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.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• 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.
• To join the MAILING LIST, send me an email at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com and let me know you'd like to sign up.
• 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.
• Readers can email the webmaster at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A ton of fun with a gun: Frontier lawman Wyatt Earp hauls a state-of-the-art weapon of war all over the Lower Iverson

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

Hugh O'Brian appeared as Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp for six seasons on the ABC series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," from 1955-1961. Early in season four, he got a chance to play with a Gatling gun — the closest thing they had to the "nuclear option" back in the Old West days — during what I'm sure was a memorable shoot on the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Apparently the bone-jarring weapon raised such a ruckus that even a he-man like the legendary Wyatt Earp had to close his eyes when he was mowing people down with it. Still, O'Brian — or should I say Earp — seemed to have a ton of fun with the gun. But best of all, he got to show it off with a series of Lower Iverson landmarks in the background. These first two shots, which appear toward the end of the episode, are taken just off the Garden of the Gods Trail.

The episode, appropriately titled "The Gatling Gun," premiered Oct. 21, 1958, and was shot mainly in or near the Iverson Gorge. When the gun first surfaces, it's hidden in Zorro's Cave, where it's being stored on a wagon and kept under a tarp by a group of Native Americans. In a common theme for the "Wyatt Earp" TV series, the Indians in this episode are more reasonable than the white settlers or the U.S. military, and even though a group of Native warriors originally stole the Gatling gun from the Cavalry, Earp is able to talk them into giving it back.

As the wraps come off, Wyatt and his odd alliance of Native American pacifists look on. The shot includes a portion of a distinctive diagonal rock found at the back entrance to Zorro's Cave, seen here in the top left corner of the frame.

This shot points out the diagonal rock, along with the direction to nearby Zorro's Cave. The diagonal rock can also be seen with a Ray Harryhausen monster next to it in this earlier blog post — scroll down to the 10th and 11th photos in the entry (but feel free to read the rest of it too, especially if you like monsters).

A wider shot of the area includes Heroes Tower at top center, along with more of that diagonal rock behind Zorro's Cave. With Earp are Chief Joseph, left, played by Richard Garland, and Earp's Indian adviser Mr. Cousin, right, played by Rico Alaniz.

This annotated version of the shot pinpoints Heroes Tower and the distinctive diagonal rock. I came up with the name Heroes Tower after I first discovered this area in 2008 while a shoot for the NBC series "Heroes" was under way.

Here's a photo of the same area from 2008, taken during the period when "Heroes" was taping, with Heroes Tower painted up for the occasion. The videographer in the photo is standing on that same diagonal rock behind Zorro's Cave. You can click here to read more about the "Heroes" shoot in the Ray Harryhausen post mentioned above.

And what a fine killing machine it is. The actor playing the Indian in this shot from "The Gatling Gun" is uncredited. In the background is Zorro's Cave.

The old-fashioned machine gun next surfaces near Overhang Rock, where Mr. Gatling's pride and joy gets a chance to show off its firepower. In this shot Mr. Cousin gets a crack at it while Wyatt observes and theoretically provides backup. That's Overhang Rock at the top left with a guy on top of it.

The view from the business end offers another look at Overhang Rock, on the right this time. Overhang Rock no longer exists, having become one of the casualties of condo development in the Upper Gorge in the late 1980s. But a number of its neighboring rocks, which also appear in the episode, did survive, as I will point out below.

As the camera pulls back — and the smoke clears — we get another look at Overhang Rock on the right (it should be clear how it got that name), along with some of its neighbors. One of those neighbors, the round boulder in the top left corner, is Cagney Rock — named after James Cagney.

This version of the shot identifies both Cagney Rock and Overhang Rock. While Overhang Rock was destroyed by development, Cagney Rock has survived and can still be found among the condos along Redmesa Road.

"The Oklahoma Kid" (1939)

Cagney Rock got that name largely because of this famous promotional still featuring Jimmy Cagney in front of the rock. Cagney rarely did Westerns, but when he did "The Oklahoma Kid" for Warner Bros., he shot it at the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Here's the same promo still with the key players identified. I go into detail about Cagney Rock and Overhang Rock — including photos of Cagney Rock as it appears today — in this blog post from earlier this year.

Here's an interesting shot that takes place just after the Gatling gun leaves the Overhang Rock/Cagney Rock area. It would be easy to miss, but Iverson's famous Saddlehorn Rock can be seen in the background. I've highlighted it in the next shot.

This is the same shot with Saddlehorn Rock pointed out.

Here's Saddlehorn Rock as it appears today, up close — although not from exactly the same angle. It has survived, and now lives among the condos on the west side of Redmesa Road.

The Gatling gun moves past the Three Kings, in the top left corner, a group that includes, left to right, the Pharaoh, an unnamed rock that could be referred to as "King 2," and Tower Rock. Also visible is a portion of the Sphinx, but it is NOT one of the Three Kings.

This labeled version of the previous photo differentiates the Three Kings from the Sphinx. The road seen here, Garden of the Gods Trail, is still in place as a foot trail, and is the main entrance route into Garden of the Gods Park.

"Zane Grey Theatre" (1958): "The Freighter"

This shot from a 1958 episode of the Western anthology TV series "Zane Grey Theatre" offers a relatively common view of the Three Kings, shot from the eastern side of the Gorge with the camera facing generally toward the west. The episode, "The Freighter," first aired on Jan. 17, 1958, and would have been filmed in 1957.

This version of the "Zane Grey" shot identifies the Three Kings, along with an often filmed background hill farther west, which I call Boat Hill.

This view of Garden of the Gods from the eastern side of the Gorge includes the Three Kings as they appear today.

Here's the same recent shot with a number of features noted, including the Three Kings and Boat Hill.

A closer view of the Three Kings from a recent visit gives a better idea of what these imposing rock figures look like today.

In this shot I've identified each of the Three Kings. I've mentioned the Pharaoh before, in a post you can find by clicking here. Tower Rock, besides being one of the Three Kings, is a famous rock in its own right, often seen paired with the Sphinx. For more about Tower Rock, which has also been called Indian Head, please click here.

"The Gatling Gun": This scene takes place in the Arena

In the "Wyatt Earp" episode the gun continues down Garden of the Gods Trail, where Wyatt takes it over and there ensues a massive confrontation with substantial bloodshed. Suffice to say the guys who get mowed down are mostly not nice people. But more important, the rocks: Those seen during this sequence are located in an area off to the side of Garden of the Gods Trail that was rarely filmed, which I call the Arena.

The same part of the Arena as it appears today

The Arena remains intact today, and is seen here on a visit to the site a couple of months ago. You may be able to match up the rocks in the above two photos. The rock at the center of this shot is the same rock that fills the top left corner in the "Wyatt Earp" shot above this one. The well-lit rock in the foreground in the recent shot is also partially visible in the "Wyatt Earp" shot, through the spokes of the Gatling gun's wheels.

This comparison of the two shots — the "Wyatt Earp" shot from 1958 on the left, and the recent shot from a site visit on the right — should help you match up the rocks of the Arena as they appear in the two shots.

Is this not a Wonderland of Rock? The episode makes great use of the Iverson Gorge's rocky terrain.

Here's another unusual shot from the climactic sequence in "The Gatling Gun." How great is this episode? Some readers will probably recognize Doglips at top right.

"The Gatling Gun" — the rock is Bald Knob

The episode also pays a meaningful visit to Bald Knob, the rock featured prominently in the center of the shot above. I talked about this "Battle of Bald Knob" sequence — and about some of Bald Knob's other screen appearances — in a recent post, which you can read by clicking here. A follow-up post, about whether Bald Knob is real or fake, can be found here.

I would be negligent if I didn't point out a hidden delight in the above photo of Bald Knob: Parts of the vegetation along the left edge of the frame are unusually intriguing, especially the top half. If you're the type who sees faces, I recommend you look there for some.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Buster Keaton's "armory" in the towers of Rock Island

Buster Keaton's 1923 silent comedy "Three Ages" is one of the earliest known feature films to shoot extensively on the Iverson Movie Ranch, with virtually all of the footage for the movie's caveman sequences — about one-third of the movie — filmed on the Lower Iverson.

The bulk of the Iverson shoot for "Three Ages" is well-documented, thanks mainly to John Bengtson's indispensible film location book "Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton." Readers will find a link to the book at the bottom of this post.

"Three Ages" (1923) — high atop Rock Island

I recently began examining a scene in "Three Ages" that I haven't seen discussed anywhere else. The above shot features what I call an "armory," consisting of a pile of rocks ready to be thrown, that Buster Keaton's caveman character has stashed in a high rock perch. I was able to determine where this is because of the distinctive shape of the rock tower in the top right corner.

"Stagecoach" (1939)

The location for Buster's tower armory can be seen in this shot from the John Ford Western "Stagecoach." Rock Island is is the dominant rock feature in the foreground, consisting from this angle mainly of three large boulders.

Here's the "Stagecoach" screen shot again, with Rock Island identified. The site for Buster's armory is at the top of the boulder on the left among the three in the foreground. The distinctive tower, which appears here as though it is on top of the middle boulder, is in reality positioned atop a boulder located a short distance behind the front three.

This version of the shot of the armory in "Three Ages" points out the tower — the same one seen in the "Stagecoach" shot. Although this tower appears to be adjacent to the armory, it's in reality part of a separate tower positioned some distance to the west.

Another version of the "Stagecoach" shot highlights the portion of the tower near the top of Rock Island that looms prominently behind Buster Keaton's "armory" in the "Three Ages" rock-throwing sequence.

Buster and the object of his affection, played by Margaret Leahy, appear at the top of Rock Island, in the "armory." The wall Buster is leaning on would have been constructed specifically for the movie. It resembles concrete, but it's likely that a lighter material was used — especially given the logistics of building a set high above the ground, on top of a round boulder, while also trying not to damage the boulder.

"They Died With Their Boots On" (1941)

This shot from the Errol Flynn movie "They Died With Their Boots On" gives a sense of the massive scale of Rock Island, with a detachment of mounted Cavalrymen dwarfed by the formation as they ride below it.

Here's the same shot from "They Died With Their Boots On" with Rock Island highlighted.

In this version of the shot from "They Died With Their Boots On" the location of Buster's armory in "Three Ages" is identified. Note how high above the Cavalry detachment the armory would be positioned.

In "Three Ages" a battle inevitably breaks out, and the fake movie rocks fly.

The movie provides just one alternate angle on the armory, shown here. As in the other shots, the camera is aimed roughly toward the west. Buster appears at top right in the armory, engaged in a spirited rock fight with the cavemen below. This angle is the "smoking gun" that locks in the exact position of the armory.

The shot leaves no doubt that the armory is built right on top of the boulder located at the southeast corner of Rock Island — a rock I've blogged about before, which I call Eraserhead. Please click here to read more about Eraserhead and Rock Island. Also, I have since done a more exhaustive examination of Rock Island, which you can find here.

The shot also provides one of the best views I've seen of a rarely filmed area just west of Rock Island that includes the back of Batman Rock. I call this area Batman Corner.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1960): "The Fatalist"

A view of Rock Island that again features the site of the armory can be found in "The Fatalist," the first episode of season four of the TV Western "Have Gun — Will Travel." The episode premiered Sept. 10, 1960, on CBS. One of the most interesting details in this shot is hiding in the background, above Rock Island.

A portion of Saddlehorn Relay Station is visible in the background, as pointed out in this shot.

This photo identifies a group of trees near Saddlehorn Relay Station, which may be the same trees seen at a much earlier stage in 1923, in "Three Ages."

Here's another look at the armory from 1923, along with what appears to be a line of recently planted trees. I have a feeling these trees grew up to be the same ones later seen near Saddlehorn Relay Station, as noted above.

Below you will find links to John Bengtson's incredible film location books on silent movie stars Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. The Keaton book is pertinent to Iverson, where Keaton filmed parts of his feature "Three Ages" as well as the silent shorts "The Balloonatic" and "The Paleface." But all three books contain rock-solid location research and are strongly recommended:



Here are some links to the productions mentioned in this post: