The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Third Man on the Mountain

When people think of Walt Disney, any number of movies come up. Go ahead. Think of a classic Disney flick. Okay, did you pick one? I bet it was an animated movie, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. In the 1950s and 1960s though, Disney backed some of my all-time favorites, many of them live action flicks like The Love Bug, Swiss Family Robinson and of course, the Davy Crockett episodes on TV's Disneyland. Let's give another one a try, 1959's Third Man on the Mountain.

Growing up in the mountain village of Kurtal in Switzerland, Rudi Matt (James MacArthur) has spent his life dreaming of being and doing one thing. He's working in town as a dishwasher at the hotel, but he aspires to be a mountain guide for tourists and climbers who want to explore the nearby mountains. Mountain climbing in his blood though, even if that stigma hangs over his head. Why? When Rudi was just a boy, his father died on an immense, intimidating mountain that towers over the town, the Citadel. No one has ever even made it up the mountain, but Rudi's father and his legend grew. Rudi wants to live up to his famous name and may get a chance when a famous mountain climber, John Winter (Michael Rennie), visits the town with an intention of becoming the first person to ever climb the Citadel. Winter takes a liking to young Rudi and sees the potential. Could the younger climber join him in his dangerous climb?

That Walt Disney fella, he sure knew what he was doing. From his TV shows to movies to marketing to his theme parks, Disney simply knew what audiences wanted. Read more about his Walt Disney Pictures HERE. He didn't pander to any one demographic. These were movies families could watch together where both parents and the children could enjoy them. Director Ken Annakin works with an interesting story with composer William Alwyn turning in a solid score (the duo would work together again a year later on the classic Swiss Family Robinson). I don't put 'Mountain' in classic status because there are some issues, but it's still a solid movie with some really easy to recommend moving pieces.

Quite the familiar face in Disney movies, MacArthur had already starred in The Light in the Forest, starred here in 'Mountain' and would star in two later Disney ventures, 'Swiss Family' and Kidnapped. Just 21 at the time of filming, MacArthur brings that ideal youthful charm to the part. You believe him as a teenager. Considering his background of losing his father at a young age, we're rooting for him to reach all of his goals, to become the mountain climber that his Dad would have been proud of. A young actor who's likable and natural. Go figure, but it works. I've always been a MacArthur fan because of 'Swiss' and TV's Hawaii Five-O, and even at a young age, he shows off that natural on-screen ability. He's got some good scenes with another Disney favorite and Swiss co-star, Janet Munro, and a former mountain guide who he looks up to, Uncle Teo, played by Laurence Naismith.

In casting his films and TV shows, Disney often was able to pick out that ideal actor for the perfect part, often with names you might not think of. Rennie is excellent as famous mountain climber John Winters, a mentor who becomes a sort of father figure to Rudi. Also look for James Donald as Rudi's uncle, Franz, who is worried his nephew will follow in his father's steps and ruin his life with all its dangers. Herbert Lom plays Emil Saxo, a guide from another village with some selfish intentions. Even MacArthur's mom, Helen Hayes, makes a quick appearance as a tourist at the hotel.

Above all else, there's one BIG old reason to watch this Disney flick. It's the mountain scenery with Disney deciding to film on-location in Switzerland in the Alps. The climbing footage shot up on the mountains is absolutely stunning with the Matterhorn serving as the film's Citadel. This movie serves as a prime example of why I love older films. There wasn't any computer-generated images available so the alternative...well, was to ACTUALLY FILM STUFF!!! Production involved stunt doubles and climbers actually climbing and the resulting footage is stunning to watch. Just beautiful stuff to watch. When filming in the mountains became unfeasible, equally beautiful matte paintings stood in for the action. All the while, we see insert shots of MacArthur, Rennie, Donald and Lom all climbing to add that little touch of realism and authenticity.

The movie struggles at times with the more personal, dramatic moments off the mountains, but it's a minor flaw relative to the overall success. The cast is very good, the visual and mountain locations pitch perfect. Another winner from Mr. Disney.

Third Man on the Mountain (1959): ***/****

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