Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Imaginary Cities of the Movies: Oak Park (Off the Beaten Path)

"Escort West" (1959) — Victor Mature in Oak Park 

Here's a shot of Victor Mature with the Simi Ridge in the background — the bluffs above Lindero Canyon in Oak Park, Calif. The shot comes from the MGM-UA Western "Escort West," released in early 1959 but filmed in 1958 and sometimes cited as a 1958 release.

This is the same location, again from "Escort West," minus Victor Mature. We're looking at a part of Lindero Canyon that was known back in the filming era as North Ranch. The area has since been built out and is now a sprawling patchwork of upscale suburban neighborhoods.

Here's the same rocky bluff of the Simi Ridge, photographed on a recent visit to the site. Even though the photo captures what appears in this shot to be a wooded area, the bluff is now surrounded mostly by houses.

An annotated version of the "Escort West" shot highlights the part of the Simi Ridge captured in the recent shot.

The bluffs and other background features that once defined Oak Park as a filming location now define the back yards of suburban homes.

"Firecreek" (1968) — promotional still

The Lindero Canyon area of Oak Park hosted a number of manmade movie sets during its filming days, especially in the late 1960s. In this promo still for the James Stewart-Henry Fonda movie "Firecreek," the same ridge seen behind the suburban house in the previous photo is seen again, this time with a small Western set below it. The promo still comes from the collection of Western movie location expert Jerry England.

I've circled a part of the ridge in the background that is recognizable in the recent "suburban" shot, which appears again below with the same area marked. You may also be able to make out a cemetery in the background, just to the left of the building. (You can click on the photo to enlarge it, if needed.)

Here's the shot of the suburban Oak Park home again, with the same section of ridge highlighted that's seen in the "Firecreek" promo shot. All of the photos you're seeing are taken in Oak Park's Lindero Canyon.

"Firecreek" (1968)

A widescreen shot from the movie reveals more of the town set that was in place in Lindero Canyon in the 1960s during filming of "Firecreek." The movie's first release date was Jan. 24, 1968, and filming would have taken place during 1967.

The "twin peaks" of suburban Oak Park, as seen above on the same recent visit to the area, were featured in the movies too. Among the many productions in which these peaks can be found, they appear in "Escort West" — including in a video clip posted below — and in the TV series "The Big Valley."

"The Big Valley" (1967)

The twin peaks above Lindero Canyon can be seen near the center of the frame in this screen shot from the TV series "The Big Valley." The photo comes from the episode "Wagonload of Dreams," which was shot in 1966 and premiered Jan. 2, 1967.

Below is a video of a key scene in "Escort West" shot in Lindero Canyon, below the Simi Ridge ...

I have to admit I've been looking at these photos and clips of Lindero Canyon pretty intently — maybe TOO intently, because after a while my imagination got the better of me and I began thinking something else might be going on in the screen shots from "Escort West." Let me share with you my flight of fantasy ...

A close examination of the screen shot reveals plenty of material for mind games. The dotted rectangles in this version of the photo contain features that bear some resemblance to manmade structures. And as we've seen, Lindero Canyon did contain a few movie sets during the filming era — including a small Western town.

Specifically, the red rectangle contains what looks to me like a relay station, while the wide yellow rectangle evokes a Western town. Who knows what that might be in the blue area, but I thought it was worth noting. On the other hand, these vague apparitions could be interpreted as mystical foretellings of the suburban sprawl that was just a few short decades away.

I was able to dig up a slightly clearer shot of essentially the same location, from elsewhere in the movie, and it does help clear things up a bit. This one is in full CinemaScope widescreen. With these widescreen shots in particular, you'll probably want to click on the image to see a bigger version.

This shot convinced me that we can rule out the area in the blue rectangle. This is the same area outlined in blue a few shots back, and in this view it's apparent that the area is too high up the hill to be used for a movie set. Besides, the outlined features look more like regular rocks now.

This is a closeup taken from the same shot. Now it just looks like a bunch of rocks.

Here's a closeup of the "relay station" area identified by the red rectangle in the original shot. Oddly enough, I still see something that looks vaguely like a relay station in the red area. But it bears little resemblance to the original "relay station" noted above. And I'm ready to accept that both imaginary relay stations are just that: imaginary.

As for that possible "Western town, another closeup from the "Escort West" shot appears to put that idea to rest as well. This time around I can't honestly say I see anything that looks like a Western town in the highlighted area. As Hugh Downs, who hosted the TV game show "Concentration" throughout the 1960s, might have said at the time: "Not a match — the board goes back."

"The Big Valley" (1966)

Please click here to read a recent post with additional details about filming in Oak Park, including more about "Escort West" along with material about Oak Park shoots for "Gunsmoke" and "The Big Valley," That post also details the location of the Barkley family mansion in "The Big Valley."

Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the usual subject matter of this blog, the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Bell Ranch, Pioneertown, Corriganville and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.

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