Where was The Misfits filmed?
Architectural, American, House, NatureScapes, Ranch, Retro, Buildings/Offices, Hotels/Motels
Americana, Dates/Retro, Dated/50’s-60’s-70’s Building, Desert, Old Hollywood, Ranch Style
About The Misfits
The Misfits 1961 is a poignant contemporary Western tale that centers on aging cowboys. It was directed by John Huston and written by the American playwright and screenwriter Arthur Miller, based on his novelette that appeared in Esquire Magazine in 1957. It was Miller’s first screenplay, specifically written for Marilyn Monroe, his wife at that time.
Many people might remember The Misfits as the final movie of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. And unless you’re a fan of classic films or these screen legends, chances are you haven’t seen this movie yet. In this guide, we’ve covered some interesting scenes from the movie and The Misfits film locations you might want to visit after over six decades since the film’s original release.
The story begins when a young, sensitive Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe) goes to Nevada for a quickie divorce from her inattentive husband, Raymond Taber (Kevin McCarthy). She then meets a widower mechanic, Guido Racanelli (Eli Wallach). He volunteers to drive her and her landlady Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter) to the courthouse and invites them to his old house in the countryside.
At a cocktail lounge, Roslyn meets Guido again. He introduces his friend, an over-the-hill cowboy Gay Langland (Clark Gable). Rosly makes a strong impression on Guido, and it seems his friend is quite smitten by her, too.
After some good conversation, Guido offers her his empty house in the countryside, where she can relax and have some peace and quiet. When Roselyn accepts the offer, he quits his job as a mechanic, and they all drive to the countryside. They arrive at the unfinished house that Guido built for his late wife.
Everything is fine at first, and Roslyn is exhilarated by the wide-open spaces and the sense of freedom it gives. However, the two friends eventually fall in love with her, and conflict in a growing love triangle develops. They also meet Perce (Montgomery Clift), one of Gay’s friends, and they all go on horse-hunting expeditions. That’s when increasing conflicts arise.
The Misfits Locations
Since the film had its origin in the screenwriter’s trip to Nevada, it’s not surprising that The Misfits production took place in several locations in the state. Arthur Miller closely observed the people of Nevada and its landscapes. He even witnessed a wild horse roundup in the Smoke Creek Desert and documented his experience in his short tale that later turned into The Misfits film.
There’s no question that Nevada’s unique landscape and characteristics are crucial to the film. It features lovely nature, mountains, horses, and even real cowboys. Although some shots were taken in on a sound stage in Los Angeles, most scenes in the movie were filmed on location throughout the state.
The Misfits Flats, just outside of Silver Springs in Lyon County, Nevada, is one of the primary The Misfits locations. It is desolate, and there’s nothing much to see. However, it is where the cast and crew shot several key scenes of the movie during the peak of the summer and fall of 1960.
Other The Misfits filming locations include the Quail Canyon near Pyramid Lake, the Mapes Hotel in Reno, Dayton, Nevada, and more. While many of these places are open for visits, some no longer exist or have closed down.
The short story on which the film was based was written by Arthur Miller while awaiting his divorce in Reno before his marriage to Monroe in 1956.
The courthouse scene in The Misfits
Washoe County Courthouse, Reno, NV
When Roslyn decides to end her marriage, she goes to the courthouse to get a divorce along with her landlady, Isabelle, as her witness. Then they meet Raymond, who tries to talk to her and reconcile. But Roslyn is determined to file a divorce, saying, “I’m not blaming you. I never looked at you any different; I just don’t believe the whole thing anymore.”
As you watch this scene, pay attention to the building where Raymond is standing while waiting for Roslyn. This sequence was filmed at the Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, Nevada. It was established in 1861 and was the third courthouse for Washoe County. It’s a Classical Revival with an influence of Beaux-Arts architecture, completed in 1911. The building boasts decorative features in terra cotta, a grand stairway, and an elegant copper dome.
Due to the state’s liberal divorce laws, the courthouse became a symbolic monument for people who wished to end their marriages in a timely way. It also housed the County Clerk’s Office, where marriage licenses can be purchased.
The Washoe County Courthouse has undergone several renovations over the decades, including additions to the courthouse made in 1946, 1949, and 1693. Today, it is listed in the Reno Register of Historic Places, the Nevada State Register of Historic Places, and the National Register of Historic Places.
The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) RIDE is the public bus system serving the greater Reno/Sparks area. You can take bus one or VRGN bus with stops close to the courthouse.
The river bridge scene in The Misfits
Virginia Street Bridge, Reno, NV
“If you throw in your ring, you’ll never get another divorce,” Isabelle says as she and Roslyn stop by the bridge and look down the river after coming from the courthouse to end Roslyn’s marriage. In the end, she decides to keep her ring.
Isabelle probably made up that statement, but when she said, “Go ahead, honey; everybody does it,” she’s speaking a bit of truth there. Legend has it that after exiting the courthouse, newly divorced women would stand on the bridge and toss their wedding bands into the Truckee River below.
This iconic bridge you’ll see in this scene is the Virginia Street Bridge in downtown Reno. It was built in 1905 and was the first reinforced concrete bridge in Nevada. It’s also the oldest functioning bridge in the city, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But because it’s susceptible to flooding, the old bridge was replaced, unveiling a new design in 2016 with plenty of room for floodwater.
Walking across the Virginia Street Bridge should be part of your adventure while exploring the Riverwalk District in Reno, Nevada. It features wide sidewalks and offers lovely river views and the surrounding cityscape. It’s only a short walk from the courthouse and is accessible by public transportation.
Harrah’s Club scene in The Misfits
10 North Virginia Plaza, Reno, NV
From the bridge, we follow Roslyn and Isabelle to Harrah’s Club, where they decide to have some drinks. But Roslyn is obviously feeling dejected, so Isabelle tries to cheer her up, saying, “Well, you’re free. Maybe the trouble is you’re not used to it yet.” But Roslyn disagrees. She argues, “No. The trouble is I always end back where I started.”
The now-defunct Mapes Hotel served as the Harrah’s Club in this scene. It was a hotel and casino in the center of downtown Reno, next to the Virginia Street Bridge. It became the state’s tallest building when it opened in the city in 1947.
The primary feature of this twelve-story hotel was the Sky Room on the 12th floor, overlooking the Truckee River. It also offered floor shows, dining, dancing, cocktail lounges, and gambling areas on the top and main floors.
Financial struggles led the Mapes Hotel organization to file for bankruptcy, and the building eventually closed in 1982. Then in 1996, it was sold to the Reno Redevelopment Agency. The site had been paved with concrete by 2008 and now functions as a plaza and an outdoor ice rink during winter.
To get here, you can take bus 7, with stops at North Virginia Street, just a short distance from the site.
Guido’s house scene in The Misfits
Quail Canyon Ranch, Reno, NV
The group, including Guido, Gay, Roslyn, and Isabelle, travels to the countryside to Guido’s home. It was a nice change of environment for Roslyn, with open space, gorgeous nature views, and fresh air, allowing her to relax and start fresh after her divorce. At first, she isn’t sure if she wants to stay there for long, but Gay encourages her, saying, “There’s no better place to be, and you couldn’t find a better company either.”
The production headed to the Quail Canyon Ranch and built The Misfits film set to capture the openness of the area and the beautiful landscape needed for Guido’s home scenes. The ranch is located south of Mullen Pass, close to Jackass Peak. It has expansive areas of dirt roads you can explore and nature trails for all hikers and skill levels.
It would be hard to get to Quail Canyon Ranch via public transportation, so driving a car is your best bet. Hiring a taxi can be costly, so it’s ideal to rent a car and drive to the site.
The swimming scene in The Misfits
The Pyramid Lake, Nevada
Finally settling in her new home in the Nevada countryside with the cowboys, especially with Gay, the couple goes out for a horse ride and enjoys the rural area. Then, they reach the beautiful lake where Roslyn is seen swimming and playing with Gay’s dog while he happily watches them.
To shoot this scene, the cast and crew moved to the south shore of the gorgeous Pyramid Lake to film Monroe swimming. The white salt flats of the lake were also featured in the roping of the stallions scene in the film.
Surrounding the lake are treeless hills and a sandy desert you’ll also see in the movie sequence. The area is part of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation in Nevada, including a 5-mile-wide strip of land around the lake's edge and a narrow section to the south along the Truckee River.
Spanning around 120,000 acres, Pyramid Lake is one of Nevada’s largest natural lakes today. It’s also the largest remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan, an inland sea that once covered most of the state. It’s a fantastic place for swimming, camping, boating, bird-watching, sightseeing, fishing, and more.
While there, you can also check out the Pyramid Lake Paiute Museum and Visitors Center. It features several displays and exhibits about the lake’s natural history and the tribe’s past and culture.
The Pyramid Lake is located north of Reno, Nevada. All visitors are welcome here to visit and enjoy recreational activities. To get there, take I-80 eastbound and get off on exit 18. Then head north about 35 miles, and you’ll arrive at Pyramid Lake.
Meeting Perce scene in The Misfits
Dayton Valley Road & Lincoln Highway, Dayton, NV
On their way to the local rodeo to hire a third man to round up wild mustangs with them, the group runs into Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift). He is Gay’s cowboy friend who stays in Dayton to compete in the rodeo.
When Gay asks if he signed up for the competition, Perce replies, “I aim to be if I can get me a ride to town and if I could raise ten bucks for the entrance.” However, he just spent his last $2 for the phone booth. So he becomes the third man while Gay helps raise the amount he needs to compete.
The wild horse roping took place in Misfits Flat. But the part where they meet Perce was filmed at the northeast corner of Dayton Valley Rd and Lincoln Hwy in Dayton, Nevada. It is close to several historical landmarks, including the historic Carson & Colordao Depot, which was constructed in 1879 but destroyed in the 2020 fire.
Due to its central location, this filming location is easy to spot and accessible. Though there’s nothing much to do here, you can visit the cultural attractions and sights near the area during your tour.
For some, this film drama is the quintessential Nevada film. Not only because it was the primary filming location of The Misfits, an iconic American Western movie, but also due to its dramatic portrayal of the uncertainty of what the New West is becoming. It depicts a wide-open space where you can feel free, yet the characters are unfree people. They remain trapped in an uncertain future and their troubled past.
The wild desert setting is also essential to the film’s theme, and the location’s topography is parallel to the story. It has been many centuries since The Misfits casts and crew filmed there. But those who have watched the film could easily picture a particular scene involving horses or the rodeo town set up in the middle of the valley or the desert area.