Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Another documentary about Hollywood that showed a while back on PBS, Making the Misfits is
superior work in a field crowded by indifferent DVD Docus. One hour looking at just one picture
might seem a rather narrow focus, but the 1961 John
Huston film The Misfits is truly exceptional. Some of the last century's greatest movie and
theatrical talent gathered in the desert, for what for several of them would become a last stab at Art.
Through the reminsicences of Arthur Miller, Eli Wallach and key crewmembers and still
photographers, the stormy, troubled filming of John Huston's The Misfits is remembered. All
three major stars would be soon be dead. The film marked the end of Marilyn Monroe's marriage to
Miller, and Gable overtaxed himself in the physical scenes. Miller discusses the characters, and the
supporting testimony paints a picture of actors immersed in their sad roles.
Near the end of this show, some of the crew talent, now 40 years older, wistfully talk about how
The Misfits was a picture that didn't make it, was almost good, but not quite. They must
be talking about its commercial failure, because it's a show that's weathered the decades and
remained a key source of interest.
Making the Misfits basically blends some incredibly clear interviews (this is some of the
best-shot video I've seen - it looks like High Definition) with behind-the-scenes newsreel footage,
and a hundred or so fascinating photographic images from the Magnum Photo organization. Back in
1959, someone at
Magnum made the deal for exclusive coverage of the shooting, and sent 9 of their top artists to the
sets in the Nevada desert. Henri Carter-Bresson was one; another, Inge Morath, is one of the
The photos are very impressive, often more eye-catching than the film footage on view, and are
remarkably effective at illustrating the strange atmosphere on the set described by writer Arthur
Miller and others. Magnum surely sensed the gathering of iconic powerhouse figures on this one show -
Miller, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Huston, Clark Gable, and of course Marilyn Monroe.
Made after Some Like it Hot, with Monroe's unreliablility factor soaring under the pressures
of a failed marriage (it's said out in the open that she did indeed have an affair with Yves Montand
on Let's Make Love), we get an
emotional look at the atmosphere on a set which sounds more like a Tennessee Williams situation:
the superstar siren lost and depressed, her writer husband caught between art and frustration, the
aging King of the Movies in bad health and taking risks with his health, and the intense young method
actor with his own emotional confusion, who ends up being the most reliable actor on the set. And
don't forget the director who gently and patiently pulls it all together, while losing a fortune
each night gambling in Reno.
It's all here, on film, in stills and the memories of the participants. Acting 'coach' Paula
Strasberg is seen hovering around Monroe constantly, to the frustration of the director. Actor
Kevin McCarthy recounts how his whole performance was reduced to an over-the shoulder walk-on by
Monroe's inability to say her lines. Witnesses express their dismay at seeing Clark Gable overextend
himself in horse stunts, and suffering his heart attacks almost immediately after filming. The careful narration is by
To some the show may seem disorganized, but I think it just refuses to give a pat structure to a
story that even its surviving main participants can't figure out. Arthur Miller's sincere interview
stays loyal to the memory of his wife Monroe, while trying to express how lost he was at the time.
We get the idea that he's not yet sorted out what really happened then. Eli Wallach also does his
best to characterize the personalities: Huston seems more human and less reckless, Thelma Ritter
added personal experience to her role, and Monroe does seem to be a lost soul, sometimes unable to
emotionally collect herself. We get a good account of Gable's first reaction to playing a scene with
Montgomery Clift - 'Damn, he's really good!"
The image quality of the graphics, film transfers and video interviews is stunning, and makes a real
difference on the impact of the show. The feature film clips are in perfect widescreen
16:9, looking far better than the transfer on MGM's flat 1:66 letterboxed DVD.
Making the Misfits deserves being released as a stand-alone disc; I'd put it in the same
category as Burden of Dreams, the docu on
Fitzcarraldo that's as interesting as
its subject film. I'm really glad Image has brought this one out.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Making the Misfits rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 8, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson