Formerly at Epinions.com, written and originally posted in 2003.
I'm not entirely sure what it is, maybe a haunting quality brought on by the film's background, but I keep coming back to this film and it moves me like few others do, every single time. Some regard it as a deconstruction of the western myth, stripping it of all its glory, and I can see that, but it's a whole lot more to me. It’s simply a fantastic, sad film.
Not so much a plot-driven film, as a character-driven film it stars Clark Gable and Eli Wallach (especially good in a character I can, sadly, probably identify with in some ways) as a couple of cowboys; Gable is an aging macho-type who is slowly realising the world has little use now for 'mustanging' (if you like cute widdle horsies, you’d best not watch the film, by the way- you’ve been warned!), while Eli Wallach plays his pilot friend, a widow who feels just a little too sorry for himself for anyone to actually like him. Enter Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) a depressed divorcee whom attracts the attention and affections of both men, as she joins them on their adventures, despite the fact that she's clearly not a happy gal. Along the way they pick up another lost soul in disfigured young rodeo star Montgomery Clift (disfigured in real-life) who is having mother problems (as he apparently did in real-life). He has a scene with Monroe, two lost souls comforting each other that is among the most moving scenes I've ever seen in a film. Another great moment is a scene where Gable asks Monroe something to the effect of 'What makes you so sad?'. Oh, if only someone had've told Monroe how wonderful and talented she was...Or perhaps she just didn’t want to listen.
The fact that this was the last completed work of Hollywood legends (a good-bye to that golden era, perhaps) Monroe and Gable, and the near-last film of the unfortunate but supremely talented Montgomery Clift adds an extra haunting layer to this film, but the stark cinematography by Russell Metty (making everyone look flawed, even Monroe who is still astoundingly beautiful) and layered screenplay by Arthur Miller are also great. Miller does especially underappreciated work here, underappreciated even by Monroe herself who didn't understand that her flawed and close-to-the-bone character was actually a valentine from Miller. He knew Monroe could play this beautiful but vulnerable girl that everyone wants to be close to, if only to make them feel happy about themselves- it practically was Monroe. Similarly, Gable's character probably symbolised the trek he was currently going through in his career, and although far from my favourite actor, he is excellent here, leathery face and all. Eli Wallach, a method actor like Monroe, butted heads with Gable apparently, but does some of his best work as a not very likeable, but identifiable man. Add to the mix Clift's scarred rodeo dude and Thelma Ritter as the only optimistic character in the film, that of Monroe's friendly landlord who's seen it all and is content, and you've got a film where all the elements just come together perfectly. All of the actors perfectly match their characters and bring something extra to the party. I doubt this could ever be achieved again so successfully. Not that people thought that at first, even Gable was unsure what kind of film they were making, because it was against everything the Western, and a lot of films in general, stood for.
This film still doesn't get the recognition it deserves. It is my favourite film of all-time, and it is certainly a must for fans of any of these actors.