The Misfits: End of An Era

Marilyn and Eli Wallach, 'The Misfits'
Marilyn and Eli Wallach, ‘The Misfits’

Yesterday we learned of the death of Marilyn’s friend and co-star, Eli Wallach. At 98, he was one of America’s finest character actors. I will post a longer tribute soon, but for now here’s a great review of The Misfits from Carley Johnson over at the Black Maria blog – a movie that was so greatly enriched by Eli’s performance as the likeable, but untrustworthy Guido. While Marilyn, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Thelma Ritter all died within a few years of making The Misfits, Eli went on to even greater triumphs – winning a lifetime achievement Academy Award in 2010, the same year his last movie was released.

“By 1961, the Hollywood Studio System had begun a slow rot from the inside out which would, by decade’s end, see to its total collapse thus ending the Golden Age of classical Hollywood. The Misfits, directed by John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller, is a fascinating relic from those years in flux that bewildered its audiences just as much as it bewildered the execs. On paper, the words Clark Gable (the king), Marilyn Monroe (the queen) and Montgomery Clift (the rebel) looked like box office magic. The result is a mixed bag that would be Gable and Monroe’s final film, and one of Clift’s last.

Miller masquerades a deeply intimate, and highly modern, character study under the guise of a Western romance. It was no secret that Miller wrote the screenplay for his wife. The role of Roslyn could have been played by anyone, sure, but perhaps no other performance would have been nearly as truthful.

Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach were all Method actors. Monroe’s close friend and acting coach happened to be Paula Strasberg who was a constant presence on the set. Gable came from a more… square shooting school of acting, perhaps best summed up by Jimmy Cagney: know your mark and know your lines.

There is no denying the fact that The Misfits proved enormous strain on Gable, physically and emotionally. But. Be that as it may, the truth is, The Misfits didn’t directly kill Gable anymore than the Kennedy’s killed Marilyn. The strenuous Misfits shoot did not cause Gable’s premature death– but at the same time, cannot be disqualified as one of its many contributing factors.

Clift was greatly shaken upon hearing of the tragic death of his dear friend Marilyn, and was noted as having said ‘Hollywood deaths always come in threes. First Gable, now Marilyn… who’s next.’

The eerie lyricism of Miller’s words would prove to be hauntingly prophetic: ‘Honey, nothing can live unless something dies.'”

 

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