Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Arab Village was a set on the backlot of RKO Pictures. It features twice on Star Trek: The Original Series, in the episodes "The Menagerie" and "Errand of Mercy".

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In September 1918, producer/director Thomas Ince purchased roughly 28 acres of property from real estate developer Harry Culver. Ince built the Thomas H. Ince Studio on the site. The backlot became known as the "Forty Acres", despite being only about half that size.

The studio shut down after Ince died under mysterious circumstances aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst on Nov. 19, 1924. Cecil B. DeMille purchased the studio and lot in 1925, and erected two standing sets for production of his film King of Kings. His massive Temple of Jerusalem set was located adjacent to Higuera Street (between Schaefer Street and Helms Avenue). On the south side of what is now the last block of Hayden Place, he erected a small warren of narrow streets, several buildings with domes, a plaza, a stretch of two-story "city walls" (complete with main gate and side gate), and a 75-foot high castle facade with two towers, a drawbridge, and castle gate. On the northwest side of the Jerusalem set was a "rear courtyard" (later known as the "Algerian Set").

DeMille sold the backlot to the French film studio Pathé in 1928. RKO took over Pathé in 1931. For the production of King Kong in 1933, the Temple set was redressed as the South Pacific islanders' wall used to keep out Kong. They were redressed again in 1935 for the gates of the city in the fantasy film She. The Jerusalem Castle set was redressed for 1934's The Return of Chandu and 1935's The Black Gate.

David O. Selznick (who had rented production offices on the site since the early days of DeMille's ownership) leased the entire property from RKO in 1937 for the production of Gone With The Wind. The Temple set, Jerusalem Castle gates and towers set, and portions of the Jerusalem street set were redressed to appear as Atlanta and burned to the ground on December 10, 1938.

The remainder of the Jerusalem street and plaza set continued to exist into the 1970s. It was redressed as an anonymous "Arab Village" for the 1927 films Forbidden Woman and Fighting Love. At this time, the "rear courtyard" was redressed to appear "Algerian". Its outward-facing walls were enclosed and dressed to appear "Tunisian". (This included second-floor wooden slat shutters and teensy "Juliet" balonies with ornate wrought-iron railings.)

All the domes atop the buildings were removed probably in 1936 for production of the Selznick film The Garden of Allah. A new "Western Town" was built against the west side of Arab Village where Castle Jerusalem used to be.

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Howard Hughes purchased RKO and the Forty Acres in 1948 for film production, but sold it in 1955 to General Tire.

General Tire sold it to Desilu in 1958.

Filming of "The Cage" (later incorporated into the two-part episode "The Mengagerie") occurred from November 27 to mid-December 1964. The Arab Village scene appears in the Rigel VII dream/battle sequences.

The first time we see the Arab Village set is when the scene opens with Vina (dressed as a Rigelian princess) runs toward Capt. Pike. In the background, you can see two gates. The gate to the right is the one seen in "Errand of Mercy", while the gate to the left is used here as the main entrance to the Rigelian castle.

Shots of the interior of the Rigelian castle were shot, I think, using the Algerian Set. This courtyard had undergone a renovation in 1927 for the film Forbidden Woman. It featured many pointed arches in addition to round ones, and the columns supporting the arches had flared tops.

The short fight scene with the alien Kalar here is limited to a very small portion of the set, just the entrance to the right, the stairs and balcony center stage, and a corner with cart and abandoned armor to the left. The fight scene begins with Pike looking up at some double-wide stairs, then running to stage left to speak with Vina as she hides behind an overturned cart. The shot held on them is pretty tight, so none of the rest of the set can be seen.

When the Kalar (the tall, beastial warrior) enters, one can see that there are walls outside the main gate. (These are the walls of the rear of the Arab Village set.) The Kalar moves stage right, and rips open a small door leading to a room. He goes inside. There's another tight shot of Pike talking to Vina, and she knocks over a shield. The Kalar emerges from the small room.

Vina runs stage right to the foot of the stairs we saw at the start of this scene, no more than six or seven steps away. The Kalar ignores her. (I guess; there's a jump-cut to Pike, and the next we see of the Kalar is a tight shot.) Pike moves in front of an alcove beneath the balcony, and picks up a mace.

There's a tight shot of the Kalar's face, and he moves stage left. Weirdly, the doors to the castle are now closed so we cannot see the walls beyond the entrance.

Pike and the Kalar exchange blows and places. Pike backs up to and then up the double-wide stairs as the Kalar attacks. Pike and Vina move stage left onto the balcony (which can be seen through the pointed arch) above the alcove. (Behind the action, one can see the wooden shutters that, from the outside of the set, are part of the Tunisian Set.) Pike is knocked down into the courtyard below. The Kalar attacks Vina, and Pike throws a short-sword at him that spears the Kalar in the back. As the Kalar falls into the courtyard, Pike holds up a serrated halberd whose wooden handle has been broken off. The Kalar half-leaps, half-falls into the courtyard, and is impaled on the halberd and dies.

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For filming of "Errand of Mercy", the exterior (east-facing) gate in the Arab Village city walls was used as the entrance to the Organian village. Notice that the wall is made up of roughly carved stone blocks. (The crenelations atop the gate are hidden by rotting planks of greyish wood!) Pay attention to the jutting wall or fortification to the right; the wall there next to the gate becomes the "Klingon munitions depot" later.

When Ayelborne, Kirk, and Spock enter the city, the shot is inside the city walls (breaking the 180 rule). The camera is facing south; you can see the big metal "gate" of the city's main gates in the background. In the background are the structures with log roof-beams sticking out of the wall. (These "Adobe style" buildings are in the south part of the set.)

The next shot of the set shows the Klingons entering and marching across the town's main plaza. Look to the left: You'll see double-wide steps going up and stage-right; juuuuust visible to the left is a set of exterior stairs leading up. (Just off-image to the left would be those Adobe-style buildings.)

When Kirk and Spock walk and plan their raid on the Klingon munitions depot, they are walking along the north side of the set westward, and end up on the west side of the set. They begin at a tree on the north side of the main gate (visible for only a split-second, right in the shot); as they walk, they pass two trees in a red-rimmed planter, and then get accosted by Klingons at the "Klingon cantina". Sharp-eyed viewers saw these same locations when the Klingons first came marching into the plaza. (See the other image I've included.) They then go up the double-wide steps (mentioned before).

When Kirk and Spock sneak into the plaza at night, they are doing so from a wooden door that was juuust to the right from the point where they began their walk in the plaza that previous afternoon. The camera is facing north, and the viewer can see the other big metal "gate" by the tree. (You can tell that the "munitions dump -- spray-paintec corrugated cardboard boxes -- against the wall here are actually outside the village's main gate. Notice those very peculiar roughly carved stone blocks!)

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Until 1972, the Forty Acres was used for the filming of a wide range of television shows, those produced by Desilu as well as those produced by other studios. Film production on the site declined rapidly, in part because RKO itself shut down film production (fearing a post-WWII economic depression that never came) and because location shooting was on the rise. Only two films were made on the backlot in the 1960s (none after 1966).

Desilu was bought by Paramount Pictures in 1967. Paramount sold the Forty Acres to Perfect Film and Chemical, which in turn sold them in 1969 to OSF Industries, a chemical company.

Television production ended on the Forty Acres in 1973. Mayberry RFD left the RKO lot in 1970 for its last season, and Hogan's Heroes ended production in 1971. This left Lassie as the only TV show using the sets, and that series went off the air in 1973.

Low-budget films like The Dynamite Brothers (1974), Switchblade Sisters (1975), Lepke (1975), Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1976), The Fortune (1975), The Four Deuces (1976), and Vigilante Force (1976) were all filmed there. Almost no maintenance or upkeep had been done on the backlot, and the standing sets were in extremely poor condition. That's why several of these films were permitted to destroy part of the Forty Acres sets through explosions or fire.

In 1976, the Forty Acres was sold, the sets demolished, the land graded, and the site redeveloped as an industrial office park.

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