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One of the well hidden Disney classics is Ken Annikens Third Man on the Mountains released in 1959. It stars Michael Rennie as Captain Winters who comes to a Swiss village to climb the Citadel, one of the worlds highest and most dangerous mountains and the peak that claimed the life of Rudy Matt's father, played by James McCarther. It was filmed on location in Zermatt Switzerland where the 14,000 foot Matterhorn stands. It is one of the great adventure films of all time taken from the book Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman. Very few movies have been made about mountain climbing, The Mountain with Spencer Tracy, The White Tower with Glenn Ford and The Eiger Sanction with Clint Eastwood. But Third Man on the Mountain has the most heart. All of the above films are on video tape.
I saw this film on the old Disney show back decades ago, and liked it very
much, then sort of forgot about it. These days the Disney channel shows it
periodically, and whenever it's on and I'm watching television, I can't help
but stayed tuned to this one. For anyone who's ever climbed a mountain this
movie is a treat.
The story is beyond simple: a young man in 19th century Switzerland whose father was killed trying to climb the Citadel (which is what the Matterhorn is called here) wants to become a mountaineer himself, and of course climb to the top of the Citadel, which no man has done. His mother strictly forbids it, and his uncle downright nasty to him whenever the subject comes up. Persistent fellow that he is, the boy hooks up with an English mountain climber, then coaxes his uncle to take him along on a climb, makes an ass of himself, then has a go at it again. The boy doesn't really have the maturity for the task, but persists, and in time he grows up, almost in spite of himself.
There's a larger than life quality to this movie, which was filmed on location. Director Ken Annakin, who never achieved his potential, shows himself a first-rate movie man here. The Swiss village and the looming mountains beyond convey an odd mood, as the place feels alternately dangerous, as if on the edge of the world, and beautiful, because of what one sees out the window every day. There's an intimacy between the clannish villagers, with their peculiar garb and gingerbread homes, that's caught to absolute perfection by Annakin and his crew. Everything seems real in this film; stylized as it sometimes is, it has an unmistakable ring of (admittedly Disneyfied) truth.
As to the climbing scenes, they are wonderfully photographed, with the camera seemingly in the right place at all times. One gets just close enough to experience at least some of the danger and excitement of mountain-climbing, with the camera pulling back periodically to show a larger view, invariably breathtaking. The actors are all competent. James MacArthur's non-charisma actually helps movie the picture along, as one is often more aware of who he's with than his character. He fades into the background somewhat, as young men often do, with the older, more experienced adults dominating. James Donald is brilliant as his uncle, creating a fully rounded portrait of a man who looks after his nephew, who for reasons never wholly explained, likes to belittle him. Michael Rennie is sturdy as the Englishman and Janet Munro makes a perky love interest. Herbert Lom almost steals the show as Saxo, the outsider from beyond, who also wants to climb the Citadel, and has a disagreeable disposition. He dresses differently from the others, and even wears a different sort of hat. Lom comes across as foreign, as we can see why people don't take to him in this little close-knit society.
There are few surprises in this film, but it tells its familiar and largely predictable story with great flair and feeling for the people it's about, showing once more that one can make an outstanding, maybe even great film, out of seemingly routine, even threadbare material, if one hunkers down really hard and gives it one's best shot, as clearly everyone connected with this movie did.
I was eight years old in 1970, when our primary school in Northern
Ireland assembled all the students into the gymnasium to see "a film".
The film was Third man on the Mountain. A quiet loner who detested the
boredom of sports that chased an object around an enclosed playing
field, I was captivated by this film, and knew that I wanted to climb.
I am 43 years old now, and have spent my life climbing and enjoying the
beauty of the mountains. I have just purchased this film on DVD but
will wait until Christmas Eve, to see it for the first time in 35
In an age where Hollywood gratifies violence, profanity, and promiscuity, caring parents would do well to, not only let their children see this great adventure story; but to sit with them and watch it as a family. As a teenager, I never once attended a 'house-party', drank, or engaged in the trash that often creates arrogant, ungrateful, and belligerent adolescents. The memory of this film never left my mind, and kept me focused in life. Honour, self discipline, respect for our elders and caring about what others think of us; as well as a great story of personal determination and effort, young people today need to be presented with the values that used to be 'normal' in society.
The real locations used in the filming provide a welcome relief from the slick, computer-animations and green-screen fakery of modern celluloid, and the climbing depictions are far, far superior to anything that has since been passed off by Hollywood, as 'mountaineering'. Having to EARN respect, working and striving for goals, personal sacrifice, and a good story: parents owe this film to their children.
Third Man on the Mountain ranks among the very best live-action films
ever produced by Walt Disney. Period mountain-climbing film works as
both a white-knuckle adventure thriller and compelling coming-of-age
story. Highlights include sensational location photography and stunt
work, strong character performances, terrific period detail, and a fine
screenplay by Eleanore Griffin. Film takes its time establishing its
characters, before building towards unusually gripping second half,
where the human drama becomes as suspenseful as the high-altitude
Current DVD uses badly-worn elements for its source, with swarms of dirt, scratches, and ugly grain. It might, in fact, be the exact same transfer used in the 90's for the laserdisc release. Modern DVD resolution and large-screen televisions make the result unacceptable, especially for a film of this caliber. Disney Home Video needs to revisit this title and give it the respect it deserves.
Trivia: The Matterhorn ride at California's Disneyland theme park is based on the killer mountain seen in this film.
Young man in 1860s Switzerland, working as a lowly dishwasher, longs to climbs The Citadel--the same treacherous mountain his beloved father died trying to scale. Live-action Disney film has colorful production, strong performances and a sincere script about following your dreams and overcoming the odds. Sturdy lad James MacArthur is well-cast in the leading role, and his shy manner and yet driven spirit is engaging; Janet Munro once again plays the proverbial Disney love-interest, but she's appealing here too, a feisty, devoted female. Based on James Ramsey Ullman's book "Banner In The Sky", and the inspiration for Disneyland's Matterhorn ride, this is a well-plotted family film that thoughtful kids should really enjoy. ***1/2 from ****
A real find among Disney's live-action films of the 1950's, Third Man on the Mountain boasts some of the best climbing footage you'll see in ANY film on mountain climbing. Spectacular scenery of the Matterhorn adds to a strong story about a young man who learns the meaning of courage and responsibility. Marvellous film for young adults and parents.
This visually stunning film about the true story in the mid-19th century of a young man's need to conquer a mountain in the Swiss Alps that claimed the life of his father 16 years before is an exciting, gripping story that the entire family can enjoy. Young Rudi Matt (James MacArthur) is helped in his quest by famed British climber Captain John Winter, played by Michael Rennie, and their easy, warm chemistry also helps to make this a delightful film for all ages. If you are a fan of Michael Rennie, this film is a must-have for your collection, as his role is large and he gives a wonderful performance. If you are a fan of family adventure films, I recommend this film to you as one that your children will undoubtedly find entrancing, as will you. "Third Man on the Mountain" is a heartwarming, emotionally satisfying journey of a youth into a young man as well as an exciting story of mountain climbing in the 1800's.
Until I rented it on disc I'd never heard of 'Third Man On The
Mountain' - and what a lovely surprise it was.
What's not to like? The alpine location photography, abetted by select matte paintings which, for a 1959 film, hold their own against all such in Cameron's 'Titanic,' is simply gorgeous. The solid cast gives rock-solid performances, making 'Third Man On The Mountain' a splendid Disney coming-of-age adventure animated with believable, earnest characters. Through the story's onward and upward progress Ken Annakin's gives sure-handed and sure-footed direction: he has a story to tell, and he orchestrates his actors and camera to tell it.
And, oh, I second what my Canadian cousin, "oldyale6," from up there in BC, said in his IMDb review about this film's rock-solid values (we used to call them ideals): this is most definitely a film children ought to enjoy and profit from. 'Third Man On The Mountain' is timeless worthy fare for all.
Wonderful stuff! I saw this at a school screening in 1970, noticed over
the years afterwards it was seldom shown on UK TV, however never forgot
it even though I was never interested in becoming a mountaineer or a
sherpa when old enough. It's a simple wholesome family Disney live
action adventure, today's cynical polluted generations could probably
spend days poring over its stereotypes and corn and missing the point:
to enjoy a harmless 107 minutes with a feelgood movie.
Young lad Rudi (James MacArthur) dreams of climbing the Matterhorn but is forced to be a hotel dishwasher instead, therefore something's got to give: you can't bottle the wind after all. He gets his chance when kindly top mountaineer Michael Rennie takes him under his wing much to his cautious uncle James Donald's disgust and later greasy guide Herbert Lom's disdain. Some splendid shots of bodies climbing impossible rocks, lovely sunny Swiss scenery and much angst between the characters leads to an admittedly rather flat conclusion, but all was well anyway. Rudi's doe eyed ever smiling girlfriend Lisbeth (Janet Munro) was perfect in her supportive role; it's always sad to recall how real life turned out so crap for her. Favourite bits: her charming meeting under her umbrella with Rudi and his boots in the rain; Rudi squeezing up the "chimney" I nearly felt the panic. And as a sign of his parts to come I almost wished Lom had ended up stuttering and twitching!
All in all, totally inconsequential entertainment, lovely to revel in and regret that not even Planet Disney can be as wholly heartwarming any more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story opens in the mid-19th century in a picturesque Swiss village
under the towering Citadel. Young Rudi Matt (James MacArthur) wants
desperately to be a famous climbing guide like his late father and
finally gets the chance to accompany an English climber (Michael
Rennie) on a trek up the never-before-scaled mountain.
If you like mountain climbing, you'll love this movie which was beautifully filmed on location in Zermatt and the Matterhorn. The story is pure Disney with an idealist hero, his spunky girl friend (Janet Munroe), and lot of lovable villagers looking after them. MacArthur is sweet and boyish and contrasts well with Rennie's sophisticated gentleman. The first half of the movie was more interesting for me than the final ascent (featuring Herbert Lom as a semi-villain), which was somewhat anti-climatic, but it's a feel-good movie all the same.
An interesting note: Walt Disney loved the location so much that he built the Matterhorn bobsled ride at Disneyland after filming this movie.
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