Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Mountain (1956)

The MountainI have long awaited this film's conversion to DVD. As a kid I remember so well watching this in black and white on "Saturday Night At The Movies".

The DVD of this film, produced by Olive Films, is a fairly good transfer, although there are some scenes where the color seems to fluctuate...but then again, that may just be a result of the age of the film (well over 50 years). Certainly not enough of a problem to make the movie less enjoyable, although oddly enough, it's the in-studio "mountain climbing" where the color varies the most, not the natural Alps footage. And, considering that much of this movie was actually filmed in the French Alps, well, it's still magnificent Vista Vision photography! And, they do a great job of combining in-studio footage with Alps backgrounds, making this more realistic than many films of its era. Unfortunately, despite being in the Alps and it's can't see their breath! Even in Ronald Colman's 1937 film "Lost Horizon" they worked in a large freezer so you could see their breath in the mountain scenes. But again, one really doesn't get lost in these shortcomings, because Spencer Tracy's acting is superb.

There are two problems with this film. First, the age difference between Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner was not reasonable to make them brothers. Father and son would have been believable, and in my view, would have worked. But then again, in most movies you have to suspend belief in one area or another, so, okay...I can live with it. The other issue here is that Robert Wagner is such a jerk (I was going to say...well, you know) that you not only know he's going to die climbing the mountain, but from the moment early on in the film when he slaps Spencer Tracy in the face, you're rooting for him falling to his death off the mountain! But, okay there, too! ;-)

While we all know that Spencer Tracy wasn't doing the actual mountain climbing here -he was already 56 and in somewhat declining health -this must have been a tough movie for him to make. He may not have yet been the lion in winter, but he was certainly well into late autumn. But, over the years, as Tracy aged he only improved. His later years saw most of his finest performances...and this is one.

Robert Wagner was the "pretty boy" in the film, but does reasonably well. The supporting actors are almost irrelevant here, despite some fairly big names (Claire Trevor, for example).

A fine film and a different story...well worth viewing.

Video looks great but audio has very bad hum . I thought there was a diesel truck idling outside in the street !

Buy The Mountain (1956) Now

It's about time that this great movie finally makes it onto DVD. I remember seeing this when I was a kid. Seeing it now I appreciate how good this film really was. It was very realistic in its depiction of climbing. The only down side to the movie was the age difference between Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner. It would have been more believable if they were father and son rather than brothers. But the movie was based on a novel and perhaps such a change might not have been approved by the author. All in all it was a great movie. Robert Wagner played a stellar role as the villain. E.G. Marshall and William Demarest also provided excellent supporting roles.

Read Best Reviews of The Mountain (1956) Here

"I haven't climbed in ten years. That in itself would be enough if a man gets old. And besides, my hands are not as strong as they once were and the mountain is against me. But all that there is, there's one thing more, the most important thing. It isn't right! Isn't there anything inside you that tells you it isn't right? You want me to take you up to the top of the mountain in the sight of God so you can pick the pockets of dead people?"

MGM must have been furious when, after throwing the production of Tribute to a Bad Man into chaos when he pulled out after a few days shooting on health grounds, citing the location's high altitude as the reason he couldn't finish the picture, Spencer Tracy went on to make The Mountain for Paramount instead. Not that it's Tracy doing any of the real climbing in this surprisingly gripping drama that sees his simple mountain guide returning against his will to a mountain that doesn't want him and has tried to kill him three times already to help Robert Wagner loot the bodies of the victims of a plane crash at the peak.

At first Tracy seems badly miscast and showing his age and then some as Robert Wagner's older very much older brother. Only 56, just a couple of years after playing Wagner's father in Broken Lance, his hell raising years had caught up with him enough by then to make him look old enough to play his grandfather here. It doesn't help that the part is clearly written for a man a good ten years younger, rendering him less a simple man than an unconvincingly naïve one in his scenes with thinly-drawn romantic interest Claire Trevor, brushing off his dialogue as if he doesn't believe it either while she effortlessly runs rings around him. But he's on firmer ground when his manipulative brother's desperation to get enough money to get out of their picturesque but poor village makes him cast aside his moral qualms and better judgement.

Mountain movies tend to work better when there's some antagonism between the climbers, whether it's Glenn Ford's easygoing ex-G.I. locking horns with Lloyd Bridges' Nazi fanaticism in The White Tower, Sean Connery and Lambert Wilson's romantic rivalry in Five Days One Summer or Clint Eastwood trying to work out which of his fellow climbers is trying to kill him in The Eiger Sanction, and that's very much the case here. It's not too difficult to predict the plot developments, but Edward Dmytryk's direction and the cast underplay it just enough to avoid slipping into melodrama until the finale, while the special effects are surprisingly good, the VistaVision system allowing a much higher quality of backprojection that blends in very well in most scenes. It doesn't have the sheer elemental grandeur and visual poetry of Arnold Fanck's German `berg' films with Leni Riefenstahl, but it does have a very impressive sense of scale thanks to an excellent eye for locations. There's a constant contrast between Franz Planer's vivid color photography and the beauty of the surroundings with the cynical characters and their dark motives. Here it's often the bright sunlight that reveals not just Wagner's callousness but even that of a tourist and his attractive mistress or the initial self-important throwaway slights of the `official' rescue expedition.

As usual in this kind of film (or at least those of the American variety) the women have little to do: Claire Trevor's widow waits for Tracy to marry her, playgirl Barbara Darrow briefly uses Robert Wagner for some holiday amusement and Anna Kashfi manages to have a role that's both pivotal and thankless. But the male supporting cast, including E.G.Marshall, William Demarest and Richard Arlen, don't have that much to do either in roles that are intended to set the stage for the two stars and their resentment and disappointment. Ultimately it's very much a two-hander, but Tracy and Wagner work well enough together to paper over some of the thinness of the characters, holding their own against the film's third star, the stunning scenery and locations. These look suitably epic and stunning on Olive's extras-free but also region-free widescreen Blu-ray release that does a pretty good job of recreating VistaVision's self-proclaimed `motion picture hi-fidelity.' There is some slight colour fluctuation in the chimney sequence but not enough to detract from an impressive transfer of a largely forgotten film that, while not hugely ambitious, is surprisingly well crafted and satisfying.

Want The Mountain (1956) Discount?

In the twilight of his career, Spencer Tracy delivers a great performance as an aging mountain climber that is haunted by a failed mountain climbing event where his companions died. His brother, a perennial malcontent, is played by a young Robert Wagner who is looking for an excuse to leave his home and attain quick enrichment.

A plane crashes on top of the mountain, Robert Wagner decides that he wants to climb the mountain to rob and loot the remains of the plane. The brothers quarrel. An investigating expedition fails. In order to protect his stupid brother, Tracy decides to help his brother on his foolish mission. When they reach the plane, they find a surprse and a new dilemma.

The blu-ray recording does justice to this beautiful alpine adventure. I remember seeing this movie as a child and was riveted by the mountain climbing and beauty of the adventure. I highly recommend this disk for young viewers to learn about the ethics of life and self sacrifice for a greater good.

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