Much was to be expected of The Misfits. With two men as talented as John Huston and Arthur Miller behind the cameras and two personalities as powerful as Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in front of them, the resulting film should have been a strong one. One might have expected it to be very good or very bad, but it was a surprise that it should have turned out so dull.
The original Miller story … out of which the book and movie grew is a reasonably effective moral tale that uses a pathetic roundup of wild horses as setting and device. The three men in the story—the aging Gay, the youthful Perce, the pilot Guido—are explicitly identified with the mustangs they capture. The men, like the horses, are misfits; none of them has a place in the world of job, home, and family…. The story suggests that the men, who have never been tamed to the routine world, have no more chance of survival than do the horses, which are destined to become dog food. Once, perhaps, the West was wide and rich enough for a man on a horse to be proud, wild, free; now the men can hang onto their independence only by destroying the symbol of it. (p. 46)
The greatest disappointment in the film is director John Huston; he is the one who should have made the camera do its work. The bringing down of the stallion is effective enough, the visual analogy that the story intended it to be, but for the most part the running of the horses and the rodeo are conventionally filmed. Huston never manages to make us see Reno or Guido's house as they should be seen, the first an image of the rootlessness of the characters, the second a symbol of conventional living abandoned and then reaccepted…. Through the film as a whole, it is almost as though Huston and Miller worked against one another: scene, dialogue, scene, dialogue—the film runs almost in labeled segments. But the scenes might have been shot by any Hollywood director, the dialogue written by any pseudo-serious script man.
Even with such exalted mustang hunters, the result is still dog food. (p. 47)
Gerald Weales, "The Tame and Wooly West," in The Reporter (© 1961 by The Reporter Magazine Co.), Vol. 24, No. 5, March 2, 1961, pp. 46-7.∗