Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Adventures of the Three Stooges on the Iverson Movie Ranch, Part I: "Have Rocket, Will Travel"

This is the first installment in a three-part series on Three Stooges feature films shot at Iverson, with part one focusing on the 1959 outer space romp "Have Rocket, Will Travel."

The movie is one of several productions in which the Stooges wind up in outer space, including the 1957 short "Outer Space Jitters" and the 1962 feature "The Three Stooges in Orbit." "Have Rocket, Will Travel" is billed as their first feature-length film, even though they previously appeared in the 1951 Western comedy "Gold Raiders," in which they shared the bill with cowboy star George O'Brien. And an earlier lineup of the Stooges headlined the 1945 Western musical "Rockin' in the Rockies."

"Gold Raiders" was also shot at Iverson, and is the focus of part two of my series. Part III wraps up this round of Stooges posts with an entry on the 1962 feature "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," in which the Stooges turn the Iverson Movie Ranch into ancient Greece.

Here's the cover of a 45 released in 1959 in connection with the movie, with the Three Stooges singing — yes, singing — the title song, "Have Rocket, Will Travel." I wouldn't advise anyone to go out of your way to find it. This period for the Stooges isn't generally considered to be representative of their best work, and the fact that they sang didn't help matters one bit. At any rate, for whatever it's worth, their rendition of the song also appears in the movie.

In the movie, things only get good — if "good" is the right word — once the Stooges land on Venus, with the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., playing Venus. The above shot is the first time we see Iverson, with the Stooges' rocket having landed in Iverson's Upper Gorge. Credit this shot to special effects, as I don't think the filmmakers hauled an actual 60-foot-plus rocket out to Iverson. Most of the rocks seen in the right half of the shot remain in place today, although they're now surrounded by the Cal West Townhomes.

In this shot the Stooges, in retro space suits, have begun to "deplane" on Venus. The action takes place in the same location as the previous shot, and includes a closer look at the rock all the way at the right of that shot, which is part of the Devil's Doorway cluster and can be found today amid the condos. I call this rock Devil's Doorway Wall, and have featured it in earlier posts that can be seen if you click here. If you'd like to really zero in on this rock, including what it looks like today, check out this blog entry. The above shot looks toward the west, and shows the Rocky Peak area of the Santa Susana Mountains in the background. The shot also offers a glimpse of Rock Island, the smooth rocks in the bottom third of the photo, near the center — just to the right of the boot of the Stooge on the ladder.

While we're on the subject of Rock Island, here it is in the 1941 Errol Flynn feature "They Died With Their Boots On." This shot again looks toward the west, with the Rocky Peak area again seen in the background — pretty much the same direction as the previous photo, but from a higher angle. This angle reveals more of Rock Island, including the scale — with a battalion of mounted soldiers riding below it. Today Rock Island is almost entirely buried under asphalt in the swimming pool area off Redmesa Road in the Cal West development.

This shot strikes me as kind of sad, from a movie history standpoint, but this is what's left of Rock Island today, at least above ground. The bulk of it was buried when developers graded the Iverson Gorge to put in condos in the late 1980s, and will probably never be seen again — at least not by humans.

Another shot of Rock Island as it exists today — you could call it Rock Island Prison. This photo includes one of the surviving towers, visible behind the foliage in the top left portion of the photo. The fence contains the Cal West Townhomes swimming pool area. You can click here to see some additional blog posts on Rock Island.

Back to the movie. In case you're wondering how the Three Stooges ended up on a rocket ship to Venus, I can't blame you, but then again, should we care? The Three Stooges always had a knack for ending up anywhere, whether it was ancient Greece, the Old West or outer space. Wherever they went, the focus was on causing mayhem, and how they got there was never important. I think in this case they may have been sent in to clean up the rocket and then accidentally fired the thing, but I can't swear to it.

A giant tarantula menaces the Stooges while they're on Venus, and is representative of the caliber of special effects used in the movie — in fact, this may be the money shot. The sequence jumps around among various locations on the Lower Iverson, with the above shot taking place in the Sheep Flats area, now the site of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. In the background is Iverson's Eucalyptus Grove, usually called simply the Grove.

Another shot of the tarantula shows Church Rock in the background, just above the spider's abdomen, if I'm remembering my bug anatomy correctly. Church Rock remains in place today, as do most of the Grove area rocks seen in the first spider shot, along with a significant clump of eucalyptus trees. But it's all on private property and hard to access. By the way, this giant tarantula shoots out fire, which you can see in the video clip at the bottom of this post.

At one point as the Stooges are fleeing the big spider, a stuntman, er, Stooge, finds himself on top of a legendary Iverson rock feature known as The Wall. The smaller rock at the right, sticking over the edge of The Wall, is Potato Rock. One reason The Wall is legendary is because it didn't make it — it was a casualty of condo development, and no longer exists.

After being chased for a while by the tarantula, the Stooges encounter a "unicorn" at Sheep Flats. This shot includes the rarely seen Iverson Pond, a water formation that I believe only turned up after a good rain. The big rock to the right of the Stooges is one I call Pond Rock, which has also been called Stacked Rocks.

Another shot from the unicorn sequence provides a better look at Iverson Pond and another view of Pond Rock, along with a number of the rocks surrounding Sheep Flats. Many of those background rocks remain in place today and provide ambiance for the mobile home village, although Pond Rock was removed to make way for mobile homes. I assume the developers also took steps to alleviate the regular flooding that created Iverson Pond.

Iverson Pond also shows up — in color this time — in a 1963 episode of the TV Western "The Virginian," and here again, Pond Rock is featured prominently, appearing toward the left in the above screen shot. The episode, "Strangers at Sundown," makes what is probably the most dramatic use of Iverson Pond that I've seen, including making the water feature appear larger than it really was.

The Iverson Western street, as seen in "Calamity Jane and the Texan" (1950)

From 1945 to 1957 this same area was the site of Iverson's widely filmed Western town, sometimes called Iverson Village or El Paso Street. Here it's seen in its glory days in a shot from "Calamity Jane and the Texan" focused mainly on the General Store. When the town was in place, Pond Rock was a part of the town, located right next to the General Store. So the Stooges scene at Iverson Pond would not have been possible two years earlier.

This is the same shot from "Calamity Jane and the Texan" (also known as "The Texan Meets Calamity Jane"), with Pond Rock highlighted. Once you know where it is, you almost can't help but see it in shots of the town.

During the period when Iverson Village was in place, the body of water that would later become Iverson Pond was nothing more than a flooded version of the town, as seen above in an episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" called "Ghost Town Gold," which first aired May 25, 1952.

By 1952 the Western town was starting to be pretty rundown, which really shows up in this shot from "Ghost Town Gold." The story goes that when they showed up to shoot this episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" at Iverson Village they found the place flooded — and they just wrote the flooding into the script.

Another shot from "Ghost Town Gold" shows Pat Brady and Bullet, Roy's German shepherd, driving through the flooded street in Nellybelle, Pat's Jeep. Pond Rock can be seen above and to the right of Pat's head, partially in shadow. Some of these same shots, along with a number of other ones, also appear in a blog entry I did a while back about the flooded and deteriorated town, which you can see by clicking here.

Iverson Pond and Pond Rock would surface again in "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," filmed three years after "Have Rocket, Will Travel." I'll get into that more in the upcoming post on that movie.

The Stooges at the time of "Have Rocket, Will Travel" consisted of the two perennials, Larry Fine and Moe Howard, along with Curly Joe DeRita, who was the fourth guy to take that rotating No. 3 spot — following Shemp Howard, Curly Howard and Joe Besser.

This is another pretty cool shot from "Have Rocket, Will Travel," with the Stooges tromping around the area above Nyoka Cliff. A number of Iverson's classic movie rocks can be seen here, including a portion of Hangdog at the right (in front of Larry) and Sticky Bun at the top (between Moe and Curly Joe). 

Here's an unusual clip in which director John Landis — who has nothing to do with this movie, as far as I can tell — provides a commentary on the trailer for "Have Rocket, Will Travel." Landis is known for directing "Animal House," "American Werewolf in London," "The Blues Brothers," "Beverly Hills Cop III" and a number of other popular movies. His commentary on the Stooges trailer is suspect at times — I find it hard to believe his explanation of how the spider shoots fire, for one thing — and at other times is flat-out wrong. He erroneously declares that the unicorn sequence is filmed in Agoura, Calif., for example, when it is unmistakably shot at Iverson, in Chatsworth. But at least he finds it worth mentioning locations, and his misinformation is a reminder of how misunderstood Iverson's legacy is and why it's important for those of us who care to keep trying to set the record straight. Anyway, the trailer and the commentary are worth a couple of minutes.

Again, you can find Part II of this series, on the Three Stooges movie "Gold Raiders," by clicking here, and Part III, on "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," by clicking here. And if you want to track down the movie, please try the Amazon links below. Enjoy!

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