Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

For an introduction to this blog and to the obsession a growing number of vintage film and TV fans have with the Iverson Movie Ranch — the most widely filmed outdoor location in movie and TV history — please read the site's introductory post, found here.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• To find specific rock features or look up movie titles, TV shows, actors and production people, see the "LABELS" section — the long alphabetical listing on the right side of the page, below.
• To join the MAILING LIST, send me an email at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com and let me know you'd like to sign up.
• I've also begun a YouTube channel for Iverson Movie Ranch clips and other movie location videos, which you can get to by clicking here.
• Here's a link to Garden of the Gods, the best-known section of the Iverson Movie Ranch (featured in the movie "Stagecoach," the "Lone Ranger" TV show and hundreds of other productions).
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
• Readers can email the webmaster at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Perils Tower — a fake rock that made its presence felt in the movies of the early 1940s

"Perils of Nyoka" (Republic serial, 1942)

I've had a request for more information about Perils Tower since I first mentioned the fake rock formation in a recent post about the John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees."

The name "Perils Tower" comes from the fake rock's appearance in the Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka," probably the feature's most high-profile screen role. The 1942 production filmed much of its outdoor action on the Iverson Movie Ranch, including an extensive shoot in the Iverson Gorge.

Other than its unusual shape, with a large, overhanging cube perched on top of a smaller rectangular "trunk," Perils Tower looks realistic and is typically seen standing around among the legitimate rock features of the Upper Gorge, acting like it belongs there.

Another shot from "Perils of Nyoka" offers a view of Perils Tower from a slightly different angle. Appearing again at the right of the screen is The Wall, and from this angle we can see Potato Rock sitting on top of it.

I've identified a few of the key features in this version of the shot. In this shot and the photos above this one the camera is aimed more or less toward the south.

Turning the camera around and shooting toward the north this time, another shot from "Perils of Nyoka" takes us in even closer to Perils Tower. The large rectangular shape at the top center of the frame is part of the "trunk." 

From this angle a portion of the Devil's Doorway Cluster is visible at the right.


I've spotted the fake rock tower in just a handful of movies and serials, almost all of them released from 1940-1944. The tower appears repeatedly in "The Fighting Seabees."

Additional shots of Perils Tower in "The Fighting Seabees" can be found in this recent post focused on the extensive Iverson shoot for the John Wayne World War II movie.

"Fugitive Valley" (Monogram, 1941)

In a scene from the Range Busters B-Western "Fugitive Valley," Perils Tower provides cover to some of the cowboys involved in a big shootout in the Gorge. It's unclear whether any or all of the smaller rocks that form the "foot" of the tower are real, but my hunch is that they are — possibly with a few fakes in the mix.

Crown Rock, a portion of which remains in place today as part of the Cal West Townhomes complex, can be seen in the top left corner of the "Fugitive Valley" shot.

"Perils of Nyoka"

Perils Tower was one of the defining features of the Iverson Gorge during its brief lifespan, standing tall in the midst of more durable movie rocks such as The Wall, Crown Rock, Devil's Doorway and Three Ages Rock. From this angle part of Nyoka Cliff is visible in the background.

The tower as seen here appears to be situated in its usual spot in the Upper Gorge. However, it's possible the fake tower was mobile and may have been moved around from time to time within a limited range.

Just for fun, I'm calling this the Sleeping Horse, although I'm sure it's just an accident of shadows and light. You may or may not see what I'm talking about.

"The Denver Kid" (Republic, 1948)

In a few instances recycled clips shot during the period when Perils Tower was standing in the Gorge — from about 1940-1944 — turn up as rear-projection footage in later productions. This appearance in the Rocky Lane movie "The Denver Kid," released in 1948, is an example.

This version of the shot points out Perils Tower as part of the rear-projection footage. This sequence would have been filmed in the studio using footage filmed at Iverson a few years earlier.

"Thundering Caravans" (Republic, 1952)

Another example of rear projection — possibly using the same recycled footage — turns up in another Rocky Lane movie from Republic, "Thundering Caravans," released in 1952. In this shot Perils Tower appears at far right.

Nyoka Cliff is also seen in the "Thundering Caravans" shot. Republic seems to have made the most use of Perils Tower, although my earliest sightings of it so far have been in Monogram's 1941 release "Fugitive Valley," as noted higher up in this post, and in the backgrounds of some PRC B-Westerns going back to 1940.

"Billy the Kid Wanted" (PRC, 1941)

Here's one of those PRC movies I'm talking about. PRC made a lot of use of the Gorge Cabin for its Billy the Kid series in the early 1940s, and Perils Tower popped up a few times in the background — although you have to know what you're looking for to find it.

I've noted Gorge Cabin here, along with Perils Tower, which is much harder to spot. Gorge Cabin was quite a bit older than Perils Tower, dating back to the mid-1930s, but the two manmade features ended their run in the Iverson Gorge around the same time, in about 1944.

The shot from "Billy the Kid Wanted" contains a number of Upper Gorge rock features, and I wanted to be sure to point out a few of the important ones while we're in the neighborhood.

Promo still for unknown Columbia production of the early 1940s

Columbia also had its encounters with Perils Tower. This promotional still from the early 1940s, focused on Gorge Cabin at the center of the frame, includes a number of familiar features of the Iverson Gorge, with Perils Tower making an appearance toward the left of the frame. The rocky hill in the background is Cactus Hill.

Perils Tower is highlighted here, along with some of the other features found in the promo shot. Both the presence of Perils Tower and the look of the cabin help determine that the shot is from the early 1940s.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Connecting the dots between the Iverson Ranch and its infamous neighbor the Spahn Movie Ranch, once home to the Manson Family

"Linda and Abilene" (1969): Spahn Ranch

The Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., which became notorious as the home of Charles Manson and his followers, was one of the closest neighbors to the Iverson Movie Ranch. Spahn was situated "catty-corner" to Iverson's main entrance, just across Santa Susana Pass Road to the southwest of Iverson.

Main Western set at Spahn Ranch ("Linda and Abilene")

While the Iverson Ranch was one of the most important filming locations in the history of Hollywood — a place where thousands of movies and TV episodes were filmed over the span of more than a century — Spahn Ranch was little more than a footnote as a filming location, hosting just a handful of productions.

Spahn Ranch, fall 1969: Police raid the site after the Tate-LaBianca murders

Spahn's busiest period for filming overlapped with the Manson Family era, with many of Spahn's most high-profile productions shot in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pictures of the ranch from 1969, such as this news photo of a police raid, reveal that the main set area looked exactly as it did in the 1969 movie "Linda and Abilene."

Shots of Spahn Ranch in the movies and on TV are relatively rare, and the shots in "Linda and Abilene" provide what may be the best color views we'll ever see of the Ranch's main set.

Many of the productions filmed at Spahn Ranch, including "Linda and Abilene," fall into a category that might politely be called "exploitation films." Among the less polite labels, which may be more accurate, would be "skin flicks" or "soft-core porn."

Westerns that fall into this category have their own label, although it remains relatively obscure: Naughty West. A number of Naughty Westerns were reportedly filmed on the Spahn Ranch — along with "Linda and Abilene," these include the early effort "Revenge of the Virgins," released in 1959, and "The Ramrodder," from 1969.

"Linda and Abilene": Main Western street at Spahn Ranch

The racy elements aside, "Linda and Abilene" illustrates the importance of movies and TV in documenting historic filming locations. Even with all the press coverage Spahn Ranch received following the Manson killings, the location shots in "Linda and Abilene" help flesh out the record that exists of Spahn Ranch.

As a researcher focused primarily on the Iverson Movie Ranch, one of my favorite things about "Linda and Abilene" is that it includes a shot of its neighbor just across Santa Susana Pass Road. This shot from the movie provides a view of the southern end of Garden of the Gods on the Lower Iverson.

"The Adventures of Spin and Marty" (1955)

Similarly, productions filmed at Iverson occasionally captured the Spahn Movie Ranch in the background. The above example comes from the beloved Disney TV serial "The Adventures of Spin and Marty."

The shot is taken from just north of the main rock features of Garden of the Gods, and shows Santa Susana Pass Road in the background along with the main set area at Spahn Ranch, on the south side of the road.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" TV series (1957)

Another example of Spahn Ranch popping up in the background of an Iverson shoot can be found in the TV series "Have Gun — Will Travel." This shot is taken from an angle close to where the "Spin and Marty" shot was taken, near Garden of the Gods.

The shot comes from an episode called "Show of Force," which premiered Nov. 9, 1957, during the first season of "Have Gun — Will Travel."

"The Miracle Rider" (Mascot, 1935)

Even as far back as 1935, sections of what would become the Spahn Movie Ranch could be seen in Iverson productions. This shot from the old Tom Mix serial "The Miracle Rider," again taken from the Garden of the Gods area at Iverson, shows a distinctive plateau that would later be located just behind Spahn's main set.

The plateau is highlighted in this version of the "Miracle Rider" shot.

The same plateau can be seen again 20 years later in the "Spin and Marty" shot, and here it appears in context with Spahn's Western set and corral area, near the center of the frame.

Spahn Ranch corral area, circa 1969

This shot of part of the corral area at Spahn, one of the many photos taken around the time of the murder investigation in 1969, provides a nice view of the rocky hill to the south of the main set area. While the hill has similarities to Garden of the Gods to the northeast, they're two different hills — one at Iverson and one at Spahn.

The same location in 2015

Film historian Jerry Condit visited the Spahn Ranch site earlier this year and snapped this photo showing what the area looks like today. Jerry's photo provides a nice match with the shot of the corral from 1969. The dry grassy area in the foreground is where the buildings previously stood.

Overview of Spahn's main set area, circa 1969

Another shot from around 1969 presents an overview of the main set area at Spahn Ranch. A nice feature of this shot is the rocks in the foreground, which are located north of Santa Susana Pass Road.

Former site of Spahn's main set area, 2015

Jerry Condit took this shot from those same rocks during his recent visit, and here again, the shot nicely matches the photo from 1969 — including the rocks in the foreground. Today the foreground rocks are a part of the sprawling property owned by the Church at Rocky Peak.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Iverson Movie Ranch under attack: A fond look back at John Wayne's World War II movie "The Fighting Seabees"

"The Fighting Seabees" (1944) — Upper Iverson under attack

The John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees" is one of the most high-profile productions shot on the Iverson Movie Ranch during the 1940s — and the World War II movie also must have been one of the loudest shoots in the history of the location ranch, sustaining a number of bombing raids during production.

To be clear, these were "movie bombing raids" and not real-world bombing raids. Even so, the explosions were real. The area under siege in the above shot includes Cactus Hill and the South Rim of the Upper Iverson; the landmark Eagle Beak Rock is noted here.

Eagle Beak Rock appears again in this shot taken from a much closer angle, partially obscured behind a bomb blast. Also visible, near the center of the shot, is the nearby rock feature known as the Molar.

The palm trees appearing in the shot are all fake, part of the elaborate construction done on both the Upper and Lower Iverson for "Fighting Seabees."

Fake "landing strip" installed for "The Fighting Seabees"

The smooth surface at the bottom of the shot is a huge fake landing strip installed over much of the Upper Iverson as part of the shoot for "Fighting Seabees." The movie tells the story of the U.S. Navy construction teams that worked alongside combat units during the war. (Construction Battalion = CB = Seabee.)

Construction of the landing strip was part of the plot of the movie, set in the Pacific Front during World War II. This shot again shows the Molar, in the top left corner, along with a nearby observation tower built for the movie.

The Molar and the observation tower are identified here, along with some of the material being brought in for construction of the landing strip.

A bomb hits behind the Molar, and the observation tower is looking a little shaky.

Shots of warplanes flying over the Iverson Ranch are among the many highlights in "The Fighting Seabees."

Eagle Beak Rock, one of the most prominent features of the South Rim, appears again during this sequence, lurking at the far right of the frame.

Despite the frequent bombing, a massive landing strip was built. But even though the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch covered a significant expanse, it was not wide enough in reality for planes to land or take off.

In "The Fighting Seabees," as on a number of occasions during the filming era, takeoffs and landings were faked.

Planes could touch down, but they didn't have room to come to a stop.

After a plane was filmed "landing," it would have to take off again.

Even in this blurry shot, Eagle Beak Rock is easily identifiable. The rock can be found in the backgrounds of countless chase scenes in B-Westerns, old serials and early TV shows.

For shots of aircraft on the ground at Iverson, the planes would have to be trucked in. A number of planes were filmed on the ground on the Upper Iverson for "The Fighting Seabees."

This early sequence takes place in the same area where the landing strip would be built — near the cul de sac, on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson.

The location is pinpointed by the presence of a rock I call either Diplodocus or Grumpy, depending on which side is seen. From this side it's Diplodocus.

Blammo! Like much of the Upper Iverson, the Diplodocus area takes a hit during a bombing raid. Luckily, Diplodocus came through it unscathed — although years later the rock would become a casualty of development.

The action in "The Fighting Seabees" takes place on the Lower Iverson as well, including shots depicting brutal hand-to-hand combat. This scene is filmed in front of Bill Rock.

Much of the combat is set in the Iverson Gorge, on the Lower Iverson. In this shot U.S. troops are positioned in the Upper Gorge, with a portion of Garden of the Gods visible in the background.

A few of the noteworthy Garden of the Gods features are highlighted in this version of the shot.

Here's the scene as it appears in modern times. This photo, taken on a visit to the site in 2011, shows approximately the same area as the "Fighting Seabees" shot above this one. The topography has been significantly altered, with Redmesa Road now slicing horizontally through the center of the frame. However, the major rock features toward the top of the photo remain in place.

"The Fighting Seabees": John Wayne on the Nyoka Summit

The movie includes a nice sequence filmed on the summit of Nyoka Cliff in which John Wayne can be seen hanging onto the famous tree that used to stand atop the cliff.

This tree has been captured in countless movies and TV shows. It has since been replaced by a different tree at the summit of Nyoka Cliff — something I talked about in a recent post that can be found by clicking here. (Much of that post talks about the Crouching Cat Tree, which is a different tree altogether; the information about the two different Nyoka Trees appears near the end of the post.)

Wayne and some of his men take shelter inside a pit that can still be found at the top of the cliff. John Wayne fans who wanted to bad enough could go to the same spot today and strike a heroic pose in the same pit.

Wayne also put in time in Garden of the Gods during filming for "Fighting Seabees." In this shot of Wayne, at right, giving commands to his men, the iconic rock feature Sphinx appears in the background. You may recognize the man next to Wayne as William Frawley, best known for playing Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy."

A Japanese sniper, complete with his own fake palm tree, is posted atop the Devil's Doorway Cluster, although it would be hard to ID the spot based solely on this shot.

When the sniper is taken out, we get a wider view of the setting, making it possible — though still not easy — to identify Devil's Doorway in the Upper Gorge. One reason it's relatively difficult to pinpoint the spot is that these rocks today are hidden beneath a tree.

Rock Island and Crown Rock in "The Fighting Seabees"

A short distance away, troops advance on Rock Island along the Stagecoach Road. Rock Island appears in the top right corner, with Crown Rock at center left. The large fuel tank seen in the foreground — one of two such tanks built in the Gorge for the movie — figures into a major explosion later in the movie, which I talk about below.

I recently discussed this sequence in a post focusing on Rock Island, which you can read by clicking here.

The Lower Iverson took its share of bomb hits during filming on "The Fighting Seabees," including this one that landed in the Upper Gorge. Some of the rocks of the Hole in the Wall area can be seen at top right.

A relatively small blast hits midway between Bill Rock, at top right, and Stegosaurus, at top left.

I've noted the two main rock features in this version of the shot. We get a slightly better look at Stegosaurus in the next sequence.

An artillery team takes aim at a U.S. Navy medical vehicle, with the Zorro's Cave area in the background.

When the truck is hit, we get a look at Stegosaurus, at top right.

Here's the same shot with Stegosaurus identified. The rock feature's "face" can be elusive.

An unusual feature — a large fake rock — appears during some of the scenes filmed in the Gorge. In this shot the fake rock can be seen at the left of the frame. The fake rock was not installed for "Fighting Seabees," but was already in place at the site.

I call the large fake rock "Perils Tower," because one of its most high-profile appearances is in the 1942 Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka."

"The Fighting Seabees" — Perils Tower, center

The fake rock's origin is unclear, but it remained in place in the Gorge for a few years. It can be found in movies released from 1941-1944.

The fake rock tower is typically seen from a distance, as in this example from "Fighting Seabees." It appeared to move around, within a limited range, during its brief lifespan, but was generally located near the rock features The Wall, Crown Rock and Devil's Doorway.

The fake tower, seen beneath the crane — again near the center of the shot — was right at home among the real rock features of the Iverson Gorge. It may help to click on the photo to enlarge it for a better view.

Perils Tower appears midway between the major features Nyoka Cliff and The Wall.

A closer shot of Perils Tower shows the position of the fake rock, at top left, relative to Three Ages Rock at top center and The Wall at top right.

This version of the shot identifies the major rock features, including the fake tower.

In a famous scene near the end of "Fighting Seabees," a bulldozer driven by one of the Seabees pushes an enemy tank off Nyoka Cliff into the Iverson Gorge.

And down it goes. I've heard that the prop tank used in filming was made of balsa wood to avoid damaging any of the rocks. Considering how many explosions went off during production, it's interesting to hear that people were concerned with protecting the filming location.

Another shot of Nyoka Cliff in "Fighting Seabees" includes the Crouching Cat Walkway area, which was recently discovered and was featured in a recent post.

You may also have spotted the tree at the top of Nyoka Cliff — the same tree that John Wayne is hanging onto in a sequence featured higher up in this post.

Some distance to the east of the Gorge, near the Cave Rocks — where the swimming pool for the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village was later put in — Quonset huts were filmed being built in "Fighting Seabees."

In this area, too, a number of fake palm trees were brought in to create the needed island flavor.

An army of extras, literally, was assembled during production on "Fighting Seabees." The Cave Rocks can be seen again in the background in this scene, which takes place after construction was completed on the Quonset huts.

Mushroom cloud in the Iverson Gorge in "The Fighting Seabees"

Near the end of the movie, the producers appear to exercise the "nuclear option" — although the mushroom cloud is produced by a fuel tank explosion. Some observers have noted that this explosion "mirrors" the U.S. use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to help bring an end to World War II. However, the movie was released in January 1944, well ahead of the August 1945 bombing raids over Japan.

Even though the mushroom cloud shot features rocks found in the Iverson Gorge — including a portion of Devil's Doorway, as noted here — it appears to me that in this case the explosion was added using special effects.

"The Fighting Seabees" was a high point for Republic Pictures, which stepped up to create a movie well beyond the company's usual low-budget fare. By loosening the usually clam-tight Republic purse strings for a change, the company produced not just one of its many "great Iverson movies" — with plenty of cool rocks — but also a movie that holds up pretty well as a movie.