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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• 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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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bigfoot Subdues Dracula: Pure whimsy ... or so I thought

"Thunder River Feud" (1942)

The image above, from Monogram's weirdly filmed, and not particularly well-preserved, Range Busters B-Western "Thunder River Feud," has haunted me since I first saw the movie back in 2008. It was one of the first movies in which I found features filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch, as my fascination with the filming location was just beginning to blossom.

In part because of the poor quality of my version of the movie, in part due to my inherently whimsical nature — and, I still want to believe, in part because of some degree of perverse intent on the part of the filmmakers — I found something in the shot that I couldn't help thinking looked like a large Bigfoot lying on top of something I thought bore some resemblance to Dracula. I began referring to the image as "Bigfoot Subdues Dracula."

In case there's any doubt as to what I thought I was seeing here — and why wouldn't there be — I've labeled the two "protagonists" of the formation in the shot above. The screen shot became, initially, a focus of failed attempts to figure out just what I was seeing, and subsequently, a symbol for the unfindable oddities that lurk in the backgrounds in any number of old movies. I came to accept long ago that Bigfoot Subdues Dracula would never be seen again, and it became a running joke both when sifting through old movies and on expeditions to Iverson, as I would remark about any remotely similar rock feature: "Look, there's Bigfoot Subdues Dracula ... ha ha!"

"Last of the Bad Men" (1957) (false lead)

It became apparent long ago that Bigfoot Subdues Dracula was unlikely to ever turn up in the real world, but I would occasionally see something in the movies that caused me to consider whether, by some miracle, I might be seeing the formation again. I went through a series of false leads, including the above shot from the Allied Artists Western "Last of the Bad Men," in which a potential Bigfoot, positioned with a similar "attitude" to the original, lurks meaningfully in the background. The sequence is shot at Iverson, as are the bulk of the movie's outdoor sequences. But as it turns out, it's not Bigfoot.

"The Great Alaskan Mystery" (1944) (again, NOT Bigfoot Subdues Dracula)

Another false lead, shown above, surfaced in the 1944 Universal serial "The Great Alaskan Mystery," starring Milburn Stone — who later became a TV icon playing Doc for 20 years on "Gunsmoke," and winning an Emmy in the process.

"Fighting Bill Fargo" (1942)

A clue surfaced a couple of years ago when I spotted the above formation in the Johnny Mack Brown B-Western "Fighting Bill Fargo." But by this time I was resigned to thinking of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula as nothing more than a trick of light — and an illusion that would never evolve into a "real" filming location sighting. As a result, I didn't give this sighting as much thought at the time as it may have deserved.

"Treasure of Ruby Hills" (1955)

Finally, it happened: The actual Bigfoot Subdues Dracula, no mistaking it this time, surfaced just within the past couple of weeks — six years after the original sighting in "Thunder River Feud," and looking remarkably similar to what I thought all this time was just an illusion. The formation turned up in this shot from the Allied Artists B-Western "Treasure of Ruby Hills," and while "Bigfoot" doesn't look nearly as "Bigfoot-y" here as it did in the original, far more grainy, "Thunder River Feud" shot, to my eye "Dracula" appears, if anything, even more Dracula-esque here than in the original.

The components of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula are highlighted in this version of the "Treasure of Ruby Hills" shot. And in another piece of big news to come out of this sighting, the approximate location for the rock feature is now known: Smooth Hill is recognizable in the background — it's the view of the hill from the northwest, from the general vicinity of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set.

"Two Guns and a Badge" (1954)

The above shot from Allied Artists' Wayne Morris B-Western "Two Guns and a Badge" is extremely low-res, but I'm including it because it provides a similar view of Smooth Hill to the shot above from "Treasure of Ruby Hills" — and also contains the main house from the Middle Iverson Ranch Set. My guess is that Bigfoot Subdues Dracula is concealed behind the house in this shot.

Here's a comparison of the two above shots, highlighting a large split rock that helps establish that it's the same hill in both shots.

"Bells of Rosarita" (1945)

Smooth Hill, on the left, looms again behind the Middle Iverson Ranch Set in this scene from the Roy Rogers movie "Bells of Rosarita," in which Gabby Hayes is famously trapped in the trunk of an out-of-control old coupe. The hill appears much less smooth here than it does in "Treasure of Ruby Hills," illustrating the point that rocks, hills and other features can take on a vastly different appearance when the camera position shifts slightly. Smooth Hill was usually filmed from a different direction entirely — from the south, including frequent appearances in the background of shots of Iverson Village, as seen below.

"Son of Paleface" (1952) — Smooth Hill from the other side

Smooth Hill, seen from its other side — generally its southern face — is widely recognized as the hill in the background of shots of Iverson Village looking toward the north, including the example above from Bob Hope's Western comedy "Son of Paleface." Iverson Village, also known as El Paso Street, appears in the movie a ghost town — in other words, tumbleweeds were brought in and a few windows were boarded up. The bodies lying around are a separate issue.

"Rocky Mountain Rangers" (1940)

Here's a nice view of Smooth Hill's southern side — looking characteristically smooth — from before Iverson Village was built, when Sheep Flats, the area seen in the foreground, was more wide-open. The shot comes from Republic's Three Mesquiteers B-Western "Rocky Mountain Rangers," which I have in my pantheon of the greatest Iverson productions. The Western town set was built about five years later, in 1945, but would have been off to the left, out of the frame from this particular angle.

Here's the same shot from "Rocky Mountain Rangers" with some of the features highlighted. For a change the background is clear enough to spot a number of the telephone poles that were beginning to proliferate in the area by 1940. In some productions, such as those set in the earlier stages of the American West, the poles would have been an anachronism. But filmmakers typically shot without much apparent concern for them, and most of the time the backgrounds were so fuzzy it didn't matter.

Smooth Hill was later leveled, and this townhouse/apartment structure was built on top of it. Also seen here is the 118 Freeway, which was built in the mid-1960s, effectively bringing a halt to filming on the Lower Iverson. In the foreground is the Topanga onramp heading east.

"Cheyenne Takes Over" (1947)

Back on the northern side of Smooth Hill, the story of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula continues to unfold. It turns out the rock was there all along in shots of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set, but it would have been pretty hard to find without knowing what we now know. You may or may not be able to pick it out in the above shot from the Lash LaRue movie "Cheyenne Takes Over," from PRC.

Here's the same screen shot, with Bigfoot Subdues Dracula pointed out. It's way in the background and really small, but once you know what the feature looks like, you should be able to tell that this is it.

"Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere" (1951)

A wider shot of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set again includes both Smooth Hill and Bigfoot Subdues Dracula, as noted below. The shot comes from Columbia's "Captain Video" serial, which starred Judd Holdren and Larry Stewart.

Here's the same shot, pointing out key elements — including the Chatsworth landmark Stoney Point in the distance. The shot also shows off the rarely seen back side of the Bunkhouse, part of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set.

"Treasure of Ruby Hills" (1955)

Back to "Treasure of Ruby Hills," and still another angle on Bigfoot Subdues Dracula. Not only does this shot display the impressive stretch of the full rock feature in all its glory, but it also includes the "Dracula" head popping out again, albeit slightly blurry.

"Treasure of Ruby Hills" also contains closeups of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula, such as this one showing mainly the "Bigfoot" portion. It's hard to tell from this angle (or any angle, really) how the "Dracula" image is formed. But presumably it's generated by the darker rocks near the bottom left corner.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958)

The formation figures prominently in the background of this shot of Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp in "The Bounty Killer," an episode of the "Wyatt Earp" TV show that first aired Sept. 30, 1958. "Dracula" can again be seen, but the figure transforms with each new angle. We may all be seeing something entirely different.

"The Roy Rogers Show" (1954)

This is what Bigfoot looks like from the other side — a lot like the first side. This shot comes from "Last of the Larrabee Kid," an episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" that premiered Oct. 17, 1954. In the background is the northeast face of the main house at Middle Iverson, which indicates we're looking more or less toward the west and viewing the southeastern face of the rock.

Recent shot of the Bigfoot area, now filled with condos

The story of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula does not have a happy ending. The rock formation was destroyed after the filming era wound down and that portion of the former Iverson Movie Ranch became a condo development. The photo above shows the spot where I believe Bigfoot once stood, looking toward the southeast.


Drifting Cowboy said...

Very interesting article Dennis, I need to spend more time reading you blog.

Happy trails,

Swami Nano said...

Thanks for the feedback, Jerry. I love how the place continues to find ways to surprise us.

Keep on rockin' ...