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, March 6, 2016

Years before the TV show "Adventures of Superman" premiered, a different Superman flew all over the Iverson Movie Ranch

Kirk Alyn, the screen's first live-action Superman 
(Columbia promo still for the serial "Superman," 1948)

The first live-action version of "Superman" to appear on film was a delightfully weird oddity. With ballet-trained Kirk Alyn in the title role, Columbia's 1948 serial danced across the rocky terrain of the Iverson Movie Ranch in an unashamed celebration of the kind of gee-whiz goofiness that marked a more innocent era of superheroes.

Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent on the Upper Iverson

The serial provided a showcase for the movie ranch's charismatic rock features. In this shot Kirk Alyn, as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, rolls up on a bit of unpleasantness on the Upper Iverson's South Rim, with the rock formation Smiling Lion lurking in the top right corner.

"Superman" (Columbia serial, 1948)

By all accounts, Kirk Alyn the actor was a "super" nice guy — to the point where the kind of strong-arm work required of his Superman character could be an odd fit. But Alyn proved he was up to the task when it came time to don the Spandex and pull the old double-headlock, or bash two bad guys' heads together.

Here again, Smiling Lion purrs its approval — although at this time of day it's less clear whether the rock is smiling or frowning. A comparison of this photo with the Clark Kent shot above illustrates how the "mood" of the Iverson rocks could be altered by moving the camera a few feet or waiting for the light to change.

The producers of the 1948 "Superman" conjured up an animated version of the superhero as a budget-friendly solution to the problem of flying. The sometimes awkward result found cartoon Superman sharing the frame with rugged Iverson landmarks such as Bigfoot, the rock feature peering in at the left in the above shot.

Back on the South Rim, Clark Kent runs toward the concrete bridge across Fern Ann Creek, also known as Falls Creek. Notice the large metal valve above his shoulder.

As Kent ducks under the bridge to change into his Superman suit, we get a clear look at both the valve and the concrete base of the bridge. I believe the valve was used to cut off the flow of water through the bridge, turning the bridge into a dam and creating a small reservoir on the other side of the bridge.

A moment later, Superman emerges.

As Superman takes flight, he once again becomes a cartoon.

The serial also provides a view of the top of the bridge, as a car approaches. The "low ground" to the left of the bridge filled in with water when the valve was closed, forming the reservoir. The Midway Oaks can be seen behind the car, and above them the top of Oat Mountain looms in the background.

Here's a wider view of the bridge area, filmed from the top of the cliff along the north edge of Cactus Hill. The white area to the right of the bridge is the rocky bed of Fern Ann Creek. The creek itself is rarely more than a trickle, and has been especially dry during California's current drought.

"Ghost Guns" (1944): Johnny Mack Brown and Evelyn Finley at the reservoir

The reservoir was seen in a handful of productions, including providing the background for a burial sequence in the Monogram B-Western "Ghost Guns," starring Johnny Mack Brown.

"Ghost Guns" — the reservoir on Iverson's South Rim

From the proper angle, the small reservoir could be made to appear quite scenic.

"Gunman" (1952) — The reservoir, with the Cliff in the background

A shot of the reservoir several years later, in the Whip Wilson movie "Gunman," is less aesthetically pleasing, but presents a clear view of the cliff and other South Rim features. The shot is taken with the camera pointed south.

A severely decayed version of the concrete bridge and dam remains at the site today, in a rugged, out-of-the-way spot in the midst of a gated community of large estates.

The same space where Clark Kent put on his Superman outfit can still be found, although gaining access to the location poses considerable challenges.

Near the spot where Superman got into character under the bridge, a bunch of crooks set up a diabolical super-weapon in a rocky nook. Most of the rocks surrounding them are still in place today, part of a large rock cluster known as the Totem Rocks or Easter Island.

This is what that same nook — or is it a cranny? — looks like today. You may want to try to match up the rocks in the above two photos before you peek at the labeled versions below.

Here's the "Superman" shot again, with some of the rocks labeled.

And here are those same labeled rocks in the recent photo. Incidentally, there used to be a horse trail up the hill between rocks C and D.

"Border Feud" (PRC, 1947) — Lash and Fuzzy head up the horse trail

In the Lash LaRue B-Western "Border Feud," filmed just a year before "Superman," Lash and Al "Fuzzy" St. John ride up to Cactus Hill in the same spot where we saw the bad guys setting up their super-blaster.

Here's another example of the animated flying spectacle, with a crotch shot of cartoon Superman soaring over the Iverson Gorge. Stoney Point appears at the center of the frame, partially blocked by Superman. Iverson's stagecoach road and Lower Nyoka Cliff are visible at the bottom of the shot.

Cartoon Superman would typically touch down by disappearing behind some landmark. In this shot the animated character makes a landing behind the Hangover Shack on the Lower Iverson.

Here's another landing by cartoon Superman — back in the Fern Ann Creekbed on the Upper Iverson.

A moment later, up pops Kirk Alyn at the same spot. The odd shadow at bottom right belongs to a car door.

Iverson Ranch Road on the Lower Iverson was another focal point of the action in the 1948 serial, with Superman harassing evil doers as they drove around in postwar land yachts that many car lovers would kill to have now.

The familiar profile of Three Kings and a portion of Tower Rock are among the Garden of the Gods features visible in this shot, looking south as the streamlined cruiser travels west on Iverson Ranch Road.

A seemingly unremarkable shot again depicts a vehicle heading west on Iverson Ranch Road. Shots like this, showing a bird's-eye view of a relatively wide area, tend to be rare in old productions, as they required extra setup. But when they do turn up they can be a big help in figuring out the lay of the land.

The shot captures the intersection of Iverson Ranch Road with the west fork of Iverson's so-called "stagecoach road," along with the northwest corner of Rock Island. This part of the stagecoach road is located approximately where Redmesa Road now runs through.

A good deal of misinformation exists about the stagecoach road. Even though it was always just a movie road, the myth that it was an actual stagecoach route has been widely circulated. The above example comes from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's LAMountains.com website, in its entry on Garden of the Gods.

Here's the same Garden of the Gods blurb minus my editorial comment, so you can read the whole entry — most of which is true. The Conservancy has done a lot of good work in helping to protect the hills above Chatsworth, and is an important ally in the ongoing fight to preserve the land and its legacy.

This shot from recent years, taken among the condos on the Lower Iverson, features some rocks that are pretty distinctive, but are usually overshadowed by a famous neighbor.

They're the same rocks seen in the Kirk Alyn promo still from 1948 that appears at the top of this post. I've posted that photo again here to make it easy to compare the "then and now" shots.

Here's a wider view of the rocks in recent years, revealing that the rocks in the promotional still are part of the same hunk of sandstone that includes Saddlehorn Rock. The promo still is one of only a handful of shots I've seen that focus on the less-famous rocks behind Saddlehorn without featuring Saddlehorn itself.

Another photo from the same promo shoot for "Superman" — probably a more famous photo than the previous promo still — spotlights the Saddlehorn, and hints that it may have been the main reason for shooting promo stills in that spot. Personally, I prefer the more grim-faced Superman in the previous still.

Other shots have also surfaced from the same photo shoot, including this "outtake" promo still that I've posted before. You can read my 2013 report on Kirk Alyn's "Superman" by clicking here.

The 1948 Columbia serial "Superman" was followed two years later by "Atom Man vs. Superman," again starring Kirk Alyn and his cartoon alter-ego, and again filmed heavily at Iverson.  



The Columbia serials featured Alyn as the movies' first live-action Superman, but he wasn't the movies' first Superman. That title went to the cartoon version from Fleischer Studios, which first appeared in 1941. The above video clip is the first Superman cartoon.



Columbia's two "Superman" serials are combined in a reasonably priced DVD set sold on Amazon, which you can find by clicking on the above link. Both serials are filmed on the Iverson Ranch, and the second one, "Atom Man vs. Superman," which I plan to feature in an upcoming post, is on my list of the all-time great Iverson movies.

3 comments:

Cliff said...

Good to hear from you again, great post and thanks for the hard work.

Anonymous said...

Well done. Another fine post. The two Superman movie serials are among my favorites.

Mark Sherman said...

Why would Superman store rolled up socks in his tights? LoL! Great post as always! You are the "Man" when it comes to this stuff! Thanks again.