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, October 16, 2016

"Montana Moon" (1930): In the first "singing cowboy" movie, Johnny Mack Brown romances Joan Crawford and is serenaded by Jiminy Cricket on the Iverson Ranch

"Montana Moon" (MGM, 1930)

The early Western talkie "Montana Moon," starring Joan Crawford and Johnny Mack Brown, has been cited as the movie that introduced the singing cowboy to the silver screen.


This 3-minute clip from the movie is filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch and is one of the most unusual Iverson sequences I've run across in some time.

Cliff Edwards and Jiminy Cricket

The guy singing and playing the ukulele — his "Lambchop," as he calls it in the clip — is Cliff Edwards, whose voice you might recognize as the voice of Jiminy Cricket.

Cliff first played Jiminy in "Pinocchio" in 1940 — remember "When You Wish Upon a Star"? — and went on to voice the animated cricket for the next 30 years.

Years before he became Jiminy Cricket, Cliff Edwards went by the name Ukulele Ike, and this is one time we can say that someone literally wrote the book on something — Edwards, or Ike, wrote the book on playing the ukulele.

He also had a bunch of his own ukulele records. It always bodes well when you can get R. Crumb to do the cover for your record — even though this release came out after Edwards' death in 1971.


Edwards was an unlikely choice for Disney's high-profile spokescricket, given the Mouse House's prudish reputation and Ukulele Ike's penchant for naughty innuendo. Click on the above audio clip to sample the kind of mischief Ike was up to in the early 1930s.

A crestfallen Johnny Mack Brown in Garden of the Gods in "Montana Moon"

But the most exciting thing about the "Montana Moon" clip, to me, is the locations. This scene is shot along the western edge of Iverson's Garden of the Gods, and spotlights some rarely filmed rocks.

The site is carefully chosen — not just for the rocks but also for the view looking west toward Santa Susana Pass Road, which is incorporated into the scene.

The same setting in 2016: Western Garden of the Gods

Here's the same rock Johnny was sitting on in 1930, which is easily identified by its large diagonal crack. Today the view of the road below is blocked by brush.

However, Santa Susana Pass Road is still visible down below if you go one rock over. The road forms an S-curve as it snakes through the area, just as it did in 1930.

In a poignant juxtaposition of the road below and the rocks above, Cliff Edwards and Johnny Mack Brown watch as a caravan of vehicles heads west on the Pass, taking their women away.

While the cars are traveling west in the real world, it is understood that in the movie, the caravan is headed east — both geographically and metaphorically.

Both of the rocks where the heartbroken cowboys sat are still to be found in the same spot — on the west end of the Central Garden of the Gods.

When their broken hearts get the best of them, the cowboys ride out in pursuit of that caravan.

Here's the same pass between the rocks where they rode out, as it appears in 2016.

The rock on the right is one I've blogged about before, which I call "Getaway Rock."

Getaway Rock

Here's a wider view of Getaway Rock. These rocks were part of a terrific sequence in "Tennessee's Partner," which you can read about by clicking here.

This Bing aerial should help you find the "Montana Moon" filming site, if you're so inclined. It's located on land that has been preserved as a park and is open to the public during daylight hours.

"Montana Moon" — incredible Iverson Ranch location shot

We still haven't talked about the single best shot in the clip, seen here. For this part of the sequence the action shifts to Iverson Ranch Road and the car is now traveling northeast.

We now see a bunch of cowboys — it's not clear to me where they all materialized from — closing in on the last car in the caravan.

It took me a while to figure out what I was seeing here, partly because I had to pinch myself to believe it was real. The shot includes a view of some old stone buttressing that I had never seen showcased in such detail in any other production.

Other markers in the shot pinpoint the location, as noted here. We can see a portion of Rock Island in the background, and behind it, farther west, is the back side of Batman Rock.


The shot contains a wealth of information about how the Iverson Ranch was set up at the tail end of the silent film era — including the road, the buttressing and even the fencing.

The stone buttressing on both sides of the road creates a culvert under the road that is part of the area's drainage system. I'm tempted to romanticize it a bit by calling it a "creek," but as it was usually dry, "drainage channel" will have to do.

1952 aerial view of the Lower Iverson

Iverson Ranch Road was essentially the entrance to the location ranch, and at the same time served as the driveway leading to the Iverson family residences.

Chatsworth Train Depot, looking south, in "Montana Moon"

Just as the clip fades out, everyone arrives at the Chatsworth Train Depot. This building, which stood from about 1910 to 1962, made its way into countless productions, but no longer exists.

The old Chatsworth Train Depot (looking north; ca. 1950s)

The old train depot stood about halfway between Lassen and Devonshire and about halfway between Canoga and Owensmouth — pretty close to the spot where its replacement, the present-day Chatsworth transit station, now stands.

"Montana Moon": Southbound train approaches the water tower

This shot didn't quite make it into the clip, but it appears in the movie and offers a rare closeup of Chatsworth's old railroad water tower that once stood near what is now Devonshire — alongside the tracks, about halfway between Canoga and Owensmouth.

The water tower shot also provides a glimpse of the Chatsworth landmark Stoney Point in the background, along with a section of Oat Mountain way in the distance to the north.

Johnny Mack Brown and Joan Crawford, whose torrid love affair 
is the centerpiece of "Montana Moon"

While "Montana Moon" is a Western, it's mainly a love story — with the romance more central to the plot than would become the practice as the Western genre "matured." Within a few years Westerns would be aimed primarily at young boys, and would be more about shooting it out than about making out.

John Mack Brown and Greta Garbo — promo still for "A Woman of Affairs" (1928)

But Johnny Mack Brown did plenty of making out early in his movie career, before he became a B-movie cowboy. Besides Joan Crawford, Johnny — billed in the early days as John — starred with Garbo, Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer and other top actresses of the '20s and '30s. 

Joan Crawford publicity still for "Montana Moon"

Some of the publicity shots for "Montana Moon" and other pre-code John Mack Brown movies are pretty amusing. Click here to see more about Brown and his many leading ladies.

I want to send a shout-out to fellow rock detective Don Kelsen, who brought the "Montana Moon" clip to my attention while we were out searching for Hopalong Cassidy rocks in the Garden of the Gods. You can click here to see a recent post about that adventure.



I can recommend "Montana Moon" and encourage readers to click on the link above to go to Amazon.com, but I want to add the disclaimer that there's almost no Iverson Movie Ranch content beyond what's in the clip near the top of this post.

4 comments:

Cliff said...

Great job, always interesting!!

Mark Sherman said...

I'm always amazed at the research you've done! Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for another fine post. The aerial photos are helpful to us who visit Iverson less frequently. I am recommending your blog to the folks on various Facebook pages about old movies and characters.

Brian Harrington said...

Once again great work, well done, I have recommended it to others that would greatly appreciate your work and efforts. Thank you.