At face value, The Misfits, is a robust, high-voltage adventure drama, vibrating with explosively emotional histrionics, conceived and executed with a refreshing disdain for superficial technical and photographic slickness in favor of an uncommonly honest and direct cinematic approach. Within this framework, however, lurks a complex mass of introspective conflicts, symbolic parallels and motivational contradictions, the nuances of which may seriously confound general audiences.
Clark Gable essays the role of a self-sufficient Nevada cowboy, a kind of last of the great rugged individualists, a noble misfit. Into his life ambles a woman (Marilyn Monroe) possessed of an almost uncanny degree of humanitarian compassion. Their relationship matures smoothly enough until Gable goes ‘mustanging’, a ritual in which wild, ‘misfit’ mustangs are rudely roped into captivity. Revolted by what she regards as cruel and mercenary, Monroe, with the aid of yet another misfit, itinerant, disillusioned rodeo performer Montgomery Clift, strives to free the captive horses.
The film is somewhat uneven in pace and not entirely sound in dramatic structure. Character development is choppy in several instances. The one essayed by Thelma Ritter is essentially superfluous and, in fact, abruptly abandoned in the course of the story. Eli Wallach’s character undergoes a severely sudden and faintly inconsistent transition. Even Monroe’s never comes fully into focus.