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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Saturday, July 5, 2014

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer": Major 1930s production made a lasting impression on the Iverson Ranch

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935) — Iverson Gorge

Paramount built a major set in the Iverson Movie Ranch's Upper Gorge for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," part of which can be seen in the screen shot above. The movie, starring Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone, filmed at Iverson in 1934 and had its New York premiere on Jan. 11, 1935. The movie is widely considered one of the most important of the early sound productions filmed on the movie ranch.

Here I've identified some of the Iverson rock features surrounding the "Mogala" set in "Bengal Lancer." I'll highlight these and others in more detail below, and you can click on the following links to see previous blog posts about Nyoka Cliff, Three Ages Rock and Wyatt Earp Rock.

Director Henry Hathaway

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, for Henry Hathaway. Two assistant directors, Clem Beauchamp and Paul Wing, both won Academy Awards for their work on the film.

Henry Hathaway and Marilyn Monroe on the set of "Niagara"

Even though Hathaway went on to direct acclaimed movies including "True Grit" with John Wayne, "Call Northside 777" with James Stewart and "Niagara" with Marilyn Monroe, "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" produced his only Oscar nomination.

When we are introduced to Mogala — the mountain fortress where the final battle will play out in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" — it is late in the movie and much of the preceding action has been filmed in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, Calif. Because of this, the producers of "Bengal Lancer" took steps to create the illusion that Mogala was set in Lone Pine.

Fake "Mogala" — matte painting, set in Lone Pine, Calif.

A fake version of Mogala, consisting of a matte painting, was placed against the backdrop of Lone Pine, with its rocky landscape in the foreground and the Eastern Sierra in the background. The tallest peak, near the center of the shot, is Lone Pine Peak, which is often mistakenly referred to as Mount Whitney. This version of Mogala never existed in the real world — it's the figment of an artist's imagination. But it does bear some resemblance to the real set for Mogala, built in the Iverson Gorge.

Mogala set, in Iverson's Upper Gorge, for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer"

The "real" Mogala, seen here, stood in Iverson's Upper Gorge and included two main towers, a main lookout canopy, an impressive gate (see below) and various minor structures, many of them built onto the revered and long-lost Iverson rock feature known as The Wall.

Here's the same shot with some of the key features noted. The Wall and Potato Rock, which sat atop The Wall, are incorporated into the Mogala set, while Garden of the Gods is seen in the background and Elders Peak is also part of the background, being located a short distance southwest of the Iverson Gorge.

The main gate into the fortress city of Mogala spanned the gap between Three Ages Rock, on the right, and Wyatt Earp Rock, on the left.

Here's the same screen shot with some of the features noted. "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" was one of the first productions to bring camels to the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Another view of Mogala's formidable entry gate — camels and all — provides a better look at Three Ages Rock, with the lookout canopy built onto it. Most of the rock features visible in this photo remain in place today.

This is the same shot, with a number of notations related to Three Ages Rock. The name "Three Ages Rock" comes from the 1923 Buster Keaton silent feature "Three Ages," which filmed heavily in the Gorge and in Garden of the Gods, including a key sequence using the rock we now call Three Ages Rock. The name refers to the full span of the rock, which is mostly still in place in the Gorge, but the name has also been used to refer specifically to the distinctive boulder that sits atop the rock feature.

This screen shot offers an even better look at the oval or rectangular boulder that is the defining feature of Three Ages Rock. To my eye it resembles one of those aerodynamic luggage carriers that can be affixed to the roof of a car — and I sometimes refer to the rock in my research as "the Luggage Carrier."

The camels get their closeup below Three Ages Rock in "Lives of a Bengal Lancer." Camels have appeared at Iverson on a number of occasions, including in the 1950s for the Bible series "The Old Testament Scriptures," and again in the waning days of Iverson's run as a movie location, for the 1986 release "The Tomb."

Inevitably, the gate to Mogala was breached, and when it was the camera pulled back enough to expose the rounded northern tip of Three Ages Rock, visible at the far right in this shot, about two-thirds of the way up. I call this part of the rock the D-Train, and you can find previous blog entries about it by looking it up in the long index at the right of this page, or read about the D-Train's appearance in a Tarzan movie by clicking here.

Much of the portion of Three Ages Rock I call the D-Train was destroyed to make way for condo development. You can read about the demise of the D-Train by clicking here.

The Iverson Gorge, as the fortress city of Mogala, played host to a large cast for the final battle sequence in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer."

Something that would be easy to miss in the movie is the presence of a small rock feature consisting of three main boulders. This rock arch lurks in the shadows for much of the movie. You can barely make it out in the shot above, just to the left of the tower. I call this feature "Lancer Arch," in honor of "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer."

Lancer Arch should not be confused with the larger and much more prominent feature Gorge Arch, which was located nearby.

A wider shot from "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" again has Lancer Arch hidden behind the tower, with other features of the Gorge also visible — including Nyoka Cliff in the background, Wyatt Earp Rock and Evolution.

Here's the same shot with Lancer Arch noted, along with other rock features. I recently blogged about the rock I call Evolution, and you can read that entry by clicking here. Another recent blog entry focuses on Wyatt Earp Rock.

Lancer Arch also turns up in other productions, with one of its most visible appearances captured in Roger Corman's cult film "The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent."

Here's another look at the "Viking Women" shot, with Lancer Arch and other features identified.

"One Foot in Hell" (1960)

Lancer Arch makes another appearance in the widescreen Alan Ladd Western "One Foot in Hell," from 20th Century Fox, which built a temporary set for the movie that included a small stable. In the above screen shot the arch can be seen at the left, partially blocked by the horse in the stable. The rock feature that dominates the center of the shot is Wyatt Earp Rock.

This version of the "One Foot in Hell" shot points out the juxtaposition of the Upper Gorge features Lancer Arch, Wyatt Earp Rock and Three Ages Rock. In the Mogala set for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," the gate to Mogala spanned the gap between Three Ages Rock and Wyatt Earp Rock, and would have been behind the rider in the above shot.

"Zane Grey Theatre" TV series (1959)

One more appearance by Lancer Arch takes place in an episode of the Western anthology TV series "Zane Grey Theatre." In the episode, "The Law and the Gun," which premiered June 4, 1959, a small water feature was created on the plateau above Iverson Gorge.

I've highlighted Lancer Arch and Wyatt Earp Rock here, but the feature that dominates the shot is that small manmade pond in the foreground. This plateau just above the Iverson Gorge is now occupied by the Cal West Townhomes — and both Lancer Arch and Wyatt Earp Rock were destroyed during construction of that project.

French lobby card for "The Real Glory" (1939)

"Bengal Lancer" director Henry Hathaway also directed a number of Westerns, especially early in his career, and worked frequently at Iverson. His Iverson movies include "Law of Vengeance" (1933) with Randolph Scott; "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" (1936), starring Fred MacMurray, Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda; and "The Real Glory" (1939), a war movie that again paired Hathaway with Gary Cooper.

The links below will take you to DVD versions of "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" on

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