Sunday, 23 June 2013

No.106 : The Mountain

The Mountain at the IMDb

 Spencer Tracy and ‘Number 2’ Robert Wagner star in this 1956 thriller that sees two squabbling brothers attempt to reach the site of a mountain plane crash.

The brothers have an age difference of 30 years and it certainly shows as old shepherd Spencer has to deal with his angry young man brother Robert. No concession is given to accents or costumes so you have the slightly jarring spectacle of a sharply dressed, American accented Wagner bemoaning his fate as an ‘entertainer’of rich young women - he should try a job in insurance!

The film opens as a brave model aeroplane gives its life to the motion picture industry. It looks like an airliner in the long shots but when we focus on the pilots it looks like they've recycled a set from a World War 2 bomber flick - no wonder they crashed! Despite it being model work the actual crash happens off screen but the camera pans back to give us a rubbernecker's view of the devastation.

Back in the village at the foot of the mountain a rescue attempt is mounted. They ask Spencer along but he’s ten years retired and refuses to get involved, believing the mountain has it in for him after several accidents. His gadabout brother is keen to go but we suspect his motives. The initial rescue proves rubbish when they need rescuing themselves and they decide to wait until spring before going back.

Robert, ever the humanitarian, refuses to leave the wreck alone but he’s more interested in the money and watches that surely litter the crash scene. Spencer is aghast but soon agrees to accompany his brother as he’d inevitably die without his help. The two set out on the arduous climb across several well constructed but not very convincing sets before reaching the downed plane. As Robert starts filling his boots, Tracy finds a badly injured survivor and promises to take her back to civilisation. Robert doesn't like this plan as the police will take the cash off him so he tries the far more legal route of strangling the girl. Spencer fights him off and starts the perilous decent down the mountain. With Robert in pursuit who will survive and at what cost?

Once you get beyond the strange casting and American accents there is a lot to like in this morality tale. The settings around Mont Blanc are great and it certainly seems authentic. The same can’t be said for the mountaineering shots which understandably were done on sets with rear projection. The climb was well done with a lot of thought given to explaining the technical points without it being patronising. It did beggar belief that the ageing Spencer could skip up the mountain and then haul his brother up too but this guy has some healing ability - hands burnt raw by ropes to fully healed in 10 minutes!

Tracy was the better brother in more ways than one and you could almost believe him as an alpine guide once he got his beret on. Less good was Wagner who had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. We all love a heel but this guy was just a dick throughout.

The finale wasn't a great surprise and, although still a bit shocking, the pieces were set that it couldn't have been any other way. Initially I thought they would have given more character to the mountain what with Spencer foreshadowing a big showdown with the malevolent mound but in the end it was two brothers seeking their own kind of redemption with a fair result recorded for all concerned.

This was an entertaining film with at times a dubious moral compass but as a study of men and their motivations it was well done and with several memorable scenes.

THE Tag Line - Mountain High Score  74%

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