Here's the climactic chase sequence from the 1947 B-Western "Robin Hood of Texas," Gene Autry's final movie for Republic Pictures before he spun off Gene Autry Productions and aligned with Columbia. The action takes place almost entirely on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., with just a few shots using stock background footage from other sites.
I'll spotlight some of the features seen in the clip above with still shots from the video, below. I'm including the times to point readers to where these shots can be found in the clip:
0:09 — A wagon speeds along one of the main chase roads on the Upper Iverson, located in the South Rim area.
0:13 — In one of only a few shots in the clip NOT filmed at Iverson, Gene Autry joins the chase after mounting up at a barn on the Republic backlot in Studio City. The former Republic lot is still involved in the production of movies and TV shows, as the site is now the CBS Studio Center. Unfortunately, all of the outdoor sets from the Republic era have been leveled.
0:24 — Another shot filmed on the Upper Iverson, this one is interesting for the non-Iverson content seen in the background. The flat area at top right is part of the neighboring Brandeis Ranch, which was located immediately to the west of the Upper Iverson, and which was also used for filming for a brief period, mainly in the late 1930s. This flat section, which I call the Brandeis Plain, was separated from Iverson by the low line of trees you can see in this shot. One item of interest in the shot, although it's just a tiny feature in the background, is the rock formation that can be seen on the Brandeis Plain. It's a small white two-part rock stack, against the dark background of a tree. This rock, which I call the Sherman Tank, is still in place, and is now a part of the gated community that occupies the former Upper Iverson and Brandeis properties.
0:27 — Gene rides along a chase road on the Upper Iverson. The distinctive beak-shaped rock at top right is Eagle Beak Rock, a feature that turns up consistently in chase sequences in the B-Westerns and early TV Westerns. If you watch the video clip closely, the chase in "Robin Hood of Texas" speeds past Eagle Beak Rock multiple times.
0:30 — Not far from Eagle Beak Rock was, and still is, a rock that film historians call the Molar. Eagle Beak Rock is seen again in this shot, and the Molar is directly below it — a three-part rock that resembles the crown of a large tooth.
this earlier blog post.
0:38 — Gene is a blur as he rides past Round Rock, which isn't looking exceptionally round from this angle.
0:46 — Gene takes a shortcut through the rocks, and as he heads south he goes past a rock I call Bignose, seen framing Gene in this screen shot.
1:09 — Cut to the Lower Iverson, where Gene rides past Stegosaurus, above and to the left of Gene, and Bill Rock, to the right.
"Red River Renegades" (1946): Bill Rock, left; Cactus Hill, background; Stegosaurus, right.
Bill Rock comes up a lot in the old Westerns, and is a useful marker, as it's easily identified by its "bill" on top. Even though the above screen shot from the Sunset Carson B-Western "Red River Renegades" is taken looking north, from the opposite angle of the Gene Autry shot, the bill remains identifiable. Stegosaurus is unrecognizable from this angle, but that's it at the right.
2:01 — Back on the Upper Iverson, the wagon continues along a chase road in what is now the cul de sac area. The distinctive rocks at the far left — I call them the Cul de Sac Crew — remain in place today, at the end of a cul de sac filled with large residential estates.
2:25 — Here's some of that stock background footage I mentioned earlier, with the actors being filmed in a studio while location footage winds past them on a screen in the back. It looks to me as though this particular background sequence might be shot at Burro Flats, a filming location that was located just a few miles southwest of Iverson. The fake sequences seen in this movie do not appear to me to be Iverson, although Iverson footage was sometimes used in that manner. At any rate, to my eye these fake shots have a much different appearance to them from the actual on-location chase footage shot for this movie at Iverson, with the fake footage looking, well, fake, while the backgrounds are sharper and more realistic in the location shots. If you're following the video clip itself, you can probably see it too. (Another example of the fake backgrounds begins around 1:47.)
3:06 — Here's a nice shot of Gene and his horse, Champion, up near the eastern end of Cactus Hill, looking down on the wagon still speeding along a well-traveled Upper Iverson chase road, with Oak Flats in the background. Gene is looking more or less toward the west.
3:24 — Another look at the wagon as the action approaches its climactic moment. This shot looks north, with Oat Mountain filling the background. The dark triangular feature near the top of Oat Mountain, directly above the two men, is an important identifying mark I call the Triangle Brand, which has helped me identify Iverson in the movies countless times. The feature is formed by a patch of trees and bushes, and remains plainly visible today in the hills above the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley.
3:26 — A stuntman dressed up as Gene Autry earns his pay by braving the perilous rock ledge known as Ambush Rock. Today Ambush Rock is in the back yard of an estate on the former Upper Iverson.
Tinsley E. Yarbrough was lucky enough to pay a visit to the site a few years back and captured this gorgeous shot of the rock in its fully landscaped contemporary setting.
3:33 — As the wagon speeds by, the stuntman prepares to take a flying leap off Ambush Rock.
3:33 — The stuntman flings himself toward the wagon ...
3:34 — ... and lands safely in the back of the wagon.
3:48 — Now the stuntman has been replaced by Gene, who proceeds to beat up bad guys as the wagon rumbles along.
4:08 — These two shots of Gene in the wagon — still working over that baddie here — are done in the studio, and provide another example of the fake background footage mentioned above. As with the previous example, my best guess is that this background material was filmed at Burro Flats.
4:17 — Back to the stuntman, now focused on subduing the second bad guy, and we're back to an actual location shot, with the wagon racing past the Upper Iverson feature known as Prominent Rock, or Medicine Rock, looking nice and rugged in the top right corner.
4:18 — The stuntman continues to have his way with Baddie No. 2 while the wagon speeds past the Iverson rock known as Frankenstein, directly above the two men fighting. Much of the background in the above two shots is taken up by Cactus Hill.
4:45 — Finally, Gene has control of the wagon. It's another studio shot with that fake background footage — Burro Flats or whatever it is this time.
This chase sequence provides a nice taste of the kind of action that was Iverson's bread and butter during the heyday of the B-Western and the early TV era. It's also a pretty good showcase for Gene Autry's formidable on-screen presence. Even though some of the heavy lifting in this action sequence is done by stuntmen — and even though it's kind of obvious at times, due in part to the primitive editing standards of 1940s B-Westerns and in part to our increased sophistication as movie watchers — the sequence represents Autry at his cowboy hero finest, more than holding up his end of the impressive riding and fighting.
For more clips like this, please check out my YouTube channel, which you can find by clicking here.
It looks as though "Robin Hood of Texas" is getting hard to find, but the Amazon links below may help. The first one is for this movie — if it's still available — and the others are for various Gene Autry DVD sets.
Below are links to some of the work of Western film researcher Tinsley E. Yarbrough, who provided the recent shot of Ambush Rock seen above, and whose book "Those Great Western Movie Locations" sets a high bar for the rest of us. Yarbrough is also a respected judicial scholar who has written a number of acclaimed biographies of Supreme Court justices and other important studies of the nation's highest court. Here's just a small sample of his body of work: