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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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Introducing a new theory of Evolution

Remember when fish sprouted legs and climbed out of the water, setting up housekeeping on dry land? Of course not, and neither do I. No one does. It was a long time ago. But maybe you read about it.

Regardless of whether Darwin got it right, Darwin, too, was a long time ago, and as his critics like to point out, it's "only a theory." At any rate, here's a shot of Charlie out walking his fish.

Nowadays reality depends on one's point of view — and especially on whichever peculiar flavor of ideology ... science, religion, whimsy, whatever ... one has a stake in trying to protect. But on a recent foray into the celluloid fossil record left behind by ancient movie makers, I spotted a rock that reminded me so much of one of those walking fish, I started calling it "Evolution."

"Adventures of Captain Marvel" (1941)

Feast your eyes on Evolution, just above the center of the frame. This beauty turned up in the old Republic serial "Adventures of Captain Marvel," in a sequence set in the Upper Gorge on the old Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. Maybe you see it and maybe you don't, but what I see is a fairly literal depiction of Darwin's walking fish, formed out of solid rock.

This is the critter I'm talking about, pretty much staring at you — eyeball to eyeball. Don't blink. Or do — it might help.

"Evolution," as seen in "Adventures of Captain Marvel"

How about a zoomed-in version? I see gills, fins ... maybe even teeth — not to mention an almost fully formed leg. Of course, none of this proves a dagnabbed thing, as an old geezer might say in an old B-Western. So I would hope nobody feels threatened or offended or otherwise violated right about now. To me it's all just a part of the beauty and weirdness that is old movie rocks.

With that in mind, here's a breakdown of the environment in which we find Evolution, the movie rock. The above version of the "Captain Marvel" shot pinpoints a few of its neighbors and some additional features. I'll go into more detail about these features below. In the foreground is the plateau above Iverson Gorge, which today is filled with condos. The shot looks more or less toward the south — you might call it south by southwest — with Elders Peak some distance away, across Santa Susana Pass Road and above Chatsworth Park.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935)

The "Split Roof" feature is hard to see in the "Captain Marvel" shot, but it also turns up in other movies and TV shows. While the feature is part of the larger rock formation Evolution, it's worth identifying separately because it appears in shots where there's no way Evolution itself could be seen. Evolution is one of those rocks that has to be viewed from a precise angle or it doesn't work. In this shot, Split Roof is in the top left corner, immediately to the left of the tower.

Here's the same shot, pinpointing the location of Split Roof. The shot comes from Paramount's Oscar-winning war movie "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," which starred Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone. A major set was built in Iverson's Upper Gorge for the movie, part of which is seen in this shot.

A couple of other features of the Iverson Gorge are worth pointing out here too, as noted above. Wyatt Earp Rock was the subject of a recent post, which you can read by clicking here. Nyoka Cliff, seen in the background here, is one of the best-known of the Iverson Movie Ranch rock features, and has appeared many times in this blog. You can find it in the long index at the right of this page, or click here to see a compilation of posts about it.

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

The above shot from the "Wyatt Earp" TV show provides a better look at the Split Roof rock feature. The shot comes from the episode titled "One," which aired toward the end of season three, premiering April 15, 1958. Split Roof can be seen near the top of the frame, toward the right — directly above the head of the middle rider.

This version of the "Wyatt Earp" shot pinpoints Split Roof.

Split Roof in its contemporary setting

The Split Roof feature can still be found on the former Iverson Movie Ranch. That's it in the above shot from a 2014 visit to the site. The tree that appears near the center of the shot and partially blocks the view of Split Roof can also be seen in the "Wyatt Earp" shot above this one.

In this closer view of Split Roof, you can see that it's above and behind a couple of distinctive angular rocks.

Take another look at those angular rocks.

"Adventures of Captain Marvel" (1941) — Angular rocks noted

Those same angular rocks can be seen in the original "Adventures of Captain Marvel" screen shot. They're hidden in shadows here, but if you look closely you should be able to make them out. The angular rock on the left forms what might be called the "leg" of the walking fish, if you look at it that way.

The rock formation Evolution, now mostly hidden behind foliage

If you're playing along at home, you may have already put this together: If Split Roof is still in place, and Split Roof was a part of the larger rock feature Evolution ... and if the Angular Rocks are still in place, and one of them formed the "leg" of the movie rock Evolution ... then that means Evolution is still in place. And yes, it is, although you would never recognize it. That's it in the above photo. These days it's mostly hidden behind foliage — especially that same tree from the "Wyatt Earp" era. About all that can be seen of Evolution today is the Split Roof part of the rock — along with the Angular Rocks below it.

However, you can also make out two distinctive vertical cracks, which are also seen in the 1941 "Captain Marvel" screen shot. The camera angles make the recent shot of those vertical cracks appear closer to parallel than in the 1941 shot, but it's clearly the same two vertical cracks.

Here are those same vertical cracks as seen in the 1941 screen shot, where the camera position makes them appear as though they're oriented at an angle toward each other rather than close to parallel, as they appear in the recent shots. The crack on the left looks to me like the fish's "gill."

Cal West Townhomes — the Football appears in the background

As for the Football, Evolution's neighbor to the northeast, with its trademark grass insert, it's also alive and well — and much easier to find than Evolution. These days the Football is a part of the backdrop for the Cal West Townhomes condo complex.

This shot pinpoints the current location of the Football.

A closer look at the Football as it appears today shows that the grass insert can still be seen in all its detail.

This shot identifies the grass insert that remains a trademark of the movie rock the Football. The shot also points out another famous movie rock, Hole in the Wall.

"Zane Grey Theatre" (1956)

Here's a shot that includes the Football and the grass insert in the background, taken from an episode of the Western TV series "Zane Grey Theatre" called "Vengeance Canyon," which premiered Nov. 30, 1956 on CBS. That's a blurry Walter Brennan in the middle of the shot, punching some guy.

This version of the "Zane Grey" shot points out the key features. I like how the actors are blurry in the shot but the rock features remain relatively clear — almost as if the director told the camera guy, "Make sure that grass insert stays in focus."

"The Lone Ranger" TV show (1949)

The truth is the grass insert almost always WAS in focus, as another TV shot, this one from "The Lone Ranger," illustrates. The shot comes from the episode "War Horse," which aired early in the show's first season, premiering Oct. 20, 1949. The grass insert is a little harder to find in this shot, but it's there if you know where to look.

It helped that rocks — and patches of grass — don't move much, meaning they stood a better chance of remaining in focus — as long as the camera didn't move. From a research standpoint, it helps that rock features — and in particular, the ever-reliable grass insert — still look about the same many decades later.

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

Sometimes the grass insert is the only way to identify the location for a particular shot, as in the above example from an episode of the "Wyatt Earp" TV series called "Two," which first aired April 29, 1958 — part of the same series of shows as the episode "One," which is featured higher up in this post. In this shot the Football and the grass insert can be seen near the right edge of the frame.

Here's the same shot with the grass insert highlighted. This little patch of grass has been a reliable landmark throughout my Iverson Movie Ranch research.

Recent shot of the Football and the grass insert

This shot from recent years offers a good look at the movie rock the Football, along with its distinctive grass insert.

Another shot from a recent visit to Iverson offers a hint as to why Hole in the Wall has that name — and this shot also provides nice detail on the grass insert, seen in the foreground.

Here's that same recent shot with the Hole in the Wall and the grass insert identified.

"Oklahoma Justice" (1951)

This shot from the Monogram B-Western "Oklahoma Justice," starring Johnny Mack Brown, showcases a lost and lamented movie rock known as Overhang Rock, in the foreground at the right. But it also ties together many of the rock features we've been examining in this post — features that remain in place today at the site, including the Football, with its grass insert, Evolution, with its Split Roof, and the Angular Rocks below the Split Roof.

Here's the "Oklahoma Justice" shot with a number of the rock features identified. It's worth noting that while Overhang Rock was a casualty of the development of the Cal West Townhomes, all of the other features noted here — the Football, Evolution and the Angular Rocks — have survived and can still be found at the site today.

So will we ever again see a fish sprout legs and walk? How about this for a new theory of Evolution: If we could strip away that tree that's blocking the view, and if we could get a camera into just the right position, we might be able to re-create this weird view of a "walking fish" from 1941 ... but maybe it's something that's better left to our imaginations.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I especially enjoy seeing the wide shot photos with a perspective showing the current development and surrounding scenery. Keep up the good work.

Swami Nano said...

Thanks for the feedback. I'll keep your comment in mind and try to include more of the current scene in future posts. I think those of us who chronicle this stuff have a tendency to cut out the condos and other development because we like to picture the place as it once was. But the development is a part of the history, to be sure. I find it intriguing at Iverson to explore the dividing line between the old and the new, because that's where some of the best mysteries remain.