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, September 27, 2014

A few notes about the terrific Iverson Movie Ranch production "Army Girl," the Oscars, and legendary Iverson cinematographer Ernest Miller

The 1938 Republic movie "Army Girl," which shot the bulk of its outdoor action on the Iverson Movie Ranch, has a few claims to fame that I want to make sure readers of this blog know about. One of them is the Academy Award nomination it received for cinematography, shared by the two co-DPs on the movie, Harry J. Wild and the great Ernest Miller.

"Army Girl" received three Oscar nominations in all, including nods for best sound recording (Charles L. Lootens) and best original score (Victor Young). While the movie did not win in any of its three nominated categories, the nominations represented unusual recognition for Republic, which built its business model on making movies fast and cheap, not on winning awards.

I'm especially fond of this particular movie poster for "Army Girl," for an obvious reason. The old vertical-format poster — a film poster style known as an "insert" — includes a depiction of one of the most interesting Iverson features to make its way onto a movie poster. In the sort of sepia-tone section near the bottom of the insert we see Iverson's Western Sheep Flats Adobe Complex, in all its circa-1938 glory.

This complex of buildings has a long and intriguing history, albeit one that has been a challenge to document. I've blogged about it before, noting that the set originated with the shoot for John Ford's "Wee Willie Winkie," a Shirley Temple movie released in 1937. You can read more about this important Iverson set in this earlier blog post, and I am sure I will be writing about it again in the future.

"Army Girl" (1938)

Here's another view of the Western Sheep Flats Adobe Complex as it appears in "Army Girl," where it serves as the Cavalry installation "Fort Lawson." This is essentially the opening shot of the movie.

Another shot from "Army Girl" offers a nice look at a couple of the main buildings in the adobe fort complex. The buildings were left over from "Wee Willie Winkie," filmed the previous year, but were given a thorough makeover, including a new white stone finish. When these buildings appeared in "Wee Willie Winkie" they had a much different appearance, closer to a standard adobe look. (As seen in the photo below.)

Incidentally, the mini-Army tank seen in the foreground of the "Army Girl" shot above appears throughout the movie and plays a pivotal role in it. The film tackles the ambitious task of telling the story of the arrival of the mechanized Army, the clash between horse and machine, and how the emergence of the battle tank represented the beginning of the end for the venerable equestrian version of the Cavalry.

"Wee Willie Winkie" (1937) — Victor McLaglen and Shirley Temple

This shot from "Wee Willie Winkie" gives an idea of what those same buildings looked like one year earlier. Built specifically as the India outpost for "Wee Willie Winkie," much of the sprawling set remained in place for decades, surviving until Sheep Flats was sold to build a mobile home park in 1963. Please click here to see a detailed analysis of the transition of the set from "Winkie" in 1937 to "Army Girl" in 1938.

"Little Big Horn" (1951) — cinematography by Ernest Miller

"Army Girl" co-DP Ernest Miller is in my pantheon of the top Iverson cinematographers, not only because he may have shot more movies at Iverson than any other DP, but more important, because he seemed to genuinely "get it" as far as what was special about Iverson. Miller had an incredible eye for how to shoot the location ranch's rocks, trees and other features, and showcased them at times in ways that have never been equaled.

"The Devil's Apple Tree" (silent film, 1929) — Ernest Miller, DP (not an Iverson production)

A native of the Los Angeles area who was born in 1885, Miller got an early start in the movie business. He was in his mid-40s by the end of the silent film era and had already amassed a lengthy resume as a DP.

His long list of Iverson showpieces includes the standouts "Come On, Cowboys" (Three Mesquiteers, 1937), "Bordertown Trail" (Sunset Carson, 1944), "Bells of Rosarita" (Roy Rogers, 1945), "Ghost Town Renegades" (Lash LaRue, 1947), "The Bold Frontiersman" (Allan "Rocky" Lane, 1948), "Check Your Guns" (Eddie Dean, 1948), "Dead Man's Gold" (Lash LaRue, 1948), "The Hawk of Powder River" (Eddie Dean, 1948), "Outlaw Country" (Lash LaRue, 1949), "The Longhorn" (Wild Bill Elliott, 1951), "Oklahoma Justice" (Johnny Mack Brown, 1951), "Canyon Raiders" (Whip Wilson, 1951), "Kansas Territory" (Wild Bill Elliott, 1952), and the movie that may be Miller's greatest Iverson achievement, "Little Big Horn" (Lloyd Bridges, 1951).

You can read more about Ernest Miller in this earlier blog entry about him, which I've recently updated. The entry is part of my series on the great Iverson cinematographers.

If anyone reading this happens to have insights into Ernest Miller — maybe a relative has photos of the man, or knows details about his career or his life — I would love to hear from you. I haven't been able to find out much about him, other than his filmography and his great camera work at Iverson. Please comment here or send me an email at

Oscar-nominated "Army Girl" co-DP Harry J. Wild went on to his own notable achievements at Iverson, albeit on a much smaller scale than Ernest Miller. Outside of "Army Girl," Wild's best cinematography at Iverson, in my opinion, can be seen in another movie that found its way onto my list of Iverson Movie Ranch greats: the RKO B-Western "The Fargo Kid" (Tim Holt, 1940), which, unfortunately, seems to be a little bit hard to find.

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