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 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

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Richard the Lion-Hearted": A silent movie-era Medieval castle in Garden of the Gods

"Richard the Lion-Hearted" (1923)

A number of early filmmakers were inspired to build fake castles and palaces in exactly the same spot — spanning the two most prominent sandstone behemoths in the Iverson Movie Ranch's Garden of the Gods. The above example is a production shot for "Richard the Lion-Hearted," a rarely seen silent picture starring Wallace Beery.

Most of the castle in the photo consists of a painting on glass, superimposed over a partial version of a castle that was built on the site, in the space between Tower Rock on the left and Sphinx on the right. The wandering yellow line in this version of the photo traces the approximate division between the two parts of the composite photo.

Fake castle front, built for "Richard the Lion-Hearted"

This production shot depicts only the portion of the castle that was built in Garden of the Gods, along with a full view of the sandstone boulders framing the construction. You may also notice a few crew members working on a camera tower in front of the castle gate.

The two main rock features are highlighted here. Tower Rock has had multiple names, with "the Pinnacle" being an early reference apparently used by the Iverson family, while "Tower Rock" is a name the family used in the movie ranch's latter days. Both rocks have also been called "Indian Head" in various circumstances, and the Sphinx has also been referred to as "Eagle Beak."

"Dallas" (Warner Bros., 1950)

These giant boulders have been featured in countless movies and TV shows spanning roughly the past 100 years. The above photo is a nice color example of the rocks as they appear in the Gary Cooper Western "Dallas," filmed from approximately the same angle seen in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" photo.

"The Lone Ranger" TV series (1949)

Here's another example, from the TV series "The Lone Ranger," with the two main rocks shot from a different angle. From this angle I think we get a pretty good idea of why the giant boulder on the right — which is closer to the center in this shot — is called "The Sphinx."

Garden of the Gods, on a visit to the site in 2015

Here's a shot of the same area seen in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" photo, taken on a recent visit to the site. While Tower Rock and Sphinx are instantly recognizable, even some of the smaller rocks, seemingly strewn about on the ground, can be matched up with the movie shots.

Notice the distinctive group of small rocks highlighted here, on the ground below Tower Rock.

This is that same group of rocks more than 90 years earlier, in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" photo.

A number of the other rocks in the two photos also match. Here I've highlighted a couple of rocks in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" production shot from 1923.

Here are those same rocks as they appear today, although they're much closer here and seen from a slightly different angle.

Taking another look at the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" composite photo, you may notice that the two elements of the castle — the glass painting and the location shot — are not perfectly aligned. That's because the photo is taken by a still photographer while the glass is being held in place for filming. It's not exactly the same view seen by the movie camera, where the two parts would be lined up more accurately.

This version of the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" shot reveals some interesting context. We can see part of the frame on the glass shot as it is being held in place to be filmed against the backdrop of the actual location. This photo comes from the book "The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting" by Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron, possibly the only authoritative work done to date — and easily the best — on matte shots in the movies.

The above links to should help you track down a copy of "The Invisible Art" if you have an interest in learning more about the use of matte shots in film. This incredible reference work has been released in both hardbound and paperback versions.

Readers who have been following recent posts about the Buster Keaton movie "Three Ages" and the fake cave house may have already spotted this, but the cave house appears again in this shot for "Richard the Lion-Hearted" — not really a surprise, as the two movies were produced the same year, 1923, and filmed in the same area.

"Three Ages" (1923): Fake cave house

This shot from "Three Ages" shows the cave house in use by a cave family. The "stone" staircase seen at the left here is visible toward the front of the shot in the castle photo above this one. The cave house is known to have stood near Garden of the Gods at least from 1920-1926, and may date as far back as the 1910s. You can read more about this fake cave house by clicking here.

Set for battle scene in "Man-Woman-Marriage" — filmed in 1920, released in 1921

We've recently explored another example of silent movie-era construction in the same spot where the castle was built for "Richard the Lion-Hearted." For "Man-Woman-Marriage," filmed three years earlier, a palace front was built, along with a fake rock backdrop spanning the gap between Tower Rock (aka the Pinnacle) and the Sphinx. Please click here to read the recent post about the 1920 shoot for "Man-Woman-Marriage."

This blog post is part of a series of posts exploring silent movies filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch. We have previously reported on a number of the Iverson silent films, and you can read those posts by clicking on the links below:

• Please click here to read a recent post about a fake cave house that stood near Garden of the Gods for several years in the 1920s — and possibly as far back as the 1910s — which had a prominent role in the 1923 Buster Keaton silent feature "Three Ages."

• Here's a post about a battle sequence filmed near Garden of the Gods for the 1921 release "Man-Woman-Marriage" — a scene that was billed at the time as "so stupendous that it amazed even the film colony of Los Angeles."

This blog post talks a little bit about the iconic scene used in the label above, in which Noah's Ark is "beached" on top of the sandstone giants of Garden of the Gods. The shot comes from the 1928 silent feature "Noah's Ark," directed by Michael Curtiz, who later directed "Casablanca" and who brought crews to the Iverson Movie Ranch on a number of occasions. 

• Buster Keaton's 1923 comedy feature "Three Ages" may be the best-known of the silent-era Iverson shoots, and this post from August 2014 explores a rarely discussed set for the movie: an "armory" controlled by Buster's caveman character, built high atop Rock Island in the Iverson Gorge.

Click here to see some terrific behind-the-scenes photos from the 1925 silent feature "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ," provided by Jill Bergstrom, the granddaughter of the great Iverson cinematographer George B. Meehan Jr., who was part of the camera crew on "Ben-Hur." (Note that most of the material in this post is non-Iverson, even though parts of "Ben-Hur" were filmed on the location ranch.)


Scotty Rawson said...

Great stuff. Always enjoy your post

Mark Sherman said...

You've done it again! Always entertaining and very informative! Mark Sherman

Anonymous said...

Thank you for another great post of valuable information about filming at The Garden of the Gods.