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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• 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.
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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Adventures of the Three Stooges on the Iverson Movie Ranch, Part II: "Gold Raiders"

Welcome to the second post in the series "Adventures of the Three Stooges on the Iverson Movie Ranch." The Stooges' 1951 Western comedy feature "Gold Raiders" is one of my favorite Iverson movies. By that I mean it's a favorite from a location standpoint, showcasing the Iverson Movie Ranch in spectacular fashion. I'm not commenting on its quality as a movie, as my main focus when I've watched it has been on studying the backgrounds.

Please click here to see the previous post in this Three Stooges series, focused on the 1959 movie "Have Rocket, Will Travel." Part III, on "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," can be found by clicking here.

"Gold Raiders" has interesting backgrounds right from the title sequence, with the movie's title appearing against the backdrop of the South Rim of the Upper Iverson. You can see part of Turtle Rock in the top-left corner. However, the shot is flipped horizontally. That is, in the real world the background looks like this:

Even though the title appears backward here, this is the proper orientation of the rocks and other features in the background, including Turtle Rock, now seen at top right. Whatever reasons the producers had for flipping the shot, I believe the top of the rock feature was intentionally cut off because otherwise the rock would be too recognizable, making it hard to get away with showing it horizontally flipped.

Turtle Rock has survived, and this is what it looks like today. You may be able to match up some of the rocks in the above two shots, especially the distinctive oblong rock perched at an angle and the small round rock below it, which appear at the very top of the frame in the "Gold Raiders" title shot. (The oblong rock is only partially visible.) These days Turtle Rock is part of the Indian Falls Estates gated community just above the 118 Freeway at the top of Topanga. But in its heyday the feature appeared in countless movies and TV shows, especially B-Westerns, where it was repeatedly popping up in the backgrounds of chase sequences. More about Turtle Rock can be found by clicking here.

We're still in the opening credits, and things are getting even more interesting. Here the rock formation known as the Three Stooges can be seen at top left. The Three Stooges rock formation got its name independently of any involvement with the comedy team the Three Stooges, and the appearance of the rocks in this movie is pure coincidence — but I find it mildly satisfying that the Three Stooges rocks appear in a Three Stooges movie.

Detail shot of the Three Stooges from the above screen shot

From this angle the feature appears to consist of two main rocks, so why not the Two Stooges? Because that wouldn't be much of a cultural reference, but more to the point, the formation is in fact made up of three large rocks. The third one is hard to make out here because it's directly in front of (and smaller than) the wider rock that makes up the right half of the pair.

"Wild Horse Ambush" (Republic, 1952)

Here we get a better look at why it's THREE Stooges. This shot from the B-Western "Wild Horse Ambush" shows the Three Stooges rock formation from a different angle. That's Platypus filling up most of the left half of the frame, Fish Head to its right and the smaller, unnamed "Third Stooge" at far right.

Platypus and Fish Head have been featured in a number of previous posts, which can be found by clicking on the links in this sentence. I suppose the "Third Stooge" can be thought of as the Shemp/Curly/Joe Besser/Curly Joe DeRita slot in the lineup.

About a minute into "Gold Raiders" we see basically the same shot we saw in the title sequence, minus the opening credits and with cowboy star George O'Brien riding in. O'Brien shares the lead in the movie with the Three Stooges comedy team — and shares this shot with the Three Stooges rock formation, again at top left.

To give you an idea of where things stand today, this image comes from an Internet mapping site's bird's-eye view, and it shows what is apparently the Three Stooges rock formation, still intact, but now integrated into the backyard of an estate within the gated community that makes up most of the former Upper Iverson. Access is all but impossible these days, and this may be the best look the public can get at this group of once famous movie rocks. This view is from the north, while most of the movie views are from the south. In this view, Platypus is on the right with just a tip showing, Fish Head is the most visible rock, at left-center, and the "unnamed Stooge" is at far left.

A Google aerial view offers another look at the layout the Three Stooges rock formation now calls home. Seems like a nice spot, with a tennis court, swimming pool and palm trees. This view has the "normal" orientation, with Platypus on the left, Fish Head in the middle and the unnamed Stooge toward the right.

Detail shot of the Midway Rocks

Another point of interest in the opening credits shot above is the horizontal rock just above the word "Screen." It's the main rock in a small cluster I call the Midway Rocks, located roughly midway between the North and South Rims of the Upper Iverson.

"Shadows on the Sage" (1942)

The 1942 oatburner "Shadows on the Sage," in which Tom Tyler, Bob Steele and Jimmie Dodd play the Three Mesquiteers, offers another view of the Midway Rocks, at the right in the above screen shot, in the distance, with the large horizontal rock still dominating the formation. Also, here again the Three Stooges — the rocks — can be seen, just above the guy in the cowboy hat, partially obscured by foliage. Like the Three Stooges rock formation, whatever's left of the Midway Rocks is now found in the backyard of a residential estate.

"Manhunt of Mystery Island" (1945)

Directly above the Midway Rocks in the "Shadows on the Sage" shot is a small (dark) foothill with a pointed top. The above shot from the 1945 Republic serial "Manhunt of Mystery Island" shows this dark peak again, near top center, along with its "twin," to its right. The twin looks larger from this angle, but in reality these two distinctive peaks are similar in size and appearance. For that reason they've earned a mildly lewd nickname that I won't repeat here — but feel free to use your imagination. This shot is taken from a different angle from the others, but again shows the Three Stooges rock formation at top left — again looking more like Two Stooges. An interesting bonus here is that the shot provides an unusual view of the concrete bridge on the South Rim, visible in the foreground. The bridge had a tendency to blend into the background, and this is possibly the only view I've seen that reveals the unusual V-shape of the concrete wall forming the left (west) side of the bridge.

The bridge remains in place today, although it is highly deteriorated and difficult to find. As one might infer from the above photo of it in recent times, it has fallen into disuse and is buried under a fierce patch of wild bamboo. It's extremely hard to get a good look at these days. The above shot shows a portion of the eastern wall of the bridge.

Back to "Gold Raiders," here's a beautiful shot of Center Rock from the movie, as we move from the Upper Iverson to the Lower Iverson and Sheep Flats. Center Rock is still in place today, but as I've mentioned a few times on this blog, it's stuck in some kind of maintenance area in the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village, located on Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the Simi Valley Freeway (the 118).

This recent shot of Center Rock shows what some of its environment looks like today. Click here to see a post that goes into more detail about the fate of Center Rock, with additional movie shots of it.

This shot from "Gold Raiders" shows a rock that's still in place too at the mobile home park, although its glory days are clearly behind it. These days the rock can be found next to a garbage area by the swimming pool. The rock tends to have a variety of names depending on who you ask, but the one I'm using these days is Phineas, after Phineas Gage. Otherwise, it could be referred to as "The Rock Next to the Garbage Area by the Swimming Pool in the Mobile Home Park." Whatever you call it, this monstrosity showed up in a ton of old movies. I have also heard it referred to as Wacky Clam (I blame myself for letting that one get through) and Eyes Rock.

Phineas Gage, including his doctor's depiction of his injury, from 1868 (at left)

The Three Stooges weren't the only comedy team to make movies at Iverson. The above shot comes from the 1942 Abbott and Costello feature "Ride 'em Cowboy," a contemporary Western musical from Universal. This screen shot offers another look at Phineas. Its "three eyes" are among its most distinguishing features.

I can't come up with a modern shot of Phineas from any of the movie angles, but here's the rock from a much different angle. It's impossible to match up with the movie shots above, so you'll have to take my word for it, but it's the same rock. Phineas pretty much fills up the center of the shot, and the garbage area I talked about, which is not seen here, is behind that tree on the left. If nothing else, this shot illustrates how the area surrounding Phineas has filled up with modern junk like brick walls, concrete steps, metal railings, picnic tables and lounge chairs.

For a moment the action shifts back from the Lower Iverson, and the site of what is now the mobile home park, to the Upper Iverson, now the site of a gated community of sprawling residential estates. In "Gold Raiders" the Three Stooges are running something called Three Aces Variety Emporium, and in this shot their wagon travels past a South Rim rock feature known as the Frankenstein Group.

Another shot of Frankenstein and his group, this one is found in the 1949 movie "Golden Stallion." The name Frankenstein comes from the rock's high "forehead."

Here's a look at Frankenstein as it appears today, from a trip to the Upper Iverson a few years ago. Click here to see an earlier entry about Frankenstein.

Iverson Village is featured prominently in "Gold Raiders." The above overview from the movie looks toward the north (by northeast), with the ridge all the way in the back of the shot formed by Oat Mountain. Immediately behind the town is Smooth Hill, with its rounded peak occupying much of the left half of the photo. To the right of Smooth Hill we can see the tip of Notch Hill, but the notch that gives it its name is not visible from this angle. Notch Hill is more commonly seen in shots of the Upper Iverson, but here it is viewed from the Lower Iverson. Is it just me, or is "Harry Temple Livery," seen in the sign at the right of the shot, a playful reference to Moe's haircut?

You may have already spotted a sign in town for the IOOF lodge — visible in the overview and again in the above shot of the lodge itself. That sign appeared in multiple movies shot at Iverson, but it seems especially appropriate to a Three Stooges movie, as the full name of the lodge is the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Incidentally, some of the buildings in town are just fronts, and in the above shot you can tell by looking through the windows at the top, which expose a portion of the open back of the building.

The reference to a Western town prominently featuring an IOOF lodge is historically accurate, as the Odd Fellows Lodge was the country's largest fraternal organization during the period known as the "Golden Age of Fraternalism," roughly 1860-1910 — a span that includes much of the settling of the American West. It was typical of towns in the West during that period to have a branch of the IOOF lodge right in the center of town. Another movie that features the same IOOF sign in Iverson Village is "The Longhorn," a Bill Elliott B-Western from Monogram, released the same year as "Gold Raiders."

Gold Raiders Rock

Here's an interesting rock that's still in place on the old Upper Iverson. The rock — the one the shooters are hiding behind, at the left of the screen shot — took on the name Gold Raiders Rock because of this appearance in "Gold Raiders." The rock is manmade, in a way, with the smaller boulder at the top having been cemented in place. In earlier productions the same rock can be found without the smaller rock on top, as seen below. "Gold Raiders," in 1951, was one of the first appearances of the rock with its new top in place.

This is what the same rock looked like just one year earlier, in the 1950 movie "Calamity Jane and the Texan" — before the rock had the smaller rock placed on top of it. Gold Raiders Rock — before it became Gold Raiders Rock — is the prominent rock near the bottom-right corner, partially blocking the view of one of the horses. None of these angles are going to match up perfectly, but you may notice that the low rocks all the way in the bottom-right corner are the same ones seen in the photo above this one, filling up the bottom third of the shot.

Another view of Gold Raiders Rock before it was "prosthetically enhanced," this one is also from a 1950 movie, "Frisco Tornado," a Republic B-Western starring Allan "Rocky" Lane. This view shows the eastern side of the rock.

Here's Gold Raiders Rock in modern times. You may be able to see the cement holding the top rock in place — especially if you click on the photo to enlarge it. A number of these cemented rock "toppers" began appearing at Iverson around the same time, circa 1950-1951. I'm always curious why a certain rock was cemented on top of another rock at a certain point in time, but in general, we don't get clear-cut answers to those kinds of questions. I do know that around that same time the movie ranch was transitioning from being mainly focused on films to hosting mainly TV productions, and it may be that the Iverson family decided to "freshen up" some of the landmarks to help give the place a new look and encourage new business. After all, many of these rocks had already appeared in hundreds of productions, and the risk of overexposure was a legitimate concern.

In this view of Gold Raiders Rock in recent times, the low rocks seen in a couple of the shots above can again be seen, filling up the foreground. For more about Gold Raiders Rock, click here to see the rock in a "Bonanza" episode, and here to see it in the TV show "Adventures of Superman."

Here's the link again to Part I of this series of blog entries on the Three Stooges, focused on their 1959 movie "Have Rocket, Will Travel." And here's a link to Part III, on "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules."

If you're interested in tracking down a copy of "Gold Raiders," please try the Amazon links below.

1 comment:

bigcountry said...

Iverson Village looks familiar as the riding away scene at the end of many Lone Ranger episodes.