dayton, Nevada, undoubtedly inhibited director Huston, who fails to develop anyone's character except Gable's. Huston could not control Monroe, who was taking various drugs and seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown; when she did show up for work, she couldn't remember her lines without heavy coaching. Somewhat surprisingly, Gable treated her and the similarly distraught, alcoholic Clift with great consideration and kindness. He got on less well with Wallach, though, regularly referring to the "boiled ham" he planned to have for lunch, while the studious, showy Method actor would retort, "Hey, king, can you lower my taxes?" The film was finally completed on November 24, 1960, eight days after Gable's death from a heart attack and several months before his fifth wife Kay gave birth to his only child. Monroe's death from a sleeping-pill overdose would soon follow, and Clift would be dead within five years as well. Many have called this film a brilliant mood piece of a dying Old West; that doesn't make it a masterpiece, but the ghosts of its cast do still haunt one's viewing experience.