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Third Man on the Mountain (1959), directed by Ken Annakin.

I'm still catching up with the Disney family-friendly adventures I missed when I was a child.

Filmed on location, this is a fictional account of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, here called "the Citadel" for some reason. It takes place during the Golden age of alpinism; I never heard the term before looking it up. It was a glorious 11 years when many of the Alps were first climbed.

Young James MacArthur wants to be a climbing guide like his father, who died on the big mountain. No one believes in him except a visiting Englishman who is the world's greatest mountaineer (Michael Rennie), a washed-up guide and general rascal (Laurence Naismith), and most importantly, his girl (Janet Munro) who can put on trousers and scale cliffs as well. She sparkles here.

Others in the cast: James Donald as the sour uncle and Herbert Lom as a fierce guide from a competing village.

Some spectacular mountaineering footage by the pro doubles: free climbing on vertical walls, rope navigation of impossible-looking overhangs, and vertiginous perspectives. The actors get to do some real roped locations themselves and it does not look like easy work. A few process shots but many more real ones.

I'm actually glad I didn't see this when young; I might have had nightmares. I'm not afraid of heights only because I never go there.

In those days adventure books were for young people who wanted to be doing things. In the film when they get to a high point and look around at the surrounding peaks, the English climber says "This is here every day and millions of people will never see it" and the viewer would think "yes, I want to be there".

Score by William Alwyn.

The DVD is not very good. According to the IMDB 1.37:1 is the correct aspect ratio, which is unusual for a theatrical release in the late 1950s. Maybe the film was always intended to go to TV, or perhaps the cameras and lenses needed for the location climbing were not suited for widescreen?



-Bill

Review older films here: 1979 and earlier | 1980s | 1990s | Combined reviews: Strange Picture Scroll
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post #1922 of 1922 Old Today, 06:19 AM - Thread Starter
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The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), written, produced and directed by Val Guest.

A reporter's life was falling apart anyway when wouldn't you know it: atomic testing sends the Earth spiraling toward the Sun. Ignore the bad science: this is an adult tale of heat death at the end of the world, an allegory of love and loss in the atomic age.

Finally losing patience waiting for an announced Blu-ray from Cohen Media, I bought the well-reviewed region B disc from BFI.

Notes:

  • The presentation of the working newsroom has been described as the best since The Front Page (1931).
  • I am most grateful for the subtitles on the new disc. The reporters are full of quips and the journalism patter flew by me too quickly on the old DVD.
  • The Daily Express is a real newspaper. The publisher cooperated, allowed them to recreate the newsroom at the studio and also stage scenes down in the plant.
  • The reporter's pub across the street was also a real location.
  • Arthur Christiansen, recently retired as editor of the Express, more or less plays himself here.
  • It's not just the realism of the newspaper: the beaches and amusement parks are a vivid picture of the time.
  • Edward Judd, our bitter hard-drinking protagonist, becomes tedious after a while. He is slowly redeemed by the love of a good woman and the realization that at the end of the world, priorities need to be reordered.
  • Janet Munro gets an adult role she wanted. At Disney (Third Man on the Mountain (1959), Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959), Swiss Family Robinson (1960)) they used to bind her breasts down to make her look younger. Here she has a brief flash of nudity and sleeps naked under a sheet. She thanked the director for letting her mature.
  • Leo McKern is just great as the science reporter with an acid wit who can also be a good friend.
  • During the breakdown of society we have a "kids gone wild" segment typical of the era. They seem more like beatnik performance artists than actual looters, but if you knock one down an elevator shaft the others go away.
  • Uncredited Michael Caine has a few lines as a traffic policeman. In his biography he says the director berated him for having no talent and said he had no future as an actor.
  • On the commentary track the director has a shout-out for Caine but doesn't tell that story.
  • The anti-bomb message is underlined by footage of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament march.
  • On the commentary the director also takes credit for fortuitous anticipation of global warming.

Available on region B Blu-ray from BFI. Now with subtitles. The commentary track -- a conversation with the director -- is brought forward from the DVD.

This is a fine upgrade over the DVD video. The disc includes a booklet and a rich set of extras, including three short atomic bomb films.



-Bill

Review older films here: 1979 and earlier | 1980s | 1990s | Combined reviews: Strange Picture Scroll
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