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.
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• 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).
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The great Iverson cinematographers: Robert Cline

born July 1898, Arizona
died November 1946, Hollywood (age 48)

I refer to cinematographer Robert Cline as the mad genius of the Iverson Movie Ranch filming era, and he would probably hold that title even if he had shot just one film: his mystical 1942 Range Busters masterpiece "Thunder River Feud." I call it "his" movie even though it was directed by master B-Western director S. Roy Luby, because Cline's camera work clearly adds a strange quality to the movie that even Luby may not have envisioned. 

Thunder River Feud (1942) — the Iverson Gorge, as photographed
by the "mad genius," cinematographer Robert Cline

While it’s possible that the artistic “brilliance” of Cline’s fuzzy visual poetry in this strange and wonderful movie is purely accidental, it seems unlikely. Shot after shot reveals subtle, elusive images, often tucked away in the corners of the frame. For the viewer who is able to relax into it and surrender to the weirdness of it all, it adds up to a cinematic experience that is more akin to spotting faces in the clouds or looking at a book of hidden-eye puzzles than it is to watching a typical B-Western. 

"Fugitive Valley" (1941) — a leap off Range Rider Rock

Regardless of whether Cline intentionally injected illusions into his work, whether it’s all attributable to a bad print or whether the often puzzling images in his shots are purely imaginary, he showed a flair for Iverson in a solid string of 1940s B-Westerns, part of an ephemeral career that began in the silent era and soon saw Cline emerge as one of the key shooters in early sound Westerns.

"Range Beyond the Blue" (1947) — holdup gang 
waiting for the stage in front of a rock I call Tamale

By the time the genre hit its stride in the mid-1930s he was already a master of the outdoor action sequence, had already developed much of his unique visual style and had already begun shooting at the Iverson Movie Ranch. Working mostly with smaller outfits — including Trem Carr Pictures and William Berke Productions in the early days and later the Alexander brothers and A.W. Hackel’s Supreme Pictures — Cline found himself at the center of what was suddenly the hottest film commodity in the business, the B-Western. 

"Western Cyclone" (1943) — riderless horse on the Upper Iverson,
with Pyramid Peak and the Rocky Peak area in the background 

He began to connect with some of the bigger players, flirting briefly with Republic, where he shot three Westerns in the late 1930s. He found more steady work at Monogram starting in 1940, migrating over to Ray Corrigan’s Monogram-affiliated Range Busters Productions in 1941. He settled in for a good run with Corrigan, shooting 16 Range Busters features before moving on to PRC in 1943.

"Buffalo Bill Rides Again" (1947) — teepee village on the Upper Iverson, 
with Oat Mountain in the background, center, flanked by
 Two-Humper, left, and Notch Hill, right

Much of his best Iverson work was done during this Range Busters/PRC period, including the Range Busters installments Underground Rustlers and Fugitive Valley (both 1941) and the Buster Crabbe/Billy the Kid/Billy Carson yarns Western Cyclone and Devil Riders (both 1943) at PRC. 

An early Iverson standout for Cline is the 1938 Bob Steele feature Paroled to Die from A.W. Hackel.

"Buffalo Bill Rides Again" — Hangover Shack in the background

He rarely stayed long in any one place, adding to the mystique of Robert Cline as a restless and perhaps troubled genius. He avoided the one thing that almost all major Iverson cinematographers share: a lengthy stay at Republic Pictures. Maybe it’s part of his genius that he found a way to keep himself from getting sucked into the machine in a big way, something almost no one else seemed able to resist.

Thunder River Feud — Hangdog, a sandstone giant
on the Iverson Movie Ranch

Cline has presided over my pantheon of Iverson DPs from the beginning, and was the inspiration for the creation of a pantheon in the first place. His volume of work doesn’t stand alongside prolific Republic shooters such as Ernest Miller or John MacBurnie, but Robert Cline is clearly one of the masters, if not THE master, at shooting the Iverson Movie Ranch. This despite his relatively high “miss ratio” — for example working quite a bit at Corriganville, working on low-Iverson-percentage Texas Rangers movies and working extensively in the silents (and therefore largely unseen and presumably largely lost).

One of Robert Cline’s later career highlights is the Lash LaRue movie Law of the Lash from PRC, released in 1947, after Cline’s death.

"Thunder in the Desert" (1938) — Hangdog in the background

Like many of the cinematographers of the B-Western era, Robert Cline was born out West. He came from Arizona, which may have helped instill his affinity for Westerns and the Western landscape. And like so many of the cinematographers of the period, he died young — in his case even younger than most, at 48. But he also started young, well back into the silent era. His career essentially spanned 1925-1946, with a few releases coming out after his death, in 1947, and he left behind a legacy of 139 productions listed in his filmography — all well worth a look, if I can say so after having only seen a fraction of them. Cline lived long enough to see television coming, but he died before he got his chance to work in the new medium.

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