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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Gorge Cabin

Iverson's Gorge Cabin, seen in "Billy the Kid in Texas" (1940)

The above shot from "Billy the Kid in Texas" is one of the best views in the movies of the Gorge Cabin on the old Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. The movie is an early entry in Producers Releasing Corp.'s Billy the Kid series starring Bob Steele. (He was later replaced by Buster Crabbe, who went on to do most of PRC's Billy the Kid movies.)

The Wall — detail shot from "Billy the Kid in Texas"

One thing I like about the screen shot is that the background includes the spectacular rock formation The Wall in its entirety, along the top of the photo. Potato Rock, which sat atop The Wall, can also be seen in these shots. In the full screen shot at the top, it's directly above the point where the wooden and stone sections of the cabin join, at the very top of the photo. The blurry shot below may help identify it.

Potato Rock — detail shot from "Billy the Kid in Texas"

The Wall was eventually destroyed — and with it, Potato Rock — to make way for condo development, and some of those condos now occupy the space where Gorge Cabin once stood.

Gorge Cabin (early 1940s promo still)

Here's a much clearer shot of Gorge Cabin from around the same time — early 1940s — courtesy of film historian Jerry England, whose impressive collection of vintage promotional stills is continuously providing better clarity on movie history than we might otherwise have available. Jerry has a nice entry on Gorge Cabin on his own blog, which you can see by clicking here. Jerry mentions that the origin of this shot is unknown, but he notes that it may be from the 1943 Columbia serial "Batman." (More about that below.) We know it's a production of the early 1940s, as that's the time period when the cabin was in place and included the smaller extension toward the left.

You'll notice that the angle of this shot is different from the shot at the top of this post, and therefore the background scenery is different. Directly above the cabin is the Devil's Doorway cluster, and in the background is Cactus Hill. If you have a sharp eye you may also notice that the roofline on the small extension toward the left of the cabin is different between this shot and the 1940 shot at the top of this post. I'll get into that in more detail below.

Screen shot from the Columbia serial "Batman" (1943)

I think Jerry's suggestion that the shot is from "Batman" is correct, and one important clue is the car. I snapped the above screen shot from "Batman," with a car that looks exactly like the car that's partially visible in Jerry's promo shot. In this case the car is seen somewhere else on the Lower Iverson — in front of Mushroom Rock (above the hood of the car), in the area that is now the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village. Also visible, above the rear third or so of the car, is a rock I call Saucer, protruding out from the hillside.

"Riders of the Badlands" (1941)

Here's another nice view of Gorge Cabin, from a similar angle to the "Billy the Kid in Texas" shot at the top of this post, but showing the full "log cabin" extension at the left end of the cabin. This shot comes from the Columbia B-Western "Riders of the Badlands," starring Charles Starrett, which is on my list of the great Iverson movies. Comparing this shot to the shot from "Billy the Kid in Texas" reveals how even minor variations in angle, distance and lighting can make a big difference in location research, as in this shot it's much more difficult to make out The Wall and Potato Rock, even though they're in the shot.

The main part of the cabin was built of stone — or more accurately, material that was made to look like stone. The general rule with these old movie buildings was to build them as cheaply as possible and still have them look like what they were supposed to represent. The actual finish was typically plaster. In the case of Gorge Cabin, the "stone" section was built first (as seen in a screen shot from 1938, below), and the wooden sections on the left were added later.

The cabin was located in the Upper Gorge section of the Lower Iverson, in an area that is now filled by the Cal West Townhomes development, and appears in productions filmed from about 1936-1944. The consensus among location researchers is that after that period the building was moved to the Upper Iverson — to an area known as Hidden Valley. I believe from that time on it appears in the setting seen here. I've never proved to my satisfaction that it's the same cabin, but it does look similar.

"Arizona Territory" (1950) — Gorge Adobe Village

This much is certain: Gorge Cabin disappeared from the Gorge by mid-1944, and later that year an adobe village appeared in the same general location. The adobe village is seen later in 1944 in "The Desert Hawk," and subsequently turns up in a number of productions of the late 1940s, into the early 1950s including the 1950 Whip Wilson B-Western "Arizona Territory," from Monogram, as shown above.

The village seen here occupies some of the same turf that was previously home to the Gorge Cabin, although the cabin probably would have been off to the left and not a part of this particular shot. I also wanted to note that the popular rock feature The Wall appears in the shot, while a portion of the Garden of the Gods rocks can be seen in the background. Elders Peak, located south of the Iverson Ranch, also appears in the background.

"Terror of Tiny Town" (1938)

The Gorge Cabin may have appeared as early as 1936, but my earliest verified sighting of it is this 1938 appearance in "Terror of Tiny Town." Some uncertainty exists as to whether the cabin seen here, in 1938, is in fact the same building as the cabin seen in the shots posted above from circa 1940-1943, but my best guess is that it's the same. The angle shown here is almost identical to the one in the apparent "Batman" promo still (the fourth photo from the top). In the above shot, the background again includes the Devil's Doorway cluster (the prominent rock feature near the center of the shot, just above the cabin) and Cactus Hill. The chimney clearly changes location between this 1938 shot and the 1940-1943 appearances, but that's fairly routine. As the chimney was fake, it would have been relatively easy to move. I do have a small problem with the location of the window next to the chimney in the above shot, which seems farther from the corner of the building than the window in the 1940 shot at the top of the post — but that problem seems to have "corrected itself" by the time of the apparent "Batman" promo shot. It's possible that the narrowness of that space between the window and the edge of the building in the 1940 shot can be explained by compression due to the use of a telephoto lens.

"Adventures of Red Ryder" (1940)

Here's another early view of the Gorge Cabin, in the Republic serial "Adventures of Red Ryder." The cabin appears here without the wooden add-on seen in the top photo, from "Billy the Kid in Texas" the same year — or at least without the full-length version of it, which includes the "addition to the addition." While not conclusive, this shot tends to pinpoint the additions, indicating that at least some of that work must have been done around 1940. It's also interesting to note that in the "Batman" promo still (the fourth shot from the top), the "addition to the addition" does not appear to be in place. This revelation supports the idea that some of the additions may have been portable, and could be attached or detached from the structure as needed for various productions. Of particular note in the above shot is Gorge Arch, consisting of three main boulders, partially visible above the roofline. And a fake mine can be seen to the left of the arch.

"The Son of Davy Crockett" (1941)

One more view of the cabin, this one from the Columbia B-Western "The Son of Davy Crockett," starring Bill Elliott. The wooden addition was in place at this time, but isn't seen in the shot (it would be just off camera, to the left), and is only seen in partial glimpses in the film. It's unclear whether it was the intent of the filmmakers to avoid showing that addition, but it's possible they just wanted to make the cabin appear small. Note that the Devil's Doorway cluster appears again, in the top-right corner of the shot.

The Gorge Cabin can be seen in a number of other productions as well, including "Billy the Kid Wanted" (1941), "Outlaws of Boulder Pass" (1942), "Ride 'em Cowboy" (1942) and "Death Rides the Plains" (1943).

It's worth noting that a couple of completely different cabins can also be seen in the Upper Gorge at different times, in the same general area as the main Gorge Cabin — one very early cabin (circa 1933) and one much later cabin (circa 1960).

"Unknown Valley" (1933)

The Early Gorge Cabin — a small, crude wooden structure — turns up in in the old Buck Jones Western "Unknown Valley," as seen above. A more detailed blog entry about this cabin can be found by clicking here.

"One Foot in Hell" (1960)

The Late Gorge Cabin, seen in the 20th Century-Fox Western "One Foot in Hell," starring Alan Ladd, is seen here. This is probably a partial structure — missing one or two walls — as it appears to have been used for interior shots in the film, as well as for exteriors. It was part of a set that also included a stable, which is partially seen in the foreground in the above shot. The screen shot also shows part of Crown Rock, at far left, and the Devil's Doorway cluster, behind the cabin. The rocks seen here are all still in place, among the condos off Redmesa Road.

Another shot from "One Foot in Hell," this one is shot from the interior of the Late Gorge Cabin, which may have only been in place for this one movie. With the door open, we can see Crown Rock outside, proving that the shoot was done on location. That means the cabin probably had some missing walls and was effectively a soundstage rather than an actual cabin, as it wouldn't have been possible to pull off this shoot inside the confines of a small room.