The Misfits (1961)

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Released 12-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (3:33)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1961
Running Time 119:42
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (63:33) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Huston
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Clark Gable
Marilyn Monroe
Montgomery Clift
Thelma Ritter
Eli Wallach
Case ?
RPI ? Music Alex North


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In the annals of Hollywood films, The Misfits holds something of an interesting place. It was the last completed film of the immortal Marilyn Monroe, although finished under some degree of duress it would seem. The problems that Marilyn Monroe brought to a film set during the later stages of her career are the stuff of legend itself, but even by her standards this was an endurance for all. Indeed, the famed comment of Clark Gable at the end of filming was "Christ, I'm glad this picture's finished. She d*** near gave me a heart attack". Prophetic words indeed in view of the fact that a day later he did suffer a heart attack and was to die eleven days later. Since he died so soon after completion of filming, obviously this was also Clark Gable's final film. Unlike the rather patchy performance of his co-star however, he at least went out on a high with what is, aside from Gone With The Wind, arguably his finest moment on film. Not to be left trailing in the dirt, the film also represents one of the last quality outings for Montgomery Clift, a great actor whose problems with substance abuse and health generally were to severely hamper the latter part of his career. With all these sorts of issues going on around the film, it is a wonder that it ever got completed!

    The choppy nature of the film itself is perhaps indicative of the problems that beset the production. Whilst it might add arthouse credence to the film, the way in which characters flit in and out of the film really does not make for a truly coherent story. Yet despite the choppy nature, in the end the film broadly succeeds in its purpose - namely looking at the changing face of the American West. The credit for that is probably due to the cast as well as director John Huston, for the story alone would not have achieved this. The story begins in the divorce capital of America, Reno, Nevada where Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe) is going through a divorce which is leaving her a little scared, a little scarred and generally unable to work out what she wants and where she wants to go. The aid given her by her friend Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter) is basically to read her courtroom lines to her and celebrate the result in a local casino - where they happen to meet sometime mechanic, sometime pilot Guido (Eli Wallach) and aging cowboy Gay Langland (Clark Gable). This collection obviously forms a group of misfits from which the film derives its name. With Guido and Gay (the irony of this name is not lost by the way) vying for the attentions of the vulnerable Roslyn, we get to discover a chunk about the nature of relationships. Just for good measure we add into the group a rodeo rider by the name of Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift) and the ingredients for the film are in place. The core of the action takes place out in the country where ultimately the misfits seek direction in the form of chasing wild mustangs for sale as dog food. The effects this has upon their relationships as well as the sad parody the modern day cowboy has become is the purpose behind the at-times disjointed story line.

    For once we have a Marilyn Monroe film where there is little positive to say about her. This is a very different Marilyn to the one we became familiar with during the 1950s and even from a visual perspective, she is much changed. She is not as radiant, and demonstrates her vulnerability perhaps too easily. In some ways, she doesn't even look like what we expect Marilyn Monroe to look like. This is a strange film from her perspective - at times terribly over-acted and at others demonstrating that she could act, and act well too. Even Montgomery Clift fell foul of the acting gods and turns in a curious performance. Whilst ultimately he does the role justice, the way he goes about it leaves one pondering what the motivation was for the role. Thereafter things do improve. Thelma Ritter was an excellent actress and despite the choppy way she was used in the film, this is another solid effort from a true professional. Similarly Eli Wallach does a stand up job as the slightly off-centre ex-wartime pilot trying to cope with a changing world. But it was Clark Gable in a stand-out performance that carries the film. His portrayal of an aging cowboy refusing in many ways to accept the changes in his business is terrific. John Huston did his best with the somewhat compromised story but in the end it never really convinces you that he got on top of the deal.

    As a coda of sorts to the Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection, this film has its moments even though they are at times hard to find. In some ways it is a sad epitaph on the shortened career of Marilyn Monroe and reminds us of what a tragic figure she was. It is almost like all the problems that ailed her and sped her towards her untimely death by overdose can be seen in the film in some way. Compensating, however, is the fine performance of Clark Gable and it is worth plenty of viewings for that alone. The Misfits is an interesting, if flawed, film that is certainly worthy of investigation.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    John Huston choose to shoot this film in black and white for reasons that he felt were very valid at the time. After a succession of colour films in the Marilyn Monroe filmography, I have to say that this comes as bit of a shock. A shock, too, is the fact that this has not been restored in any way, with the result that from the opening credits you know that this is not going to be an easy ride.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced, still quite unusual for a black and white widescreen film. There is some conjecture as to the correct theatrical aspect ratio for the film. The Internet Movie Database suggests that it was 1.85:1, whereas a number of reviews of the Region 1 release suggest that it was 1.66:1. It would be interesting to find out who is correct, especially as there is no clear evidence in the transfer that the image was especially cropped.

    Noticeably in this film, there is a deal of use of soft focus whenever Marilyn Monroe is on-screen in close up. In some ways it detracts from what is otherwise a quite decently sharp and detailed transfer. Shadow detail could have been a little better - just check out 27:30 as an example - but overall it is acceptable enough. Clarity is not that great as there is a bit of grain here and there, notably during some exterior shots around 90:00 which are not easy on the eye. Low level noise is an occasional problem, but not distractingly so.

    The black and white on display here is not really terrific and the transfer could definitely have done with some solidity to either end of spectrum. The grey scales in the middle of the spectrum are however generally well handled and nicely defined. The overall look of the transfer is quite bright and vibrant.

    Apart from some indication of pixelization around the 90:00 mark, there are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There are a few more film-to-video artefacts than I would prefer, with aliasing being the most obvious problem. As you might expect, it is the fine detail in the truck and plane that present the biggest problems - 90:49 and 118:25 are examples. The main issue, though, is film artefacts and foremost amongst these are very noticeable and very distracting reel change markings. Other than that there are dirt spots, a few scratches and so on that really do tend to draw the eye in.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming mid-scene at 63:33. Despite being mid scene, it is not really noticeable on my setup, although I would suspect on my previous setup it would have been very noticeable.

    There are nine subtitle options on the DVD. The English efforts sampled are good with only relatively minor dialogue omissions in general.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are five soundtrack options on the DVD, all being Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks. The language choices are English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. I listened to the English soundtrack.

    The audio transfer is reasonably good and in general the dialogue comes up well and is easy to understand. There does not appear to be any significant audio sync issues with the transfer.

    The original music comes from Alex North and it is a reasonably good effort, somewhat understated but adding enough to the mood of the film to be a positive influence in the overall package.

    With minimal use of anything but the centre speaker, this is distinctly mono sounding stuff. This is not a bad thing as the film is highlighted by the verbal jousts between the various characters, but there are times when a little more body and presence would have been appreciated. Thankfully lacking any noticeable background noise, there is nothing much to hamper the sound that would not have been fixed by a full remaster - which might well have been detrimental to the film itself in some ways. A full remaster might well have impinged upon the artistic integrity of the film in this instance.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Considering the position the film holds in the careers of two genuine legends of the silver screen, this has to be considered a ropey collection at best.

Menu

    Nothing overly exciting here, although they are 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer (3:33)

    Can you spell woeful? Well, this gets very close indeed with a veritable snowstorm of film artefacts thrown into the mix with some obvious cross colouration issues between 2:40 to 3:05. Added into the equation is some rather ropey Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, so all in all we have a distinctly sub-standard technical effort even in comparison to some of the weaker efforts we have seen in the Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced. Whilst the technical quality is not great, the trailer in itself is a good example of the art.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as we can ascertain the Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 version misses out on:

    The reviews read with respect to the Region 1 release indicate that the transfer is presented in the more European aspect ratio of 1.66:1 which is claimed to be the original theatrical aspect ratio. The Internet Movie Database lists the original theatrical aspect ratio as 1.85:1, so there is something of a problem with respect of the transfer. Of little doubt is that the Region 4 release is 16x9 enhanced, a not common occurrence with black and white films, as opposed to the Region 1 release. If the original aspect ratio of the film was 1.85:1, then the Region 4 is the hands down winner. If the original aspect ratio of the film was 1.66:1, then you have to balance that against a non-16x9 enhanced transfer - which would be a tough call, albeit one marginally in favour of the Region 1 on the basis of correct aspect ratio.

Summary

    With the film representing the final completed film for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, I really would have expected a much more satisfying package than this. At the very least a full restoration would not have gone astray, which would have cleaned the transfer up a-plenty, and using a somewhat more original interpositive would certainly have been expected. The reel change markings here really do annoy I am afraid. The film itself is an interesting one, arguably a classic and equally arguably the finest performance of Clark Gable on film, after Gone With The Wind of course. The star though was John Huston and the film is more a testament to him than the bevy of stars cast in the film, particularly in view of the reputed difficulties under which the film was made. Worthwhile checking this one out despite all the faults.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, August 09, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
marilyn's performance - orangecat (my kingdom for a decent bio)
Misfits documentary - TurkeyTom
R4 version R1 - R4 is a clear winner -