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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• 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).
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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Upper Iverson's Cul de Sac area and the northern slope of Cactus Hill, as seen through the lens of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Ernest Miller in "Little Big Horn"

"Little Big Horn" (1951) — filmed by DP Ernest Miller

At the suggestion of blog reader Steven Dwyer, I recently revisited the astonishingly good Iverson movie "Little Big Horn." The movie is an embarrassment of riches for an Iverson researcher — it's not just that virtually the entire movie was shot on the location ranch, but, more important, that the movie was shot by Ernest Miller, one of the greatest Iverson cinematographers and a man with a keen eye for the drama and the rugged beauty that was the Iverson Movie Ranch. The above shot, using silhouettes of the Garden of the Gods rock towers, at right, as a framing device in combination with an angry sky, is a prime example.

The protagonists of "Little Big Horn" speed past what is now the Cul de Sac area on the Upper Iverson

The movie stars Lloyd Bridges and John Ireland, with Charles Marquis Warren directing for Lippert Pictures. But to my eye the film is above all a showcase for Miller. I've blogged previously about him, talking about how he used Iverson's rocks in ways that almost no one else did, consistently showcasing them as artistic elements. As I mentioned in a post not long ago, Miller was one of two DPs to receive an Academy Award nomination for cinematography for the movie "Army Girl," which he also filmed at Iverson.

This action sequence shot by Ernest Miller not only captures the drama of riders in full flight on one of the Upper Iverson's broad chase roads, but also depicts some key rocks in juxtaposition to each other in a way that is helpful to film location research. Even though the background rocks are located in the heavily filmed Cul de Sac area, this shot pinpoints the position of at least one of them, Shoe Fluffer, with a degree of certainty that is rare in shots of this area.

"Fury" TV series — "Joey and the Wolf Pack" (premiered Nov. 3, 1956)

This shot from the TV show "Fury" is one of surprisingly few other examples I've run across that give a good idea of the location of Shoe Fluffer — seen here filling up the foreground of the shot with Lobsterclaw in the background, at the right. Shoe Fluffer, so named because its shape is similar to those wooden devices that go inside of shoes to help them hold their shape, did not survive the development of the Upper Iverson, but its neighbor Lobsterclaw remains in place today — albeit on private property as part of someone's landscaping.

This is what Lobsterclaw looks like in its contemporary setting, in a planter next to a circular driveway. The rock fared better than its neighbor Shoe Fluffer, which would have been out in the middle of the street and therefore had to be removed.

"The Golden Stallion" (1949)

Here's another production where Shoe Fluffer and Lobsterclaw can be seen — in color this time — along with the twisted rock tower that dominates the rock formation I call the Cul de Sac Crew. The shot comes from the Roy Rogers B-Western "The Golden Stallion," from Republic Pictures.

In this version of the shot I've identified some of the main landmarks. All of the labeled features remain in place today with the exception of Shoe Fluffer. It's worth pointing out that while "Oat Mountain" is the formal name for much of the mountain ridge that appears in the background to the north of the Upper Iverson, in many cases the names I use for various Iverson features are either my own creation or adopted from common use among film location researchers. When it comes to rock naming in the Cul de Sac area, most of the terms I use have evolved from my own research and are simply used for convenience.

The Cul de Sac Crew in modern times

In its contemporary setting the Cul de Sac Crew has some modern annoyances in its environment such as a chain-link gate and a property marker, but it also has a cool oak tree up above, and a nice flowerbed below.

The Cul de Sac Crew today is located at the end of a residential cul de sac, which is how it got its name.

Another view of the Cul de Sac area from "Little Big Horn" adds perspective to how the various rocks were positioned. With Eagle Beak Rock towering over the scene at top center, we can again see Shoe Fluffer, to the left of the frame, along with a portion of another relatively frequently seen ground rock at right, which I call Nautilus.

Here's the same shot with the key players identified. While neither Shoe Fluffer nor Nautilus has survived, the rocks in the background, positioned a short distance up Cactus Hill, remain in place today.

Eagle Beak Rock as it appears today

Eagle Beak Rock today is part of the same residential landscape as Lobsterclaw, and is easy to spot at top center in this shot from 2011. Shoe Fluffer and Nautilus are no longer anywhere to be found, but you can see the tip of Lobsterclaw jutting into the frame near the bottom left corner.

A wider shot of the area from a visit later in the day reveals more of Lobsterclaw, near the center of the shot, along with the Cul de Sac Crew at the left, while Eagle Beak Rock oversees the setting from its elevated perch at top right. These heavily filmed movie rocks are all clustered around the same cul de sac on the former Upper Iverson.

Here's the same recent shot of the Cul de Sac area with the key rock features identified.

"Little Big Horn" — Cowbones

Moving to higher ground, this shot from "Little Big Horn" is taken just above the Cul de Sac area, along the northern slope of Cactus Hill. While the familiar and heavily filmed Turtle Rock lurks in the background, a far less commonly photographed, but I think equally interesting, rock can be seen filling much of the left half of the shot. This largely overlooked rock feature hovering above the South Rim reminds me of a bleached set of cow bones, and that's what I have been calling it: "Cowbones."

Here's the same shot with Cowbones identified, along with a couple of the key rock features seen in the background.

Cowbones as it appears today

I found Cowbones on a recent visit to Iverson. It's perched near the northern edge of Cactus Hill, above the South Rim of the Upper Iverson. The rock in the lower right corner can also be seen in the "Little Big Horn" shot. For readers who saw my recent entry about the Snakeskin Mine Shack, Cowbones is in the immediate vicinity of the shack location, just out of the picture in "Gun Belt" but just to the northeast of the shack.

There's plenty more to appreciate in "Little Big Horn," but I'll save the rest for upcoming posts. In the meantime, the links below will take you to DVD versions of "Little Big Horn" on Amazon, in case you're interested in obtaining a copy. The first one links to a two-movie DVD set that includes "Rimfire," which also contains a little Iverson footage.

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