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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stegosaurus — caught in an awkward moment

"Thunder River Feud" (1942)

One pastime that evolved early in my Iverson exploration was finding weird stuff in the old movies, whether it was really there or not. I noticed a lot of what can best be described as tricks of light — images that weren't necessarily formed out of actual objects but had more to do with the way multiple objects coexisted in the frame and the way the camera played with the light and shadows. Sometimes it was just because the footage was so bad to begin with that I had to use my imagination to fill in the details — kind of like what made radio so great, according to people who lived through the days before television.

I found myself giving names to these accidents of light and imagination, because you have to name things to have a way to reference them in connection with the research. My goal is simply to describe it as accurately as possible, so, for example, the image above from cinematographer Robert Cline's strange masterpiece "Thunder River Feud" became "Stegosaurus Caught in an Awkward Moment" because that's what I see when I look at it — a dinosaur with an embarrassed expression on its face. I eventually shortened my name for the rock to simply "Stegosaurus."

When I unexpectedly found Stegosaurus at Iverson, it was one of those peak moments that make exploring the place so much fun. It was just such a surprise. I always assumed that what I had seen in the movie was more imagination than reality. But then there it was in real life, as seen in the photo above. This discovery added a surprise twist to what I thought at the time was pure flight of fancy: Not only did Stegosaurus in fact exist at Iverson, but to my shock, I was able to find it.

It turned out to be a configuration along the face of a familiar rock in the Above Nyoka area, which I previously had been calling Pavlova — the left side of the Vultura's Temple or Vultura's Palace feature from the Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka," released the same year as Thunder River Feud, 1942. The rock now has a brick wall built onto it, which separates the condominium community on the west side of the wall from the undeveloped area to the east. In the photo above, you can see the top of Hangdog — also seen as the right side of Vultura's Palace in "Perils of Nyoka" — sticking up just above the wall, toward the right of the photo.

If you're having trouble spotting the similarities between the two photos, start with the tip of the dinosaur's nose, which is the rounded shape pointing toward the top left corner in either photo. Below it is the mouth — the look of embarrassment being evident only in the screen shot at the top, not so much in the real-life photo above. A bush is growing out of the rock in the same place in both photos, near the dinosaur's eye, even though the pictures are taken more than 65 years apart — the blink of an eye, in dinosaur time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The great Iverson cinematographers: Robert Cline

born July 1898, Arizona
died November 1946, Hollywood (age 48)

I refer to cinematographer Robert Cline as the mad genius of the Iverson Movie Ranch filming era, and he would probably hold that title even if he had shot just one film: his mystical 1942 Range Busters masterpiece "Thunder River Feud." I call it "his" movie even though it was directed by master B-Western director S. Roy Luby, because Cline's camera work clearly adds a strange quality to the movie that even Luby may not have envisioned. 

Thunder River Feud (1942) — the Iverson Gorge, as photographed
by the "mad genius," cinematographer Robert Cline

While it’s possible that the artistic “brilliance” of Cline’s fuzzy visual poetry in this strange and wonderful movie is purely accidental, it seems unlikely. Shot after shot reveals subtle, elusive images, often tucked away in the corners of the frame. For the viewer who is able to relax into it and surrender to the weirdness of it all, it adds up to a cinematic experience that is more akin to spotting faces in the clouds or looking at a book of hidden-eye puzzles than it is to watching a typical B-Western. 

"Fugitive Valley" (1941) — a leap off Range Rider Rock

Regardless of whether Cline intentionally injected illusions into his work, whether it’s all attributable to a bad print or whether the often puzzling images in his shots are purely imaginary, he showed a flair for Iverson in a solid string of 1940s B-Westerns, part of an ephemeral career that began in the silent era and soon saw Cline emerge as one of the key shooters in early sound Westerns.

"Range Beyond the Blue" (1947) — holdup gang 
waiting for the stage in front of a rock I call Tamale

By the time the genre hit its stride in the mid-1930s he was already a master of the outdoor action sequence, had already developed much of his unique visual style and had already begun shooting at the Iverson Movie Ranch. Working mostly with smaller outfits — including Trem Carr Pictures and William Berke Productions in the early days and later the Alexander brothers and A.W. Hackel’s Supreme Pictures — Cline found himself at the center of what was suddenly the hottest film commodity in the business, the B-Western. 

"Western Cyclone" (1943) — riderless horse on the Upper Iverson,
with Pyramid Peak and the Rocky Peak area in the background 

He began to connect with some of the bigger players, flirting briefly with Republic, where he shot three Westerns in the late 1930s. He found more steady work at Monogram starting in 1940, migrating over to Ray Corrigan’s Monogram-affiliated Range Busters Productions in 1941. He settled in for a good run with Corrigan, shooting 16 Range Busters features before moving on to PRC in 1943.


"Buffalo Bill Rides Again" (1947) — teepee village on the Upper Iverson, 
with Oat Mountain in the background, center, flanked by
 Two-Humper, left, and Notch Hill, right

Much of his best Iverson work was done during this Range Busters/PRC period, including the Range Busters installments Underground Rustlers and Fugitive Valley (both 1941) and the Buster Crabbe/Billy the Kid/Billy Carson yarns Western Cyclone and Devil Riders (both 1943) at PRC. 


An early Iverson standout for Cline is the 1938 Bob Steele feature Paroled to Die from A.W. Hackel.

"Buffalo Bill Rides Again" — Hangover Shack in the background

He rarely stayed long in any one place, adding to the mystique of Robert Cline as a restless and perhaps troubled genius. He avoided the one thing that almost all major Iverson cinematographers share: a lengthy stay at Republic Pictures. Maybe it’s part of his genius that he found a way to keep himself from getting sucked into the machine in a big way, something almost no one else seemed able to resist.

Thunder River Feud — Hangdog, a sandstone giant
on the Iverson Movie Ranch

Cline has presided over my pantheon of Iverson DPs from the beginning, and was the inspiration for the creation of a pantheon in the first place. His volume of work doesn’t stand alongside prolific Republic shooters such as Ernest Miller or John MacBurnie, but Robert Cline is clearly one of the masters, if not THE master, at shooting the Iverson Movie Ranch. This despite his relatively high “miss ratio” — for example working quite a bit at Corriganville, working on low-Iverson-percentage Texas Rangers movies and working extensively in the silents (and therefore largely unseen and presumably largely lost).

One of Robert Cline’s later career highlights is the Lash LaRue movie Law of the Lash from PRC, released in 1947, after Cline’s death.

"Thunder in the Desert" (1938) — Hangdog in the background

Like many of the cinematographers of the B-Western era, Robert Cline was born out West. He came from Arizona, which may have helped instill his affinity for Westerns and the Western landscape. And like so many of the cinematographers of the period, he died young — in his case even younger than most, at 48. But he also started young, well back into the silent era. His career essentially spanned 1925-1946, with a few releases coming out after his death, in 1947, and he left behind a legacy of 139 productions listed in his filmography — all well worth a look, if I can say so after having only seen a fraction of them. Cline lived long enough to see television coming, but he died before he got his chance to work in the new medium.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Then and now: a famous movie rock known as Wrench Rock (aka Indian Head, Upper Indian Head, Bobby ...)

One of the first and most compelling mysteries I chased at Iverson was who was that gargoyle figure who showed up briefly in the background in "Thunder River Feud" (1942). The blurry black-and-white image above, snapped from the TV screen, haunted me in the early stages of my expeditions to Iverson — as the rock that I soon began calling "Bobby" seemed to be winking at me with that "eye" of his.

It took a few months to find him, but Bobby turned out to be one of the most intriguing characters still lurking on the site of the old Iverson Movie Ranch. It was an emotional high point to finally see Bobby in person — not the least of which was attributable to knowing for the first time that he had survived.

I later learned that the rock I had been calling "Bobby" had already been given at least a couple of names over the years. One that seems to have stuck is Indian Head (or Upper Indian Head), which is unfortunate because it creates confusion with a more famous Indian Head located on the Lower Iverson, in Garden of the Gods. Another name for Bobby that has been around for a while is Wrench Rock. I usually embrace the existing names when I learn about them, so I reluctantly let go of "Bobby." My name for this one now is Wrench Rock, in part because it avoids confusion with Iverson's many rocks known as Indian Head.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Girl in the Sky keeps on turning ...

"Thunder River Feud" (1942)

Turning yet again to the endlessly intriguing topic of tricks of light and imagination, we find reason to once again go on and on about "Thunder River Feud" (1942), the Magna Carta (or whatever) of tricks of light. As usual, the enigmatic figure at the center of it all is the man behind the camera, cinematographer Robert "Did He Do That on Purpose" Cline. 


It probably has more to do with the primitive camera technology and the bad print than with art, but "Thunder River Feud" has more interesting "extras" hovering around the corners of each frame than any other movie I've seen. Take for example the scene above. Supposedly it's just some dude on a horse against a nondescript but perhaps unintentionally surrealistic background. But then when you look in the top right corner, there she is: Girl in the Sky. WTF? Click on the photo to enlarge it — she'll still be there!

If that's not enough, check out the top left corner and you might recognize a close approximation of Eugene the Jeep, from the Popeye cartoons.
Eugene the Jeep

I was unable to determine where this particular "Thunder River Feud" scene was shot, but most of the outdoor action for the movie took place on the Iverson Movie Ranch — where the many odd-shaped rocks have a tendency to fuel these sorts of flights of fancy. Even so, I have a feeling that if you could find this spot today, Girl in the Sky and Eugene the Jeep wouldn't be there.

Here's how to get ahold of the DVD for "Thunder River Feud":

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Am I the only one who sees a Circus Clown in Agony here?


"Thunder River Feud" (1942)

This may not work for everyone, but when I look at this shot from the insanely weird Monogram B-Western "Thunder River Feud," I see a figure that, to me, looks like a circus clown in agony. In fact, I've come to call the figure "Circus Clown in Agony." If you see it, you know what I mean, and if you don't, then I suppose we should all just step away.

But before we do, here's another chance to enjoy this weirdness. As indicated in the annotation in the above photo, you have the option to see it or not see it. As everyone has been saying since the digital boom, your mileage may vary, or YMMV.


Above is a detail of Circus Clown, just in case this is that one last chance you needed to see the clown. Can't say I didn't try.

If you like this sort of thing, click on this link for more such madness.