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.
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• 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).
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Monday, January 2, 2012

Roger Corman's Iverson movies, Part 1: Five Guns West

Roger Corman

One of the most interesting filmmakers to embrace the Iverson Movie Ranch as a shooting location over the years is Roger Corman, whose Iverson work goes all the way back to his first movie as a director.

A traditional Western in many respects, the 1955 film "Five Guns West" — Corman's directorial debut, which he also produced — boasts better production values, a better script and better acting than the B-Westerns that inspired it, serving notice that the career of an important filmmaker was being launched.

Dorothy Malone and John Lund on the Ingram Ranch in "Five Guns West"

John Lund, best known for Billy Wilder's "A Foreign Affair" (1948), plays the male lead in "Five Guns West," opposite the potent screen presence of Dorothy Malone.

Promo still for "Five Guns West" featuring Dorothy Malone and Jonathan Haze

Malone is put to great use in the movie, tantalizing a series of outlaws with her raw sexuality.

"Five Guns West": Mike "Touch" Connors, center

The cast also includes Mike Connors — long before he became famous as TV's Mannix, back when he was still known as "Touch" Connors.

Ambush sequence using Wrench Rock, on the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch

Corman's ability to economize on production costs was already evident, with "Five Guns West" shot almost in its entirety at two locations: The first half-hour takes place at the Iverson Movie Ranch, with the rest of the movie set a few miles south of there at the Jack Ingram Ranch. (Jack Ingram, who was a B-Western regular for years before opening his location ranch, also has a role in the movie.) The above shot features the widely filmed Wrench Rock, sometimes called Indian Head. Even though the rock is a familiar feature in Iverson movies, it's unusual to see it used in this manner — as a perch for an ambush.

"Five Guns West": The view from Cactus Hill looking south

This shot offers a long-distance view of the movie ranch's most famous section, the Garden of the Gods (to the left of the riders), along with the western San Fernando Valley, at top left, and a familiar rocky hill at top center.

Sunset Peak, or Elders Peak, was (and remains) situated south of the Iverson Ranch, across Santa Susana Pass Road. The western San Fernando Valley was still rural at the time, and Chatsworth Reservoir still had water in it.

Corman's Iverson shoot for "Five Guns West" is an unusual one, taking place mostly on Cactus Hill — probably the most prominent single feature at Iverson, but one that was typically seen only in the background and was rarely used as a shooting location in its own right. Corman used that fact to his advantage, shooting heavily on Cactus Hill and getting unusual shots in the process. The above shot, looking north from Cactus Hill, provides a rare glimpse of a rock I call Gorilla, seen at the right of the photo, just above the halfway point.

Here's another view of Gorilla from a recent site visit, again looking north. You can also see Oat Mountain in the distance, along with some of the estates that now fill the former Upper Iverson. For the Iverson aficionados, that's the back end of Turtle Rock directly to the left of Gorilla.

Cactus Hill has traditionally been referred to anonymously by film location researchers (for example: "a large hill separating the Upper and Lower Iverson"), but it came to my attention recently that the Iverson family called it Cactus Hill, and it works for me. True to its name, Cactus Hill is loaded with impressive cactus. Above is an example from a recent visit. The hill also features a treasure trove of beautiful and underutilized movie rocks, if you're into that sort of thing (which I am).

Another shot from "Five Guns West" — looking toward the west this time — features another unusual Iverson rock located atop Cactus Hill. Between the trailing rider and the two leading riders is a spherical rock I call the Head, because when you first come upon it along the trail, it looks a lot like a human head.

"The Head" in modern times

Here's a shot of the Head that I snapped on a recent visit to the site. One intriguing thing about the Head is that it's manmade — the smaller rock on top of the formation was cemented onto the larger rock that forms the base.

Closeup of the Head — note the cement base

This closeup shows some of the cement work. Whenever I find a rock at Iverson that has been cemented, and there are a number of them, I find it significant because it had to be done specifically for the movies — the place was a working movie ranch, after all. I always want to know the answers to questions such as: What movie was this done for, and why? And where else does it appear?

"Apache Woman," 1955, directed by Roger Corman

In the case of the Head, I'm sure it wasn't done specifically for the Corman movie. It's not the kind of thing he would budget for, and besides, it was probably done a few years earlier. The bulk of the cement work at Iverson appears to have taken place around 1950-1951, indicating that the practice may have been associated with the transition from B-movies to early TV shows. It may be that the Iversons felt they had to "spruce up" the place to get it in shape for what would turn out to be extensive TV work in the 1950s. Oddly, most of the "stacked rocks" created during the "cement scare" of the early 1950s never ended up being used much — with a few noteworthy exceptions, which I will cover in a future post.

Jack Ingram Ranch, as seen in "Five Guns West"

For now, suffice to say that whatever the motivation was to create "the Head," the rock almost never turned up in any productions. I'm sure it will eventually show up somewhere else, but at this time Corman's "Five Guns West" is the only movie I've found that features it.

"Viking Women and the Sea Serpent," 
1957, directed by Roger Corman

Roger Corman returned to Iverson a number of times, especially early in his career, and whenever he shot there — often with "Five Guns West" cinematographer Floyd Crosby — he typically found inventive ways to shoot it. The pair collaborated again on another Iverson Western, "Apache Woman," later in 1955, and Corman continued to shoot at Iverson even after moving on from Westerns to his trademark cult movies — including "Viking Women and the Sea Serpent" (whose full title is much longer) in 1957 and "Teenage Caveman" in 1958. I'll feature more of Corman's Iverson work in Part 2.

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