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Occasionally a film arrives which gives the cinema a new dimension. Films like Battleship Potemkin, Citizen Kane, Bicycle Thieves, and Hiroshima Mon Amour, marked a turning point in the cinema, influencing directors, actors, and audiences.
It is not going too far to say that The Misfits (Regal) is in this class. Arthur Miller has written a screenplay – recently published as a paperback – which for once does not rely on a strong story for its effect but instead wins the audience’s attention through the development and interplay of the characters. The main danger was that the film, left to Miller, would have been too literary, but John Huston has grafted on Miller’s prose visual images which give it a deeper significance. When, for instance, Monroe screams her defiance at the corruption of a commercial civilisation, Huston makes her a black dot on a screen dominated by a Nevada desert.
The message owes something to DH Lawrence, who would have recognised its protest against a money grubbing, cash nexus civilisation which defiles even those who try hardest to divorce themselves from it.
The individual performances are so good that with a thrill of recognition one sees what acting in the cinema can achieve. Clark Gable’s performance is as casually professional as ever, and yet he brings to the ageing cowboy an intensity of feeling one never suspected he possessed. Miller’s heroine is so obviously based on his former wife – one half expects the cast to blurt out Marilyn for Rosslyn every so often – that her performance is difficult to judge. Yet if she is merely playing herself she does it remarkably well.
Spare the Rod (Odeon) promises to be another heartening example of the new realistic school in the English cinema, but its hard, bright inspiration is softened and finally overcome by a mixture of sentimentality and sensationalism which sets in midway through the film.
Michael Croft’s novel from which the film has been adapted is an unflinching account of the problems of a young teacher trying to teach 40 adolescents in a school 50 years out of date in one of London’s tougher districts.
Unfortunately, this is not sufficiently sensational for the makers of the film, who, in a weak imitation of a full-scale Hollywood exposé, have introduced a school riot and an unbelievable sequence in which the teacher hero is supposed to he naive enough to take one of his teenage nymphets back to an empty flat late at night.
Max Bygraves has shown commendable vision in putting some of his own money into the film, but unfortunately chooses to play the leading role. He has a nice personality which fits in well with the middlebrow teacher hero – it is significant that from being a graduate in the novel, the character has been changed to a trainee – but that sentimentality which serves him so well as a popular singer betrays him as an actor. His performance is all on one optimistic note and he never suggests the emotional crisis of a teacher passionately against corporal punishment who finds the inadequacies of the school and his own lack of experience forcing him to use it.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Misfits reviewed – archive, 1961 | Film