The film is a story of expectations, broken dreams and failed relationships — and it echoes what was happening to its key players off screen.
Within 18 months of shooting, two of its stars, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe — both symbols of Hollywood’s Golden Age — would be dead.
Monroe struggled with addiction and depression throughout filming, checking herself into rehab midway through production. Her marriage to the film’s screenwriter, Arthur Miller, was falling apart.
Huston was often drunk on set, reportedly falling asleep during filming, and was as interested in spending time in Nevada’s casinos as he was in shooting the movie. Such was the backdrop to Arnold’s tender, intimate on-set photographs.
Arnold was the first female member of Magnum Photos, joining the agency in 1951. A year later, she met and photographed Monroe for the first time. Unlike many photographers who spent time with Monroe, Arnold was rooted firmly in documentary and photojournalism. Her pared-down shoot with Marlene Dietrich for Esquire was what initially drew the attention of Monroe.
In a 1987 interview, Arnold recalled that when the two first met (at a party held coincidentally for Huston), Monroe said to her: “If you did that well with Marlene, can you imagine what you could do with me?” It marked the beginning of a friendship and working relationship that lasted 10 years, culminating in the two months Arnold spent with her on set for The Misfits.
Arnold’s photographs are striking for the way she captures these legends of the silver screen as lonely, troubled individuals. She strips away their movie stardom and reveals them as fragile, vulnerable. Even when photographed together, everyone seems to inhabit their own world, disconnected from one another, lost in the desert.
Josh Lustig is deputy photography editor of FT Weekend Magazine