"Tell It to the Marines" (MGM, 1926): The Chinese bridge
I've had to slow down a little on my blogging in the past few weeks, as I've been spending most of my spare time trying to solve the complicated and fascinating conundrum of the Chinese bridge. I took a few errant swings at it, but I think I finally have a handle on the main elements of the mystery.
"Tell It to the Marines": bridge spanning a steep gorge
Production on the movie in 1926 included an ambitious shoot near the Garden of the Gods featuring one of the most unusual sets ever built on on the Chatsworth, Calif., location ranch — that Chinese arched bridge and its two elaborate banks of fake rocks.
check it out here.
"Go West, Young Lady" (1941): Glenn Ford and Glenn Ford Rock
The cluster of small rocks includes one that I've been calling Glenn Ford Rock, based on a sequence in the Columbia musical comedy "Go West, Young Lady." I blogged not long ago about this sequence in a post about the Footholds area, and you can find a number of photos from the sequence by clicking here.
Glenn Ford Rock as it appears today
This shot from 2009 captures Glenn Ford Rock from approximately the same angle seen in "Go West, Young Lady," and also shows a portion of the Low Wall — the much larger rock feature beneath Glenn Ford Rock.
1926 production photo from "Tell It to the Marines": the Chinese bridge
This production shot from "Tell It to the Marines" was recently unearthed by Iverson historian Ben Burtt. The behind-the-scenes photo contains some of the most important clues to the bridge shoot.
Beached Whale, viewed from the west
The lengthwise view of Beached Whale, seen from the west, is the angle that's pertinent to determining the location of the Chinese bridge. Regrettably, this angle also offers another view of that pesky tree.
Likely anchor point for the Chinese bridge's south struts, located in the Footholds area
As it turns out, a rectangular indentation can be found in the rocks at exactly the point where the two south struts would meet. I believe this carved area is where the struts were anchored. The rectangular anchor point is located in the Footholds area, directly behind Rock B.
I've designated this rectangular hole "Anchor Point G" — expanding on the alphabetical system already in place for the Footholds area (Foothold A, Foothold B, etc.) while acknowledging that this carving was clearly not designed to hold a human foot. I discussed the Footholds discoveries in detail in a recent post, but this large indentation surfaced too late to make it into that original post.
Anchor Point H
This looks to me like the anchor point for the northwest strut. One troublesome note is that the supporting rock seems too small for the task. After some pondering it occurred to me that the support struts probably weren't bearing much weight, but may have been in place to add stability to the bridge structure.
Closeup of Anchor Point H
Even as we bid farewell to Anchor Point H, the search continues for a possible "Anchor Point I" — a base for the Chinese bridge's northeast strut.
The above diagram approximates where the Chinese bridge and its two banks of fake rocks were situated during the shoot for "Tell It to the Marines." The bridge location is marked in red, with the south bank of fake rocks in green and the north bank in light blue. I originally had the bridge placed a little farther south, but realized I needed to adjust my theory after matching up a few additional rocks.
Minisub, photographed in 2011
It is impossible today to duplicate the angle seen in the matte shot, but this photo of Minisub from a similar angle should provide enough detail to match it up with the portion of the rock appearing in the matte shot.
The tilted rock (2009)
Similarly, a modern-day photo of the unnamed tilted rock, taken from a comparable but not exact angle, is an OK match for the matte shot. The terrain has changed greatly in the almost 90 years since the "Tell It to the Marines" shoot, and present-day efforts to match the old shots are hampered by foliage, condos, and possibly the biggest hurdle, the lack of access to a camera tower.
Lon Chaney and Eleanor Boardman: Promo still for "Tell It to the Marines"
"Tell It to the Marines" stars Lon Chaney, a major figure in silent cinema and the father of horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. Playing the love interest in the movie is Eleanor Boardman.
William Haines and Lon Chaney
William Haines is on board as the brash recruit who's the thorn in the side of Chaney's tough Marine drill instructor. Conveniently, the three main players also form a love triangle.
Lon Chaney in "Tell It to the Marines" (1926)
Known as "the Man of a Thousand Faces," the elder Lon Chaney launched the family horror movie franchise with iconic performances in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and "Phantom of the Opera" (1925), years before son Lon Chaney Jr. would pick up the baton and become a horror icon in his own right.
Lon Chaney Jr. menaces Evelyn Ankers in "The Wolf Man" (1941)
Chaney Jr. wound up becoming an even more familiar face — at least to modern-day audiences — with his performances as the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster and the Son of Dracula, among other monster movie favorites.
Iverson's fascinating "Footholds" region
The story of the Chinese bridge is closely linked to "Footholds," an area north of Garden of the Gods containing a high concentration of manmade indentations in the rocks. The main part of Footholds is situated just south of where the bridge stood, with the more recently discovered "Footholds North" containing the bulk of the artifacts from the bridge set.
The Chinese bridge accounts for much of the rock carving in the area — but not all of it. In fact, the main part of Footholds appears to be largely unrelated to "Tell It to the Marines." This area remains essentially unexplained.
Clearly, however, a square indentation such as "Foothold A" would have been associated with set construction. In an earlier version of this post I tried to attribute Foothold A to "Tell It to the Marines," only to later determine that Foothold A was too far south to have much to do with the Chinese bridge.
Footholds Region (foreground), Iverson Movie Ranch
After I posted about Footholds back in June, several readers came forward with their own theories. Movie location aficionado Bob Chancey went so far as to suggest that some of the Footholds might be related specifically to the bridge in "Tell It to the Marines." As it turns out, Bob's suggestion was right on the mark.
Footholds was still thought of as just a bunch of footholds.
This post is part of a series of entries 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:
• "Man-Woman-Marriage" (Dorothy Phillips, 1921): This post explores a large-scale battle sequence filmed near Garden of the Gods in 1920 that was billed at the time as "so stupendous that it amazed even the film colony of Los Angeles."
• "Richard the Lion-Hearted" (Wallace Beery, 1923): Click here to see how a massive Medieval castle was created amid the huge rock features of Garden of the Gods.
• "Three Ages" (Buster Keaton, 1923) — Buster's "armory": This movie may be the best-known of the silent-era Iverson shoots, and this post 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.
• "Three Ages" (1923) — the fake cave house: Please click here to read 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."
• "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (Ramon Novarro, 1925): Click here to see some terrific behind-the-scenes photos 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.)
• Noah's Ark (Dolores Costello, 1928): Here's where the label for this series comes from (see above), in which Noah's Ark is "beached" on top of the sandstone giants of Garden of the Gods. The movie is directed by Michael Curtiz, who later directed "Casablanca" and who brought crews to the Iverson Movie Ranch on a number of occasions.