Promo shot for "The Valley of Vanishing Men" (1942)
I ran across an oddity in a promotional still for the Columbia Western serial "The Valley of Vanishing Men," taken in the Iverson Gorge. The photo is part of Jerry England's incredible collection.
Promo shot for "The Valley of Vanishing Men" — with something missing
Here's where it gets interesting. Another version of the promo shot is in circulation in which the mystery object has been removed. Today we would probably say it was Photoshopped out, but in the analog days of 1942 they would have used a less up-to-date method to airbrush the photo.
Lobby card for "The Valley of Vanishing Men"
"The Valley of Vanishing Men": Fight sequence on Nyoka Summit
I was hoping the serial itself might hold a clue to the mystery object, and sure enough, the table with the box on it turns up right where it's supposed to be, on top of Nyoka Cliff.
Sunset Peak and the view looking south from the Iverson Gorge in modern times
Sunset Peak continues today to dominate the view to the immediate south of the former Iverson Ranch.
"The Fighting Seabees" (1944): John Wayne & Co. on Nyoka Summit
The tree, too, has quite a movie history, including an appearance in the John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees." I did a detailed post about "Seabees" back in 2015, which you can see by clicking here.
"The Valley of Vanishing Men": Bad guys with a "blinker"
About that mystery object, it turns out to be an old-fashioned signal box, or "blinker" — a wooden box containing a lighting element and shutters, used to send messages in Morse code.
Sending a signal to the rest of the gang
The signal box is an important plot element in "The Valley of Vanishing Men," where the bad guys use it to send signals to other gang members to advance their nefarious plot.
Bill Elliott, center, and Slim Summerville seize control of the signal box
Remember that big fight that was going on earlier? Thanks to that fight, Wild Bill and his sidekick "Missouri Benson," played by the lean and lanky Slim Summerville, were able to get their hands on the blinker.
Slim stands guard while Wild Bill harnesses the power of the blinker to foil the bad guys' plan
As clunky as the device may seem today, back in the Old West it would have been state-of-the-art. It must have been solar powered, since they didn't have extension cords or Duracell batteries yet.
"Valley of Vanishing Men": A network of ladders ascending Nyoka Cliff
These shots reveal something I found surprising: The ladder section seen in the promo shot is just one part of an elaborate network of ladders extending all the way down to the floor of the Gorge.
Scene filmed in the Camera Mount area, with Nyoka Cliff visible to the east
In a wider shot showing the gang and their hostage supposedly at the top of Nyoka Cliff, it becomes painfully obvious that this shot is not taken on Nyoka. The cliff can be seen in all its glory across the Gorge.
Vultura's Palace in "Perils of Nyoka" (Republic, 1942)
"Perils of Nyoka," the serial that gave Nyoka Cliff its name, filmed on the Iverson Ranch earlier in 1942, with "The Valley of Vanishing Men" arriving later that same year to film in many of the same areas on the Lower Iverson.
"The Valley of Vanishing Men": Accidental glimpse of Vultura's Palace
As it turns out, "Valley of Vanishing Men" captured a few artifacts left over from "Perils of Nyoka" on film. One of these is the front of Vultura's Palace, which can be spotted in the background as Bill Elliott rides the Upper Gorge.
"Perils of Nyoka": Fake cave entrance in the Iverson Gorge
It just gets "curiouser and curiouser," to borrow a favorite quote from "Alice in Wonderland." Another artifact from "Perils of Nyoka" turns up in the strangest place in "The Valley of Vanishing Men."
"The Valley of Vanishing Men": Fake building front in the Iverson Gorge
Then when "The Valley of Vanishing Men" arrived, the production team built this modest structure — just a fake front — in exactly the same spot where the fake cave entrance had been filmed in "Perils of Nyoka."
"The Valley of Vanishing Men": A look inside the building
Apparently Columbia really wanted to have a fake cave inside its fake building. On occasion the building's doors open and we can see that much of the "Perils of Nyoka" fake cave entrance is indeed inside the building.