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.
• 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 find other 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 go right to the great Iverson cinematographers,click here.
• 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.
• If you know of a way I can set up this blog so readers can subscribe to receive future posts via email, please let me know. In the meantime there's a link all the way at the bottom of this page that says "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)," and if you're inclined to try it, it seems to take you into a world of customizable home pages or something, and you can have blog updates as a part of that page ... whether this is useful to you, who knows, but I thought I'd let you know it's there.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave a comment on any post, or email me at iversonfilmranch@aol.com.

Friday, July 30, 2010

More about the not-so-mysterious disappearance of Rock Island


I've posted about Rock Island before, but I wanted to add some perspective. Above is a screen shot from the Republic serial "The Perils of Nyoka" (1942) that shows Rock Island in the background (near the top of the photo, just left of center), apparently filmed from somewhere near the top of Nyoka Cliff. The prominent rock figure near the center of the photo is Doglips. Not quite as easy to spot, toward the left side of the photo, is Lone Ranger Rock, at about the same height as Doglips. The top of Lone Ranger Rock is dark, and it has a round, lighter-colored rock that looks as if it's right on top of it but is actually an unrelated rock that was behind it. The juxtaposition of Doglips, Lone Ranger Rock and Rock Island gives some idea of where Rock Island should be.

This is what the area looks like today, not from the exact same spot as the "Perils of Nyoka" shot but as close as we could get. Click on the photo to see a larger version. Again Doglips and Lone Ranger Rock are the key markers, with both of them near the center of the photo. Today Redmesa Road runs through the area, providing access to a condominium community, the start of which can be seen in the top right corner. We've gone over the area many times trying to pinpoint Rock Island, and it's not as easy as it looks. I first suspected that some of the rock fragments on the west side of Redmesa, visible at the top of this photo, just right of center, were what's left of Rock Island. But a subsequent theory puts some of Rock Island in what is now the swimming pool area of the condos (not visible in this photo, but just beyond the top right corner). The 1952 aerial photo pretty much substantiates this theory.



This post provides a little better look at Rock Island.



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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Robert Cline: the mad genius of the old B-Western cinematographers ... and his legacy of weird and wonderful shots


"Thunder River Feud" (1942)

I've watched hundreds of movies, serials and TV shows shot at the Iverson Movie Ranch, and almost all of them contain at least a few memorable shots. But the gift that keeps on giving is "Thunder River Feud." Either cinematographer Robert Cline was a genius, or he was accidentally brilliant in shot after shot. The above scene depicts the Iverson Movie Ranch's Upper Gorge, transforming it even in fuzzy old black and white — or especially in fuzzy old black and white — into a mystical wonderland.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1959)

For comparison, this is what the same area of Iverson's Upper Gorge looks like in a more traditional shot, from an episode of the "Wyatt Earp" TV series called "Wyatt Wins One," which first aired Nov. 10, 1959. Not bad, and it sure is a lot easier to make out the rocks and other features. But to my eye it doesn't quite have the same magic as Robert Cline's earlier shot. And the cinematographer on this episode, Robert B. Hauser, was no slouch. Hauser had a long career as a DP, both in film and in television, including being nominated twice for Emmys for outstanding cinematography.

Squashed Sea Cucumber, as seen in "Thunder River Feud"

On the surface, "Thunder River Feud" appears to be just another unexceptional hourlong entry in Monogram's Range Busters series, starring Ray "Crash" Corrigan, John "Dusty" King and Max "Alibi" Terhune. But I see it as much more — for one thing, it's the movie where I first encountered the Squashed Sea Cucumber, seen at the left in the above photo.

This is the same "Thunder River Feud" shot with Squashed Sea Cucumber identified. 


Squashed Sea Cucumber — as it appears today

Here's a look at the rock in modern times. It's actually parts of two rocks, and it's sitting on top of a rock wall known as Boots Rock or Low Wall, adjacent to Garden of the Gods.

Robert Cline, the cinematographer on "Thunder River Feud," was an Arizona native, born in 1898, who filmed something like 139 movies going back to the silent era. At the time he shot "Thunder River Feud" in 1941 (it was released in January 1942), he was getting a lot of work, filming as many as 15 movies a year. He shot a number of films at the Iverson Movie Ranch, including pairing up with "Thunder River Feud" director S. Roy Luby on other Range Busters productions, such as "The Kid's Last Ride" and "Fugitive Valley" (both 1941).



Robert Cline died in Hollywood in 1946, leaving behind a legacy of weird and wonderful shots. "Thunder River Feud" has been the subject of a number of other posts, including more than its share of "tricks of light." Again, was Robert Cline just lucky, or was he really that good?

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Church in Iverson Village


Here's a screen shot from "The Hawk of Powder River" (1948) showing the church at the southern end of Iverson Village, along with a large rock behind it (Church Rock, for lack of a better name) that has been helpful in determining where the village was located. The area where the town was built is now part of a trailer park off Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just south of the 118 freeway.

The Western town was built in 1945 for the Gary Cooper movie "Along Came Jones." It remained more or less intact and grew over the years, being used in a number of movies and TV shows through the 1960s. Inevitably, it met the fate that seems to befall all Western movie towns: It burned down. 

The church wasn't around in the very beginning but appeared early on. I've heard a theory that it was mobile and was put in place whenever the producers wanted a church in town. Personally I think it probably just existed for a certain period of time and if one were to track the movies in which it appears, one could approximate the years that made up its lifespan. (Update: New information has surfaced on the history of the church since this post. Check it out here.)

Trailers now occupy the former site of Iverson Village, but that same Church Rock can be seen still marking the spot. The slightly shorter rock to the left of it is Gumdrop, which is an even more reliable marker that appears in a lot of movies, identifying the southern end of town.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Chili Pepper — a famous movie rock that lost its fight with development


"The Hawk of Powder River" (1948)

Based on the appearance by this rock in the Eddie Dean movie "The Hawk of Powder River," from PRC, it seems to be an amusingly precise, albeit oversized replica of a chili pepper, right down to the stem. From its context in this movie, I first thought it to be somewhere on the Upper Iverson.
Actual chili pepper, for comparison.

Since I first posted this blog, I've learned more about Chili Pepper, the rock, discovering that it was located on the Lower Iverson but was removed in the mid-1960s for construction of a mobile home park. Click here for a follow-up. And click here for more about "The Hawk of Powder River," starring singing cowboy Eddie Dean, directed by Ray Taylor and filmed by the great Iverson cinematographer Ernest Miller.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The great Iverson cinematographers: John MacBurnie

born December 1892, New York
died September 1956, L.A. (age 63)


One of Republic Pictures' best and most prolific B-Western and serial shooters, John MacBurnie spent his brief but productive film career (1940-1953) with the studio before making a successful transition to television.


After polishing his skills on Republic’s low-profile Don “Red” Barry movies in the early 1940s, he moved on to the company’s serials and a wide variety of features. He eventually became a go-to shooter for higher-profile B-Westerns, making his mark in particular with the Allan “Rocky” Lane series. By the late 1940s he was shooting about 20 movies a year and working with Republic’s top Western stars, including Roy Rogers and Monte Hale as well as Rocky Lane, whom he continued to shoot from 1947 through the end of MacBurnie’s tenure at Republic — coinciding with the end of the Rocky Lane series — in 1953.


In Marshal of Amarillo, filmed by John MacBurnie, Allan "Rocky" Lane keeps an eye on the bad guys from an unusual vantage point — behind the rock known as World of Outlaws, in the North Rim. While most Upper Iverson filming was focused on the South Rim, Republic's Rocky Lane series shot extensively along the ranch's northern boundary.

Like Ernest Miller, his Republic stablemate for much of their careers, MacBurnie’s camera work displayed the Iverson rocks in ways that reveal he had a fondness for them. His thoughtful showcasing of the movie ranch’s many dramatic rock features can be seen in Iverson masterpieces such as Call of the Rockies (1944), starring Sunset Carson, and Rocky Lane features Renegades of Sonora (1948), Marshal of Amarillo (1948) and Desperadoes’ Outpost (1952) as well as landmark Iverson serials Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948), Jesse James Rides Again (1947) and Desperadoes of the West (1950).


Even in El Paso Stampede (1953), the last movie in the Rocky Lane series, it appears that MacBurnie continued to work to set up interesting angles for whatever original footage was still being shot at Iverson. For one sequence in the film he went to the trouble to set up his camera in a rarely used elevated area on the backside of Water Tank Hill, above the Cliff on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson — and this was at a time when the filmmakers were relying heavily on recycled footage, shooting at the studio whenever possible and writing scripts based mainly on continuity while making the most of existing material.

During the early 1950s MacBurnie focused his lens on the company’s new star, popular singing cowboy Rex Allen. With Republic scaling back its operations at this time and opportunities opening up in television, MacBurnie made the leap to the new medium and worked steadily for the next few years. He died in 1956 at age 63.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Here's where the Lone Ranger once forged his silver bullets, in Chatsworth, Calif. — the only surviving manmade foundation at the Iverson Movie Ranch


"Annie Oakley" TV show (1954)

Here's a look at the little cabin that used to stand in the widely filmed South Rim area of the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch. The building is commonly known as the Miner's Cabin because it was often filmed with fake mine entrances to its left. Some of the metal fastening devices that were used to install the mine entrances can still be seen attached to the rocks if you visit the former Upper Iverson. The shot above appears in the "Annie Oakley" TV show, in the episode "Annie Finds Strange Treasure." The structure is also sometimes called the Lone Ranger Cabin, and legend has it that, on TV at least, the Lone Ranger mined silver and forged his silver bullets here.


Miners' Cabin (Lone Ranger Cabin) foundation as it appears today

Today all that's left are the stone steps and part of the stone foundation, including the front porch area. The rocks don't look much like they did, partly because they're overgrown with grass and also because a number of them are missing. But if you go stone by stone and see how they match up, it works.


Here's another shot of the stones that remain today, along with some rocks on the right of the photo that used to be behind the cabin. They match the rocks seen at the far right in the "Annie Oakley" shot. As humble as these remains are, they're virtually the only remains — and by far the best — of any manmade structure from the filming era at the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The great Iverson cinematographers: Reggie Lanning

born October 1893, Arizona
died December 1965, Woodland Hills, Calif. (age 72)


Reggie Lanning spent virtually his entire film career at Republic Pictures before capping off his resume with a successful stab at television in the mid- to late 1950s, shooting 56 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Born in 1893 and hailing from out West in Arizona, his early credits go as far back as the 1920s. But his run as a cinematographer got under way in earnest in the early days of Republic, which opened shop in 1935. His DP credits there span 1936-1955, coinciding with the two decades in which Republic was a powerhouse in serials and B-movies.


Lanning filmed a variety of productions at Republic but made an impact in B-Westerns and eventually became something of a serial specialist. Besides shooting a number of the company’s most important Iverson serials — Jungle Girl (1941), Perils of Nyoka (1942) and Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939) among them — he got his share of featured B-Western assignments, working with Republic’s front-line roster of stars: John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Wild Bill Elliott, Rex Allen, Bob Steele, Don “Red” Barry, Sunset Carson and Monte Hale. He learned the ropes in B-Westerns with a string of entries in the company’s high-profile Three Mesquiteers series — then featuring John Wayne — in 1938 and 1939, and continued to work on the long-running series sporadically over the years as the cast evolved. He also dabbled in various incarnations of Republic’s popular Red Ryder series.

Turtle Rock, a fixture in the widely filmed South Rim area of the Upper Iverson, looms in the background in a scene shot by Reggie Lanning for the landmark 1942 Republic serial The Perils of Nyoka.

While not nearly as prolific as Republic stablemate Ernest Miller, Lanning produced a respectable volume of work in the heyday — he’s listed as a DP on a total of 129 productions, a number that doesn’t take into account the extra work involved in shooting serials, and one that would be still higher if his individual TV episodes were added up.

His Iverson work caught my eye early on, before I knew his name, with Perils of Nyoka still standing as one of the most important Iverson productions. He was an early entry in my Iverson cinematographers’ pantheon, earning that spot on the basis of his landmark serial work as well as the Roy Rogers Iverson spectacle Cowboy and the Senorita (1944).


Lanning lived into his 70s, something a number of the DPs of his era did not manage. He died in Woodland Hills in 1965.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Half-gone but not all-forgotten: The D-Train — an iconic rock from the movies that was "defaced" to build condos


"Perils of Nyoka" (1942)

The D-Train was one of my greatest fixations during my first year of research into the Iverson Movie Ranch. I fell under its spell after spotting it in "Perils of Nyoka" (1942), filmed by the great Iverson Movie Ranch cinematographer Reggie Lanning. I searched for the D-Train for months, eventually determining — incorrectly, as it turned out — that it must have been destroyed to make way for the condos off Redmesa Road, just north of Lone Ranger Rock. I later discovered that more of the rock had survived than I first thought.

As indicated in the above annotated version of the screen shot, the D-Train is the large, eel-like character that fills up much of the right half of the screen. The "cave entrance" attached to the left side of the D-Train, consisting mainly of three large boulders, is fake.

The boulders highlighted here are just manmade movie props used to create the illusion of a cave entrance. However, the darker boulder above the D-Train is real, and is known as Three Ages Rock because of a high-profile appearance in the silent movie "Three Ages," starring Buster Keaton.

I've referred in the past to Three Ages Rock (before I knew it was a famous rock and already had a name) as the Luggage Carrier, because its shape reminded me of one of those haulers that sit on top of a car. While Three Ages Rock remains intact today, the D-Train wasn't quite as fortunate. It wasn't exactly destroyed, but it took a hard hit when the condos went in. Essentially, it had its face blown off.

Three Ages Rock (top left) and the D-Train, in recent times

This is what's left of the D-Train — just enough of it remains that I was able to find it and make a positive ID. The film historian seen in this recent photo is leaning on Three Ages Rock, with the surviving portion of the D-Train in the foreground. The lighter-colored rock surface area toward the right shows where the rest of the rock was blasted away. The original "face" of the D-Train seen in the "Perils" shot above — with its slanty eye and open mouth — is gone. I know it's hard to make out the D-Train from what's left, but you may have to trust me on this one.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Vultura's Palace in the classic Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka": Here's where the front of the building once stood

"The Perils of Nyoka" (1942)

The screen shot above shows the front entrance to Vultura's Palace, one of the main sets for the 1942 Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka" (based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs heroine Nyoka, or Jungle Girl). The palace entrance was built between two major rock formations on the Iverson Movie Ranch — Stegosaurus, or Pavlova, on the left and Hangdog on the right. At top center, just above the roofline of the palace, is Cracked Meringue


The same rocky area in recent times

In the recent color shot above, Stegosaurus on the left and Hangdog on the right mark the spot where the front entrance to Vultura's Palace stood almost seven decades ago. Cracked Meringue appears above Hangdog's nose, with Sticky Bun to the left of Cracked Meringue. Rubble at the base of Hangdog and Pavlova is probably from movie sets built in the intervening years, not from Vultura's Palace.



Friday, July 9, 2010

The great Iverson Movie Ranch cinematographers: Fayte Browne

born June 1896, Oregon
died July 1952, Los Angeles (age 56)


Fayte Browne had a sadly brief career, working full time as a DP for only four years, from 1949-1952. He filmed at least one bona fide Iverson masterpiece in the Charles Starrett B-Western South of Death Valley (1949), part of a solid body of work rich in Iverson material. Trail of the Rustlers (1950) and Smoky Canyon (1952), both Durango Kid features with Starrett in the lead role, are other examples of his best work at Iverson.

Fayte Browne's Iverson masterpiece, the 1949 Charles Starrett feature 
South of Death Valley; at left is the Upper Iverson rock formation known as Grumpy.


He spent his entire career with Columbia, initially shooting a variety of projects but eventually specializing in Charles Starrett’s Durango Kid B-Westerns. From the time he shot his first Durango Kid movie — Challenge of the Range, released in 1949, on which Browne served as camera operator under DP Rex Wimpy — he virtually made a career out of the Durango Kid. He shot 24 of the remaining 30 Durango Kid movies that were filmed — his first two as camera operator and the rest as DP. Most, if not all, of these productions filmed at Iverson and featured extensive action sequences among the rocks.

He did a considerable amount of work as camera operator early in his career, some of it uncredited, working in essence as an assistant to more established — although perhaps less inspired — DPs. Browne was still doing camera operator work in 1948 and 1949, even after he had begun his career as a DP — including around the time he shot his Iverson masterpiece. After South of Death Valley he appears to have finally established himself as a DP, and he no longer was relegated to working as an assistant.

I suspect he wallowed in relative obscurity, knowing he had something more to bring to the process than was generally acknowledged. I envision him living a life of frustration and disillusionment, but who knows.

He apparently worked up until the time of his death, shooting a number of movies in 1952 before dying at the age of 56 in July of that year.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The great Iverson Movie Ranch cinematographers: William Nobles

born December 1892, South Dakota
died November 1968, Costa Mesa, Calif. (age 75)


William Nobles made his mark earlier than most of the top DPs of the Iverson era, both at Republic and pre-Republic. He was a mainstay at Mascot in the years leading up to its demise as it became absorbed into the startup of Republic Pictures, and then he became a key shooter during the early days of Republic, mainly from 1936-1941. 



He shot a number of Republic's early serials, including key Iverson productions Undersea Kingdom and Darkest Africa (both 1936), Zorro Rides Again (1937) and The Lone Ranger (1938). He also had a good run with Three Mesquiteers features at Iverson, including Roarin’ Lead (1936) and the landmark Overland Stage Raiders (1938). Then he continued his Iverson mastery in a string of Roy Rogers B-Westerns, with standouts including Frontier Pony Express (1939), Young Buffalo Bill (1940), In Old Cheyenne (1941) and Jesse James at Bay (1941).

Nobles did the camera work on 182 productions in all, stretching back well into the silent era and pretty much wrapping up by 1942. He would have been about 49 years old at that point, too old to go off to World War II. But he never got his career going again after that.


He apparently didn’t work in the industry for the last 25 years of his life. Nobles died in Costa Mesa, Calif., in 1968 at age 75.