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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Adventures of the Three Stooges on the Iverson Movie Ranch, Part II: "Gold Raiders"



Welcome to the second post in the series "Adventures of the Three Stooges on the Iverson Movie Ranch." The Stooges' 1951 Western comedy feature "Gold Raiders" is one of my favorite Iverson movies. By that I mean it's a favorite from a location standpoint, showcasing the Iverson Movie Ranch in spectacular fashion. I'm not commenting on its quality as a movie, as my main focus when I've watched it has been on studying the backgrounds.

Please click here to see the previous post in this Three Stooges series, focused on the 1959 movie "Have Rocket, Will Travel." Part III, on "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," can be found by clicking here.

"Gold Raiders" has interesting backgrounds right from the title sequence, with the movie's title appearing against the backdrop of the South Rim of the Upper Iverson. You can see part of Turtle Rock in the top-left corner. However, the shot is flipped horizontally. That is, in the real world the background looks like this:

Even though the title appears backward here, this is the proper orientation of the rocks and other features in the background, including Turtle Rock, now seen at top right. Whatever reasons the producers had for flipping the shot, I believe the top of the rock feature was intentionally cut off because otherwise the rock would be too recognizable, making it hard to get away with showing it horizontally flipped.

Turtle Rock has survived, and this is what it looks like today. You may be able to match up some of the rocks in the above two shots, especially the distinctive oblong rock perched at an angle and the small round rock below it, which appear at the very top of the frame in the "Gold Raiders" title shot. (The oblong rock is only partially visible.) These days Turtle Rock is part of the Indian Falls Estates gated community just above the 118 Freeway at the top of Topanga. But in its heyday the feature appeared in countless movies and TV shows, especially B-Westerns, where it was repeatedly popping up in the backgrounds of chase sequences. More about Turtle Rock can be found by clicking here.

We're still in the opening credits, and things are getting even more interesting. Here the rock formation known as the Three Stooges can be seen at top left. The Three Stooges rock formation got its name independently of any involvement with the comedy team the Three Stooges, and the appearance of the rocks in this movie is pure coincidence — but I find it mildly satisfying that the Three Stooges rocks appear in a Three Stooges movie.

Detail shot of the Three Stooges from the above screen shot

From this angle the feature appears to consist of two main rocks, so why not the Two Stooges? Because that wouldn't be much of a cultural reference, but more to the point, the formation is in fact made up of three large rocks. The third one is hard to make out here because it's directly in front of (and smaller than) the wider rock that makes up the right half of the pair.

"Wild Horse Ambush" (Republic, 1952)

Here we get a better look at why it's THREE Stooges. This shot from the B-Western "Wild Horse Ambush" shows the Three Stooges rock formation from a different angle. That's Platypus filling up most of the left half of the frame, Fish Head to its right and the smaller, unnamed "Third Stooge" at far right.

Platypus and Fish Head have been featured in a number of previous posts, which can be found by clicking on the links in this sentence. I suppose the "Third Stooge" can be thought of as the Shemp/Curly/Joe Besser/Curly Joe DeRita slot in the lineup.

About a minute into "Gold Raiders" we see basically the same shot we saw in the title sequence, minus the opening credits and with cowboy star George O'Brien riding in. O'Brien shares the lead in the movie with the Three Stooges comedy team — and shares this shot with the Three Stooges rock formation, again at top left.

To give you an idea of where things stand today, this image comes from an Internet mapping site's bird's-eye view, and it shows what is apparently the Three Stooges rock formation, still intact, but now integrated into the backyard of an estate within the gated community that makes up most of the former Upper Iverson. Access is all but impossible these days, and this may be the best look the public can get at this group of once famous movie rocks. This view is from the north, while most of the movie views are from the south. In this view, Platypus is on the right with just a tip showing, Fish Head is the most visible rock, at left-center, and the "unnamed Stooge" is at far left.

A Google aerial view offers another look at the layout the Three Stooges rock formation now calls home. Seems like a nice spot, with a tennis court, swimming pool and palm trees. This view has the "normal" orientation, with Platypus on the left, Fish Head in the middle and the unnamed Stooge toward the right.

Detail shot of the Midway Rocks

Another point of interest in the opening credits shot above is the horizontal rock just above the word "Screen." It's the main rock in a small cluster I call the Midway Rocks, located roughly midway between the North and South Rims of the Upper Iverson.

"Shadows on the Sage" (1942)

The 1942 oatburner "Shadows on the Sage," in which Tom Tyler, Bob Steele and Jimmie Dodd play the Three Mesquiteers, offers another view of the Midway Rocks, at the right in the above screen shot, in the distance, with the large horizontal rock still dominating the formation. Also, here again the Three Stooges — the rocks — can be seen, just above the guy in the cowboy hat, partially obscured by foliage. Like the Three Stooges rock formation, whatever's left of the Midway Rocks is now found in the backyard of a residential estate.

"Manhunt of Mystery Island" (1945)

Directly above the Midway Rocks in the "Shadows on the Sage" shot is a small (dark) foothill with a pointed top. The above shot from the 1945 Republic serial "Manhunt of Mystery Island" shows this dark peak again, near top center, along with its "twin," to its right. The twin looks larger from this angle, but in reality these two distinctive peaks are similar in size and appearance. For that reason they've earned a mildly lewd nickname that I won't repeat here — but feel free to use your imagination. This shot is taken from a different angle from the others, but again shows the Three Stooges rock formation at top left — again looking more like Two Stooges. An interesting bonus here is that the shot provides an unusual view of the concrete bridge on the South Rim, visible in the foreground. The bridge had a tendency to blend into the background, and this is possibly the only view I've seen that reveals the unusual V-shape of the concrete wall forming the left (west) side of the bridge.

The bridge remains in place today, although it is highly deteriorated and difficult to find. As one might infer from the above photo of it in recent times, it has fallen into disuse and is buried under a fierce patch of wild bamboo. It's extremely hard to get a good look at these days. The above shot shows a portion of the eastern wall of the bridge.

Back to "Gold Raiders," here's a beautiful shot of Center Rock from the movie, as we move from the Upper Iverson to the Lower Iverson and Sheep Flats. Center Rock is still in place today, but as I've mentioned a few times on this blog, it's stuck in some kind of maintenance area in the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village, located on Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the Simi Valley Freeway (the 118).

This recent shot of Center Rock shows what some of its environment looks like today. Click here to see a post that goes into more detail about the fate of Center Rock, with additional movie shots of it.

This shot from "Gold Raiders" shows a rock that's still in place too at the mobile home park, although its glory days are clearly behind it. These days the rock can be found next to a garbage area by the swimming pool. The rock tends to have a variety of names depending on who you ask, but the one I'm using these days is Phineas, after Phineas Gage. Otherwise, it could be referred to as "The Rock Next to the Garbage Area by the Swimming Pool in the Mobile Home Park." Whatever you call it, this monstrosity showed up in a ton of old movies. I have also heard it referred to as Wacky Clam (I blame myself for letting that one get through) and Eyes Rock.

Phineas Gage, including his doctor's depiction of his injury, from 1868 (at left)

The Three Stooges weren't the only comedy team to make movies at Iverson. The above shot comes from the 1942 Abbott and Costello feature "Ride 'em Cowboy," a contemporary Western musical from Universal. This screen shot offers another look at Phineas. Its "three eyes" are among its most distinguishing features.

I can't come up with a modern shot of Phineas from any of the movie angles, but here's the rock from a much different angle. It's impossible to match up with the movie shots above, so you'll have to take my word for it, but it's the same rock. Phineas pretty much fills up the center of the shot, and the garbage area I talked about, which is not seen here, is behind that tree on the left. If nothing else, this shot illustrates how the area surrounding Phineas has filled up with modern junk like brick walls, concrete steps, metal railings, picnic tables and lounge chairs.

For a moment the action shifts back from the Lower Iverson, and the site of what is now the mobile home park, to the Upper Iverson, now the site of a gated community of sprawling residential estates. In "Gold Raiders" the Three Stooges are running something called Three Aces Variety Emporium, and in this shot their wagon travels past a South Rim rock feature known as the Frankenstein Group.

Another shot of Frankenstein and his group, this one is found in the 1949 movie "Golden Stallion." The name Frankenstein comes from the rock's high "forehead."

Here's a look at Frankenstein as it appears today, from a trip to the Upper Iverson a few years ago. Click here to see an earlier entry about Frankenstein.

Iverson Village is featured prominently in "Gold Raiders." The above overview from the movie looks toward the north (by northeast), with the ridge all the way in the back of the shot formed by Oat Mountain. Immediately behind the town is Smooth Hill, with its rounded peak occupying much of the left half of the photo. To the right of Smooth Hill we can see the tip of Notch Hill, but the notch that gives it its name is not visible from this angle. Notch Hill is more commonly seen in shots of the Upper Iverson, but here it is viewed from the Lower Iverson. Is it just me, or is "Harry Temple Livery," seen in the sign at the right of the shot, a playful reference to Moe's haircut?

You may have already spotted a sign in town for the IOOF lodge — visible in the overview and again in the above shot of the lodge itself. That sign appeared in multiple movies shot at Iverson, but it seems especially appropriate to a Three Stooges movie, as the full name of the lodge is the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Incidentally, some of the buildings in town are just fronts, and in the above shot you can tell by looking through the windows at the top, which expose a portion of the open back of the building.

The reference to a Western town prominently featuring an IOOF lodge is historically accurate, as the Odd Fellows Lodge was the country's largest fraternal organization during the period known as the "Golden Age of Fraternalism," roughly 1860-1910 — a span that includes much of the settling of the American West. It was typical of towns in the West during that period to have a branch of the IOOF lodge right in the center of town. Another movie that features the same IOOF sign in Iverson Village is "The Longhorn," a Bill Elliott B-Western from Monogram, released the same year as "Gold Raiders."

Gold Raiders Rock

Here's an interesting rock that's still in place on the old Upper Iverson. The rock — the one the shooters are hiding behind, at the left of the screen shot — took on the name Gold Raiders Rock because of this appearance in "Gold Raiders." The rock is manmade, in a way, with the smaller boulder at the top having been cemented in place. In earlier productions the same rock can be found without the smaller rock on top, as seen below. "Gold Raiders," in 1951, was one of the first appearances of the rock with its new top in place.

This is what the same rock looked like just one year earlier, in the 1950 movie "Calamity Jane and the Texan" — before the rock had the smaller rock placed on top of it. Gold Raiders Rock — before it became Gold Raiders Rock — is the prominent rock near the bottom-right corner, partially blocking the view of one of the horses. None of these angles are going to match up perfectly, but you may notice that the low rocks all the way in the bottom-right corner are the same ones seen in the photo above this one, filling up the bottom third of the shot.

Another view of Gold Raiders Rock before it was "prosthetically enhanced," this one is also from a 1950 movie, "Frisco Tornado," a Republic B-Western starring Allan "Rocky" Lane. This view shows the eastern side of the rock.

Here's Gold Raiders Rock in modern times. You may be able to see the cement holding the top rock in place — especially if you click on the photo to enlarge it. A number of these cemented rock "toppers" began appearing at Iverson around the same time, circa 1950-1951. I'm always curious why a certain rock was cemented on top of another rock at a certain point in time, but in general, we don't get clear-cut answers to those kinds of questions. I do know that around that same time the movie ranch was transitioning from being mainly focused on films to hosting mainly TV productions, and it may be that the Iverson family decided to "freshen up" some of the landmarks to help give the place a new look and encourage new business. After all, many of these rocks had already appeared in hundreds of productions, and the risk of overexposure was a legitimate concern.

In this view of Gold Raiders Rock in recent times, the low rocks seen in a couple of the shots above can again be seen, filling up the foreground. For more about Gold Raiders Rock, click here to see the rock in a "Bonanza" episode, and here to see it in the TV show "Adventures of Superman."

Here's the link again to Part I of this series of blog entries on the Three Stooges, focused on their 1959 movie "Have Rocket, Will Travel." And here's a link to Part III, on "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules."

If you're interested in tracking down a copy of "Gold Raiders," please try the Amazon links below.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Adventures of the Three Stooges on the Iverson Movie Ranch, Part I: "Have Rocket, Will Travel"

This is the first installment in a three-part series on Three Stooges feature films shot at Iverson, with part one focusing on the 1959 outer space romp "Have Rocket, Will Travel."

The movie is one of several productions in which the Stooges wind up in outer space, including the 1957 short "Outer Space Jitters" and the 1962 feature "The Three Stooges in Orbit." "Have Rocket, Will Travel" is billed as their first feature-length film, even though they previously appeared in the 1951 Western comedy "Gold Raiders," in which they shared the bill with cowboy star George O'Brien. And an earlier lineup of the Stooges headlined the 1945 Western musical "Rockin' in the Rockies."

"Gold Raiders" was also shot at Iverson, and is the focus of part two of my series. Part III wraps up this round of Stooges posts with an entry on the 1962 feature "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," in which the Stooges turn the Iverson Movie Ranch into ancient Greece.

Here's the cover of a 45 released in 1959 in connection with the movie, with the Three Stooges singing — yes, singing — the title song, "Have Rocket, Will Travel." I wouldn't advise anyone to go out of your way to find it. This period for the Stooges isn't generally considered to be representative of their best work, and the fact that they sang didn't help matters one bit. At any rate, for whatever it's worth, their rendition of the song also appears in the movie.

In the movie, things only get good — if "good" is the right word — once the Stooges land on Venus, with the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., playing Venus. The above shot is the first time we see Iverson, with the Stooges' rocket having landed in Iverson's Upper Gorge. Credit this shot to special effects, as I don't think the filmmakers hauled an actual 60-foot-plus rocket out to Iverson. Most of the rocks seen in the right half of the shot remain in place today, although they're now surrounded by the Cal West Townhomes.

In this shot the Stooges, in retro space suits, have begun to "deplane" on Venus. The action takes place in the same location as the previous shot, and includes a closer look at the rock all the way at the right of that shot, which is part of the Devil's Doorway cluster and can be found today amid the condos. I call this rock Devil's Doorway Wall, and have featured it in earlier posts that can be seen if you click here. If you'd like to really zero in on this rock, including what it looks like today, check out this blog entry. The above shot looks toward the west, and shows the Rocky Peak area of the Santa Susana Mountains in the background. The shot also offers a glimpse of Rock Island, the smooth rocks in the bottom third of the photo, near the center — just to the right of the boot of the Stooge on the ladder.

While we're on the subject of Rock Island, here it is in the 1941 Errol Flynn feature "They Died With Their Boots On." This shot again looks toward the west, with the Rocky Peak area again seen in the background — pretty much the same direction as the previous photo, but from a higher angle. This angle reveals more of Rock Island, including the scale — with a battalion of mounted soldiers riding below it. Today Rock Island is almost entirely buried under asphalt in the swimming pool area off Redmesa Road in the Cal West development.

This shot strikes me as kind of sad, from a movie history standpoint, but this is what's left of Rock Island today, at least above ground. The bulk of it was buried when developers graded the Iverson Gorge to put in condos in the late 1980s, and will probably never be seen again — at least not by humans.

Another shot of Rock Island as it exists today — you could call it Rock Island Prison. This photo includes one of the surviving towers, visible behind the foliage in the top left portion of the photo. The fence contains the Cal West Townhomes swimming pool area. You can click here to see some additional blog posts on Rock Island.

Back to the movie. In case you're wondering how the Three Stooges ended up on a rocket ship to Venus, I can't blame you, but then again, should we care? The Three Stooges always had a knack for ending up anywhere, whether it was ancient Greece, the Old West or outer space. Wherever they went, the focus was on causing mayhem, and how they got there was never important. I think in this case they may have been sent in to clean up the rocket and then accidentally fired the thing, but I can't swear to it.

A giant tarantula menaces the Stooges while they're on Venus, and is representative of the caliber of special effects used in the movie — in fact, this may be the money shot. The sequence jumps around among various locations on the Lower Iverson, with the above shot taking place in the Sheep Flats area, now the site of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. In the background is Iverson's Eucalyptus Grove, usually called simply the Grove.

Another shot of the tarantula shows Church Rock in the background, just above the spider's abdomen, if I'm remembering my bug anatomy correctly. Church Rock remains in place today, as do most of the Grove area rocks seen in the first spider shot, along with a significant clump of eucalyptus trees. But it's all on private property and hard to access. By the way, this giant tarantula shoots out fire, which you can see in the video clip at the bottom of this post.

At one point as the Stooges are fleeing the big spider, a stuntman, er, Stooge, finds himself on top of a legendary Iverson rock feature known as The Wall. The smaller rock at the right, sticking over the edge of The Wall, is Potato Rock. One reason The Wall is legendary is because it didn't make it — it was a casualty of condo development, and no longer exists.

After being chased for a while by the tarantula, the Stooges encounter a "unicorn" at Sheep Flats. This shot includes the rarely seen Iverson Pond, a water formation that I believe only turned up after a good rain. The big rock to the right of the Stooges is one I call Pond Rock, which has also been called Stacked Rocks.

Another shot from the unicorn sequence provides a better look at Iverson Pond and another view of Pond Rock, along with a number of the rocks surrounding Sheep Flats. Many of those background rocks remain in place today and provide ambiance for the mobile home village, although Pond Rock was removed to make way for mobile homes. I assume the developers also took steps to alleviate the regular flooding that created Iverson Pond.

Iverson Pond also shows up — in color this time — in a 1963 episode of the TV Western "The Virginian," and here again, Pond Rock is featured prominently, appearing toward the left in the above screen shot. The episode, "Strangers at Sundown," makes what is probably the most dramatic use of Iverson Pond that I've seen, including making the water feature appear larger than it really was.


The Iverson Western street, as seen in "Calamity Jane and the Texan" (1950)

From 1945 to 1957 this same area was the site of Iverson's widely filmed Western town, sometimes called Iverson Village or El Paso Street. Here it's seen in its glory days in a shot from "Calamity Jane and the Texan" focused mainly on the General Store. When the town was in place, Pond Rock was a part of the town, located right next to the General Store. So the Stooges scene at Iverson Pond would not have been possible two years earlier.

This is the same shot from "Calamity Jane and the Texan" (also known as "The Texan Meets Calamity Jane"), with Pond Rock highlighted. Once you know where it is, you almost can't help but see it in shots of the town.

During the period when Iverson Village was in place, the body of water that would later become Iverson Pond was nothing more than a flooded version of the town, as seen above in an episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" called "Ghost Town Gold," which first aired May 25, 1952.

By 1952 the Western town was starting to be pretty rundown, which really shows up in this shot from "Ghost Town Gold." The story goes that when they showed up to shoot this episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" at Iverson Village they found the place flooded — and they just wrote the flooding into the script.

Another shot from "Ghost Town Gold" shows Pat Brady and Bullet, Roy's German shepherd, driving through the flooded street in Nellybelle, Pat's Jeep. Pond Rock can be seen above and to the right of Pat's head, partially in shadow. Some of these same shots, along with a number of other ones, also appear in a blog entry I did a while back about the flooded and deteriorated town, which you can see by clicking here.

Iverson Pond and Pond Rock would surface again in "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," filmed three years after "Have Rocket, Will Travel." I'll get into that more in the upcoming post on that movie.

The Stooges at the time of "Have Rocket, Will Travel" consisted of the two perennials, Larry Fine and Moe Howard, along with Curly Joe DeRita, who was the fourth guy to take that rotating No. 3 spot — following Shemp Howard, Curly Howard and Joe Besser.

This is another pretty cool shot from "Have Rocket, Will Travel," with the Stooges tromping around the area above Nyoka Cliff. A number of Iverson's classic movie rocks can be seen here, including a portion of Hangdog at the right (in front of Larry) and Sticky Bun at the top (between Moe and Curly Joe). 



Here's an unusual clip in which director John Landis — who has nothing to do with this movie, as far as I can tell — provides a commentary on the trailer for "Have Rocket, Will Travel." Landis is known for directing "Animal House," "American Werewolf in London," "The Blues Brothers," "Beverly Hills Cop III" and a number of other popular movies. His commentary on the Stooges trailer is suspect at times — I find it hard to believe his explanation of how the spider shoots fire, for one thing — and at other times is flat-out wrong. He erroneously declares that the unicorn sequence is filmed in Agoura, Calif., for example, when it is unmistakably shot at Iverson, in Chatsworth. But at least he finds it worth mentioning locations, and his misinformation is a reminder of how misunderstood Iverson's legacy is and why it's important for those of us who care to keep trying to set the record straight. Anyway, the trailer and the commentary are worth a couple of minutes.

Again, you can find Part II of this series, on the Three Stooges movie "Gold Raiders," by clicking here, and Part III, on "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," by clicking here. And if you want to track down the movie, please try the Amazon links below. Enjoy!