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The Misfits

     The most ill-fated productions in the history of Hollywood: (1) The Conqueror (1956), filmed in the desert near A-bomb testing. Many of the cast, including stars John Wayne and Susan Hayward, and the director, Dick Powell, died of cancer. (2) Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which had four actors-James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Nick Adams-come to horrific ends: car accident, drowning, murder, suicide. (3) The Misfits (1961). Four venerable leads-Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter - were gone within short years of the movie.

     Gable lead the way, his fatal heart attack only days after his final shot. Many have implicated director John Huston for pushing Gable to do risky stunts roping wild horses in the torturous Nevada sun. As for Monroe: she arrived on the set with then husband Arthur Miller, who had written The Misfits' screenplay especially for his fragile wife. But she was impossibly hooked on pills during the production, and she and Miller separated forever in the middle of it. Drugs (and several Kennedy brothers?) soon did Marilyn in. The Misfits was a last completed film: she died August 5,1962.

     Though a mess off screen, Monroe rocks in The Misfits, a poignant, enormously touching presence as Roslyn, a sadhearted ex-dancer. She's come to Reno for a disheartening divorce but gets hopeful meeting Gay Langland (Gable), a grizzled modern-day cowboy. A romantic, she doesn't know yet how he makes his dough: rounding up wild mustangs, selling their carcasses by the pound. But MM brings Gable around to her humane values; and somehow this romance of monumental Hollywood stars feels the modest stuff of real life.

(July, 2001)


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