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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• 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.
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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).
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
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Friday, February 1, 2013

Location verite: You can visit the spot where Ronald Reagan was gunned down

The 1955 RKO Western "Tennessee's Partner," starring Ronald Reagan, John Payne, Rhonda Fleming and Coleen Gray, has one of my favorite Iverson Movie Ranch sequences, shot in Garden of the Gods. It's the climactic sequence of the movie, and it takes place in an area that has been preserved as a park and remains open to the public.

"Tennessee's Partner" (1955): Ronald Reagan at the Miner's Cabin

Reagan plays a character known only as Cowpoke — he's the "Partner" in "Tennessee's Partner." Here's a shot of Cowpoke from early in the movie, at the Miner's Cabin — also known as the Lone Ranger Cabin — which was located on the Upper Iverson. The stone foundation visible at the bottom of the photo is still in place at the site.

Foundation of the Miner's Cabin in recent years

This is what's left of Miner's Cabin today — the stone foundation and front steps. The two largest rocks toward the left of the photo are the same as the two big rocks at the bottom left of the Reagan photo at the cabin, above.

Stop reading here if you don't want to know what happens in the movie, as I have to reveal it to show what happened to Reagan's character and where it all went down. Cowpoke meets his demise toward the end of the movie, setting up the climactic chase and fistfight. He's gunned down in an underhanded way by a sniveling weasel named Turner, played by veteran character actor Anthony Caruso. Cowpoke dies heroically, stepping in front of a bullet from Turner, intended for Cowpoke's friend Tennessee.

The shooting takes place near Grubstake's Claim, which in reality is a shallow cave on the back side of a familiar sandstone giant known as the Phantom. That's the weaselous Turner holding Grubstake's sign as Turner tries to take over the claim. The back side of the Phantom is in the background.

Turner takes cover just inside the entrance to Grubstake's Claim — actually a shallow indentation in the rock and not the full-on mine or cave the filmmakers made it out to be.

The site of Grubstake's Claim in modern times

Here's a shot of Grubstake's Claim as it appears these days. You may be able to match up both the main "mine entrance" at the center of the photo and the small diagonal crack in the rock seen at the left. That smaller crack can also be seen in the screen shot above of Turner holding the sign. The site is a little less accessible today, with some foliage blocking the view.

This is the scene moments before Reagan's character, Cowpoke, takes the fatal bullet. That's Reagan in the light-blue shirt. He and his partner, Tennessee (John Payne, at the right), appear to have captured Turner — but they don't realize that the slippery villain is carrying a concealed handgun.

The sequence is filmed in what I call "location verite," meaning if someone runs off in a certain direction, the next shot really takes place in that direction, not somewhere else that may have been more convenient — or cheaper — to shoot. The characters are in approximately the same position in both of the above two shots — filmed first from the back and then from the front. If you go to the site today you can find all of the rocks in this sequence — although the huge tree in the above shot is not there.

Reagan's character is not aware he's about to die. As he and Tennessee are preoccupied with the sheriff, who came up behind them, Turner, at center, goes for his gun.

In this shot, Reagan has just taken the bullet. Turner's about to make his getaway and Tennessee, at the right, missed the whole thing because he had turned around to face the sheriff. Grubstake's Claim in the background pinpoints the spot.

Reagan's death scene — Cowpoke's last words to his friend Tennessee.
Here's where Cowpoke fell dead, in central Garden of the Gods.

In the movie, Turner makes a run for it ...

The getaway site as it appears today — Getaway Rock on the right

Here's that same spot during a recent visit, including the large boulder on the right, which I call Getaway Rock because of its role in this sequence. I walked the area with screen shots and was able to trace the path of the action and find where every shot was taken — thanks to the movie being shot in location verite.

Tennessee takes off after Turner, catches him, and they launch into an epic fistfight, all of which is captured in a series of lavish shots of rarely filmed rock features on the west side of Garden of the Gods. In the above scrape, Turner starts to get what's coming to him, being flung over a sharp-edged rock by an enraged Tennessee.

The sharp-edged rock today

Here's the same spot in recent times — still easy to get to and easy to find if you follow the action in the movie. Many of the same rocks can be seen in both of the above two shots. The movie shot was taken from a distance with a long lens, which accounts for the rock in the background (behind the dead tree in the movie shot) appearing closer in the movie than in the recent photo. That background rock is one of the highest in Garden of the Gods.

Here's another view of the fight scene today, from a reverse angle. The big rock that dominates this shot — a mighty distinctive critter — appears on the left in the previous shots. The "sharp-edged rock" appears here as the small, triangular one in the foreground, toward the left.

Below is a clip from "Tennessee's Partner" containing the climactic sequence — including most of the rocks mentioned above:

Location verite is a technique that was rarely used in the B-Westerns, where keeping costs to a minimum was the guiding principle. It's refreshing to find it here, and it's an indication the movie probably had a little bigger budget. It's a good technique from the standpoint of realism, and as a bonus it makes it easier to do location research.

Click here for a little more about the "Tennessee's Partner" shoot in a blog post mainly about the Judy Garland movie "The Harvey Girls," which was partially shot in the same area.

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