Published: June 29, 2004
The 1961 film The Misfits was the haunting, final film of two screen legends, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable.
“Through the Eyes of Magnum Photographers: Filming The Misfits” features photographs of the film’s production documented by a group of nine photographers from the renowned agency Magnum Photos, including such acclaimed artists as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Elliot Erwitt, Cornell Capa and Inge Morath.
This exhibition combines great photography, film history and popular culture and will have its first American showing at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Science from July 5 through October 17.
The photographs include shots not only of Monroe and Gable but also of actors Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach, director John Huston, and playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote the screenplay for Monroe but found his marriage to her disintegrating during the film’s production.
Arthur Miller wrote The Misfits as a serious acting vehicle for his wife, the glamorous and sexy Marilyn Monroe. In the movie, shot in black and white, Monroe portrayed Roslyn Taber, a recent divorcee who became romantically involved with the cowboy Gay Langland, played by Clark Gable. In describing the film in the book The Misfits by Arthur Miller and Serge Toubiana, Miller wrote, “Even though it ends on a note of hopefulness, the story is basically tragic in its attitude…. The Misfits’ characters are disconnected, and they represent a lot of people who have superficial connections but profoundly feel they are not connected.”
The photographic documentation of The Misfits was itself unique. Major Hollywood films normally included one still photographer assigned to the production to capture stills of the cast and the action being filmed to be used for publicity. The Misfits, shot on location in the expansive Nevada desert, was photographed by nine photographers from the agency Magnum Photos working in shifts of two weeks, which sometimes overlapped with the previous photographer. This occasionally produced similar shots by two photographers of the same actors, the same scene and the same backdrops. Each photographer had complete access to the day-to-day happenings on the set, resulting in powerfully intimate and emotionally compelling insights into this film and its glamorous stars.
The behind-the-scenes story captured by these still photographs was, arguably, even more fascinating than the film itself. Despite the star power of Gable and Monroe, and the strong supporting cast of Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter, the personal problems of the team have sometimes overshadowed the movie. In addition to a difficult shooting location, the film involved an unruly director, an aging leading man and an unstable leading lady, whose marriage to Arthur Miller was crumbling and who survived an overdose during filming.
Though Monroe was able to finish the movie, the 36-year-old actress was found dead in her home in Los Angeles one year later with an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side. The 59-year-old Gable died of a heart attack soon after The Misfits was completed, and his death was often blamed on his insistence on performing many of the dangerous horse stunts himself. Co-star Montgomery Clift, who played the cowboy Perce Howland in the film, also died unexpectedly of coronary artery disease soon after the film was released.
The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science is at 1 Museum Drive. For information, 203-869-0376 or .
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