The Misfits (1961)

124 mins | Drama | 1 February 1961

Director:

John Huston

Writer:

Arthur Miller

Producer:

Frank E. Taylor

Cinematographer:

Russell Metty

Editor:

George Tomasini

Production Designers:

Stephen Grimes, William Newberry

Production Company:

Seven Arts Productions
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HISTORY

The Misfits marked playwright Arthur Miller’s first original screenplay, as noted in a 21 Aug 1960 NYT article. It was reportedly based on a short story of Miller’s, published in Esquire years earlier. The character of “Roslyn Taber” was heavily expanded upon in the screenplay, described as a vehicle for Miller’s then wife, Marilyn Monroe, in the 17 Jan 1960 NYT, and as a “love poem” to her, according to producer Frank E. Taylor in the 22 Jan 1961 LAT. A draft of the screenplay was completed by fall 1958, as noted in the 17 Sep 1958 DV. Director John Huston’s involvement was announced several months later in the 6 May 1959 DV. Huston was said to be considering Mexico, where he was in production on The Unforgiven (1960, see entry), as a filming location. However, Reno, NV, was ultimately chosen for the Western setting.
       The 3 Apr 1959 DV listed The Misfits as one of Seven Arts Productions’s assets. Although company founders Ray Stark and Eliot Hyman were in the midst of dissolving their partnership, Seven Arts remained the production company behind the film, honoring a “partnership arrangement with John Huston,” as stated in a 3 Apr 1959 NYT article. United Artists (UA) was named as distributor in the 4 Nov 1959 Var, and the 21 Aug 1960 NYT described the backing of the film as a “nebulous corporate set-up,” with Seven Arts as the “packager.” The 25 Oct 1960 issue of DV stated that UA financed the film ... More Less

The Misfits marked playwright Arthur Miller’s first original screenplay, as noted in a 21 Aug 1960 NYT article. It was reportedly based on a short story of Miller’s, published in Esquire years earlier. The character of “Roslyn Taber” was heavily expanded upon in the screenplay, described as a vehicle for Miller’s then wife, Marilyn Monroe, in the 17 Jan 1960 NYT, and as a “love poem” to her, according to producer Frank E. Taylor in the 22 Jan 1961 LAT. A draft of the screenplay was completed by fall 1958, as noted in the 17 Sep 1958 DV. Director John Huston’s involvement was announced several months later in the 6 May 1959 DV. Huston was said to be considering Mexico, where he was in production on The Unforgiven (1960, see entry), as a filming location. However, Reno, NV, was ultimately chosen for the Western setting.
       The 3 Apr 1959 DV listed The Misfits as one of Seven Arts Productions’s assets. Although company founders Ray Stark and Eliot Hyman were in the midst of dissolving their partnership, Seven Arts remained the production company behind the film, honoring a “partnership arrangement with John Huston,” as stated in a 3 Apr 1959 NYT article. United Artists (UA) was named as distributor in the 4 Nov 1959 Var, and the 21 Aug 1960 NYT described the backing of the film as a “nebulous corporate set-up,” with Seven Arts as the “packager.” The 25 Oct 1960 issue of DV stated that UA financed the film as part of its twenty-seven-picture, $43-million production slate for Oct 1959--Oct 1960. At Arthur Miller’s suggestion, Frank E. Taylor, an editorial director at Dell Publishing, took a leave of absence from Dell in order to produce the film, as stated in a 22 Jan 1961 LAT article.
       Jason Robards, Jr. was identified as a potential co-star for Marilyn Monroe in a 13 Sep 1959 NYT article. However, the actor does not appear to have remained with project.
       An anticipated start date of 24 Mar 1960 was cited in the 4 Nov 1959 Var. According to a later item in the 18 Jan 1960 DV, Huston was recovering from a “busted leg” and would hopefully be ready in time for a May 1960 start. Filming was further stymied by Monroe’s schedule, when her previous feature, Let’s Make Love (1960, see entry), experienced production delays due to a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike. The schedules of co-stars Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, and Eli Wallach, had to be rearranged, as did Reno locations, according to a news brief in the 6 May 1960 DV. Monroe was expected to finish shooting Let’s Make Love at the end of May 1960, after which she would take a month-long vacation before filming on The Misfits began 5 Jul 1960. As confirmed in several contemporary sources, including a 22 Jul 1960 DV production chart, principal photography finally commenced on 18 Jul 1960. A ten-week shooting schedule was indicated in the 30 Aug 1960 NYT. According to the 21 Aug 1960 NYT, nearly two-thirds of the script had been rewritten by Miller and Huston as of the weekend before shooting began.
       The first three days of principal photography took place at Harrah’s Club in Reno, which had shut down operation for the first time in its twenty-two years of existence, according to a 19 Jul 1960 DV item. The shutdown was said to result in a loss of “21,600 hours of per customer casino play.” As stated in the 23 Aug 1960 LAT, filming also took place in nearby Dayton, NV, “a virtual ghost town” with only 200 residents.
       While in Reno, cast and crew were headquartered at the Mapes Hotel. There, in a ceremony conducted by the Paiute Indian tribe, Huston and Clark Gable’s wife, Kay, were made honorary Paiutes. As stated in a 17 Aug 1960 Var brief, Huston was given the Paiute name “Long Shadow,” while Mrs. Gable was called “Princess Smiling Eyes.” Also while in Reno, a 22 Aug 1960 premiere for Let’s Make Love was set to take place, so that Monroe could attend, as noted in a DV article published that day. However, a power outage caused by a Lake Tahoe-area fire thwarted the event.
       Items in the 25 Jul, 27 Jul, 1 Aug, 3 Aug, and 31 Aug 1960 DV, noted the following people were involved as bit players or background actors: Pauline Kessinger, a commissary employee at Paramount Studios, in Reno on vacation; singer Paul Anka, in town performing at the Riverside Hotel; Nevada Lieutenant Governor Rex Bell in the role of a “rodeo judge”; Marilyn Maxwell; and Nat Elkitz of WFIL-TV, also in town on vacation. Michelson’s Catering Service provided meals to cast and crew in Reno, according to an advertisement in the 1 Feb 1961 DV.
       Due to Marilyn Monroe’s reputation for tardiness, a daily start time of 11 a.m. was established. The actress reportedly had to learn to ride a horse on set, as noted in the 16 Aug 1960 DV. Filming proceeded on schedule until late Aug 1960, when Monroe fell ill from exhaustion and was entered into the Westside Hospital in Los Angeles, CA, for a week of rest, according to the 30 Aug 1960 DV. An item in Var the following day noted that cast and crew had been working six days per week in temperatures ranging from ninety-five to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless, the ordeal recalled similar incidents on other productions, and ignited speculation over Monroe’s increasing unreliability. Gable defended her habitual tardiness, as noted in a 13 Nov 1960 LAT item, stating, “It’s part of her life, and I know she doesn’t do it to upset anyone.” Production was suspended during Monroe’s hospitalization. Most of the 125-person cast and crew were sent home, except a second unit of fewer than twenty people, who remained behind to shoot wild horse scenes under the guidance of second unit director Tom Shaw. Three weeks of filming were yet to be completed, and Gable was contractually obligated to a weekly $48,000 overtime fee after 15 Sep 1960. Despite the threat of overages, it was impossible for Huston to continue by “shooting around” Monroe, as noted in the 30 Aug 1960 NYT, as the director had made the artistic choice to shoot scenes chronologically as they appeared in the script. Monroe was discharged from Westside Hospital on 4 Sep 1960, as LAT reported the next day, and filming was set to resume two days later. More delays followed, according to items in the 4 Oct and 13 Oct 1960 DV, when Huston developed bronchitis, and, later, dust storms impeded exterior shooting. Publicist Sheldon Roskin also fell ill, as noted in a 28 Sep 1960 Var brief, and was said to have contracted “desert laryngitis caused by alkali dust, chronic heat prostration, sun fever, sagebrush poisoning and a case of mustang measles.”
       On 24 Oct 1960, LAT reported that cast and crew were expected to begin final days of “process” shooting at Paramount Studios that morning. Monroe’s acting coach, Paula Strasburg, was expected to join for the Los Angeles portion, after working with Monroe on location in Reno. An item in the 7 Nov 1960 DV stated that Paramount’s Stage 2 was utilized.
       Filming wound on 4 Nov 1960. Gable had planned a relaxing vacation in Palm Springs, CA, with his pregnant wife, Kay, and had announced that he would not make another picture until after the birth of the baby, due in Mar 1961, as stated in the 23 Nov 1960 Var. Although the fifty-nine-year-old actor was said to have lost weight before The Misfits, and was described as healthy while on set, he was stricken by a coronary thrombosis on 6 Nov 1960, only two days after production ended. Gable was taken to Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, where he suffered a fatal heart attack ten days later, on 16 Nov 1960. According to Frank E. Taylor in the 22 Jan 1961 LAT, after seeing a cut of the film days before he had entered the hospital, Gable had come to the conclusion that “Gay Langland” was one of his two greatest roles, along with “Rhett Butler” in Gone with the Wind (1939, see entry). Despite his death, a 22 Dec 1960 DV item stated that there would be “no added note nor tribute” to Gable in onscreen credits. According to the 23 Jan 1961 DV, grieving wife Kay Gable was given a print of The Misfits to watch in privacy. The following lines spoken by the character Gay Langland were noted as prophetic of Gable’s untimely demise: “If I had a child now I’d know how to raise it”; and, “A man who’s afraid of dying isn’t living.”
       Budget figures ranged from $2.75-$4 million, as listed in the 17 Jan 1960 NYT, 21 Aug 1960 NYT, and 22 Jan 1961 LAT. Gable was paid $750,000 against ten percent of the film’s gross, plus overtime, according to the 31 Oct 1960 DV. His final salary, as noted in the actor’s 18 Nov 1960 DV obituary, exceeded $800,000 due to the extended schedule.
       The 31 Oct 1960 DV stated that Taylor did not anticipate receiving a Production Code Seal, due to the film’s adult content. Miller conjectured the specific reason would be that Roslyn Taber and Gay Langland’s out-of-wedlock affair goes unpunished in the film. However, the 23 Nov 1960 DV reported that Production Code agents had viewed the picture two days earlier, and UA was hopeful a seal would be granted, despite the “mucho ‘adult’” themes. The 15 Feb 1961 DV noted that the picture evaded a condemned rating, and received a Class B (morally objectionable in part or all) from the Catholic Legion of Decency by inserting “an ‘adult’ rating” in all advertisements, which stated that children younger than sixteen would not be admitted without an adult companion.
       The Misfits was originally scheduled for release by the end of 1960 for Academy Award consideration, as stated in the 22 Nov 1960 DV. However, the opening was delayed until 1 Feb 1961, coincidentally Gable’s birthday. Six hundred prints had been ordered, according to the 11 Jan 1961 DV, but public interest led to an increase to 1,000 prints, with 500 to begin circulating the first week, and an additional 500 the next.
       Critical reception was mixed. A review in the 1 Feb 1961 DV suggested that the film’s “adventure drama” framework was rooted in “a complex maze of introspective conflicts” that would not appeal to general audiences. The 2 Feb 1961 LAT review called The Misfits “one of the strangest pictures ever made, and Monroe’s performance was criticized as “completely blank and unfathomable” in the NYT review of the same date. The film fared better in France, where the Parisian publication L’Express lauded the picture, according to a 19 Apr 1961 Var item, calling it “the most important American film production in years.” Miller indirectly snubbed his own script when stating in a letter that his subsequent picture, A View from the Bridge (1962, see entry), was “the first movie made of a work of mine which I have been able to watch without wishing I had been captured by pirates in childhood and never heard from again.”
       Initial box-office results were positive in Los Angeles, where the film took in $215,000 in box-office receipts during its first week at twenty-three theaters, according to the 7 Feb 1961 DV. In New York City, despite a blizzard, the picture took in $74,000 in ticket sales at the Capitol Theatre, as cited in the 10 Feb 1961 DV. Ultimately, the film grossed $4.1 million, according to an article in the 8 Aug 1962 Var, and was considered a commercial disappointment.
       The soundtrack from United Artists Records was pressed when only twenty-five percent of Alex North’s score had been completed, as stated in a 14 Dec 1960 DV item. North was still recording at Goldwyn Studios later that month, according to the 28 Dec 1960 DV. UA had reportedly been in a rush to release North’s “Rosalyn’s Theme” ahead of other record labels “expected to join in the ‘Misfits’ waxing race.” The soundtrack included one side of music from The Misfits, and the other side music from other UA films, the 16 Feb 1961 DV reported.
       James Goode, formerly a writer for Life magazine, was said to be working on a behind-the-scenes book about The Misfits, in a 31 Oct 1960 DV brief. Goode’s The Story of the Misfits was published in 1963 by Bobbs-Merrill. Miller’s script was also released in book form by Viking, as announced in the 31 Jan 1961 NYT. An item in the 27 Sep 1961 DV stated that Miller gave Kay Gable a copy of the book, “dedicated ‘To Clark Gable, who did not know how to hate.’”
       According to the 15 Feb 1961 Var, the American Humane Association monitored animal action on set and found that no animals were harmed, but the organization objected to the content of the script, due to its depiction of brutality and animal abuse in showing the “capturing of wild horses for sale to [a] dog-meat firm.”
       On 11 Nov 1960, one week after production ended, Marilyn Monroe announced her separation from Arthur Miller. The 12 Nov 1960 LAT stated that the marriage “hit the shoals” during filming, and cited rumors that Monroe had been involved in a flirtation with Let’s Make Love co-star Yves Montand on the set of that film. A week after The Misfits was released, the 9 Feb 1961 LAT reported that Monroe had been in treatment at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic of New York Hospital and Cornell Medical Center for the past two months, secretly admitted under the name “Miss Faye Miller.” Monroe had checked in on 5 Dec 1960, but was able to leave the hospital, and did so on 20 Jan 1961 to finalize her divorce in Mexico, and on 31 Jan 1961 to attend a preview of The Misfits. The actress was released from the hospital on 5 Mar 1961, according to an item in the following day’s NYT. She was said to be feeling “wonderful.” Just over a year later, she died of a drug overdose. The Misfits marked hers and Gable’s last completed film. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1958
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Oct 1958
p. 6.
Daily Variety
3 Apr 1959
p. 4.
Daily Variety
6 May 1959
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Jan 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
2 Feb 1960
p. 6.
Daily Variety
6 May 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Jun 1960
p. 8.
Daily Variety
19 Jul 1960
p. 3.
Daily Variety
22 Jul 1960
p. 9.
Daily Variety
25 Jul 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
27 Jul 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
1 Aug 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
3 Aug 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Aug 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Aug 1960
p. 1, 10.
Daily Variety
30 Aug 1960
p. 3.
Daily Variety
31 Aug 1960.
---
Daily Variety
6 Sep 1960
p. 14.
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Oct 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
21 Oct 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
25 Oct 1960
p. 86.
Daily Variety
31 Oct 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
7 Nov 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Nov 1960
p. 4.
Daily Variety
22 Nov 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
23 Nov 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
1 Dec 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
14 Dec 1960
p. 12.
Daily Variety
22 Dec 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Dec 1960
p. 18.
Daily Variety
11 Jan 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
23 Jan 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
25 Jan 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
1 Feb 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
1 Feb 1961
p. 8.
Daily Variety
1 Feb 1961
p. 3, 16.
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
10 Feb 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
15 Feb 1961
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
16 Feb 1961
p. 7.
Daily Variety
27 Sep 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
15 Dec 1961
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
15 Mar 1960
Section B, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
23 Aug 1960
p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
5 Sep 1960
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
24 Oct 1960
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
12 Nov 1960
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
13 Nov 1960
Section N, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
22 Jan 1961
Section C, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
2 Feb 1961
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
9 Feb 1961
p. 1.
New York Times
3 Apr 1959
p. 22.
New York Times
13 Sep 1959.
---
New York Times
17 Jan 1960.
---
New York Times
21 Aug 1960.
---
New York Times
30 Aug 1960
p. 24.
New York Times
13 Sep 1960
p. 41.
New York Times
31 Jan 1961
p. 26.
New York Times
2 Feb 1961
p. 24.
New York Times
6 Mar 1961
p. 30.
Variety
4 Nov 1959
p. 4.
Variety
27 Jul 1960
p. 4.
Variety
17 Aug 1960
p. 7.
Variety
31 Aug 1960
p. 1.
Variety
31 Aug 1960
p. 38.
Variety
7 Sep 1960
p. 51.
Variety
28 Sep 1960
p. 22.
Variety
23 Nov 1960
p. 71.
Variety
15 Feb 1961
p. 6.
Variety
19 Apr 1961
p. 11.
Variety
22 Nov 1961
p. 20.
Variety
10 Jan 1962
p. 9.
Variety
8 Aug 1962
p. 1.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st cam
2d cam
2nd unit photog
2nd unit cam op
2nd unit cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp & cond
SOUND
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Body makeup
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to the prod
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Scr supv
Prop master
Key grip
Dog trainer
Constr coöd
Dial coach
Dial coach
Painter gang boss
Stuntmen
Stuntmen
Stuntmen
Stuntmen
Gaffer
Wranglers
Wranglers
Wranglers
Wranglers
Main titles
DETAILS
Release Date:
1 February 1961
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 1 February 1961
Production Date:
18 July--4 November 1960
Copyright Claimant:
Seven Arts Productions
Copyright Date:
1 February 1961
Copyright Number:
LP18965
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
124
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

While staying at Isabelle Steers's roominghouse in Reno, Nevada, newly divorced showgirl Roslyn Taber meets Gay Langland, a ruggedly independent, aging cowboy. Immediately attracted to each other, they move into a partly completed ranchhouse belonging to Gay's friend Guido, a part-time mechanic who has turned into an aimless wanderer since the death of his wife in childbirth. The brief idyll ends when Guido devises a plan for rounding up some mustangs, wild horses often termed "misfits" because they are too small for riding. Gay and Guido need a third partner and take on Perce Howland, a battered and disillusioned rodeo performer. When Roslyn learns that the mustangs are to be sold to a dogfood manufacturer, she is revolted by this brutal destruction of life and begs Gay to call off the hunt. But he refuses, and the three men, accompanied by the reluctant Roslyn, ride up to the salt flats in the Nevada foothills. Six horses are driven out onto the flats by Guido's flivver plane and then chased and roped from a speeding truck. Sickened by the pathetic plight of the creatures, Roslyn appeals to the sensitive Perce, who sets the animals free. Enraged by this defiance of his authority, Gay recaptures the lead stallion and succeeds in subduing it. Then, having asserted his will, he sets the animal free. More understanding and respectful of each other, Gay and Roslyn return home, while Perce and Guido go their separate ... +


While staying at Isabelle Steers's roominghouse in Reno, Nevada, newly divorced showgirl Roslyn Taber meets Gay Langland, a ruggedly independent, aging cowboy. Immediately attracted to each other, they move into a partly completed ranchhouse belonging to Gay's friend Guido, a part-time mechanic who has turned into an aimless wanderer since the death of his wife in childbirth. The brief idyll ends when Guido devises a plan for rounding up some mustangs, wild horses often termed "misfits" because they are too small for riding. Gay and Guido need a third partner and take on Perce Howland, a battered and disillusioned rodeo performer. When Roslyn learns that the mustangs are to be sold to a dogfood manufacturer, she is revolted by this brutal destruction of life and begs Gay to call off the hunt. But he refuses, and the three men, accompanied by the reluctant Roslyn, ride up to the salt flats in the Nevada foothills. Six horses are driven out onto the flats by Guido's flivver plane and then chased and roped from a speeding truck. Sickened by the pathetic plight of the creatures, Roslyn appeals to the sensitive Perce, who sets the animals free. Enraged by this defiance of his authority, Gay recaptures the lead stallion and succeeds in subduing it. Then, having asserted his will, he sets the animal free. More understanding and respectful of each other, Gay and Roslyn return home, while Perce and Guido go their separate ways. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.