The Misfits: The Film That Ended a Marriage

The Misfits: The Film That Ended a Marriage is a new study of the troubled production, by Irish author Aubrey Malone, available in hardcover, paperback, and via Kindle. The book’s subtitle is slightly exaggerated: Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller was on the rocks before shooting began, but its dissolution was indeed played out on the Nevada desert set.

“John Huston’s ‘eastern Western’ signaled the end of the careers of three major Hollywood figures. It was Marilyn Monroe’s last completed film. Clark Gable died a fortnight after shooting ended. Montgomery Clift rumbled on for a few years but without doing much of note.

It also signaled the end of Monroe’s marriage to Arthur Miller. Miller wrote the screenplay as a ‘gift’ to his troubled wife but their marriage was already on the rocks by the time the cameras started rolling. Matters deteriorated further on the set, culminating in Monroe suffering a nervous breakdown in mid-shoot which led to the set being closed down while she recuperated.

Aubrey Malone’s book chronicles the background to this iconic film which changed the way people saw the old West. It also chronicles the on-set tensions, the squabbling and feuds and divided loyalties. Huston tried to hold everything together as he struggled with a gambling addiction that was too great a temptation to resist in the casinos of Reno.

The dramas that took place behind the scenes were arguably as engrossing as anything that appeared in the film itself. Sample both sets of scenarios in this detailed study of a valentine to a bygone era.”

The striking ‘jigsaw’ cover design is inspired by the film’s distinctive opening credits. Malone’s previous titles include a biography of Marilyn’s Some Like It Hot co-star, Tony Curtis. Marilyn is also featured in Malone’s 2015 book, Hollywood’s Second Sex, about the treatment of women in the film industry.

The chapter notes and bibliography for his latest volume confirm that Malone has read widely on The Misfits, if mostly from secondary sources. Beginning with The Story of The Misfits (1963), an eyewitness account from journalist James Goode, the film’s backstory has inspired several books, including The Misfits: Story of a Shoot, a monograph from Magnum Photos, the prestigious international agency whose renowned photographers documented the shoot; and a PBS documentary, Making The Misfits (2001). Arthur Miller’s original short story and adapted screenplay are also still in print.

The Misfits: The Film That Ended a Marriage is illustrated throughout with film stills, lobby photos, candid shots from the set, posters etc. This is a welcome addition, although the placing of these images seems quite random and doesn’t always align with the narrative. Malone’s assessment of the movie’s strengths and weaknesses is also quite astute.

Unfortunately, the book contains numerous factual errors – particularly in the opening and closing chapters, which cover the periods ‘before and after’ the film was made. Malone’s research is undermined by a habit of conflating different events and people.

For example, in the introduction he calls Lee Strasberg ‘Joe Strasberg’ (twice.) And when discussing the film’s release, Malone states that Marilyn did not attend the premiere in January 1961 (actually, this was just a preview.) Then on the next page, he states that she did attend the premiere in February – with Harry Belafonte! Actually, her escort that night was co-star Montgomery Clift.

It’s a shame that this perennially fascinating Hollywood tale is marred by so many careless mistakes, which should have been spotted in the editing process. The Misfits is a film that tends to divide Monroe fans, as some may find it too bleak. But it also has many admirers, both within and beyond the fandom; and so, I would recommend this book to Misfits lovers – but only if you’re already familiar with the subject, and can appreciate it with a critical eye.

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