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Spencer's Mountain (1963)

Approved | | Drama, Family | 16 May 1963 (USA)
Clay Spencer is a hard-working man who loves his wife and large family. He is respected by his neighbors and always ready to give them a helping hand. Although not a churchgoer, he even ... See full summary »





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Complete credited cast:
Preacher Clyde Goodman
Claris Coleman
Miss Parker
Lillian Bronson ...
Dr. Campbell
Colonel Coleman
Kathy Bennett ...
Minnie-Cora Cook
Percy Cook
Mother Ida
Ken Mayer ...
Mr. John


Clay Spencer is a hard-working man who loves his wife and large family. He is respected by his neighbors and always ready to give them a helping hand. Although not a churchgoer, he even helps a newly arrived local minister regain his flock after he and Clay get into a bit of trouble. If he has one dream in life it's to build his wife Olivia a beautiful house on a piece of land he inherited on Spender's mountain. When his eldest son, Clayboy, graduates at the top of his high school class and has the opportunity to go to college, Clay has only one option left to him. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Clayboy's schoolteacher impresses upon Clayboy the following phrase, "The world steps aside to let a man pass, if he knows where he is going"


Drama | Family


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

16 May 1963 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Os Nove Irmãos  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)|



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


Final film of Donald Crisp. See more »


When clay is talking church with Mother Ida at about 22 min. into the movie. You can clearly see traffic traveling down a highway behind Ida. See more »


Clayboy Spencer: They think they can give me a college education
Olivia Spencer: Well, I vow sometimes educated people has less brains than fools
Clayboy Spencer: Wouldn't you want me to go?
Olivia Spencer: I'd rather you go to college than anything in the whole world, but just where they think we can raise that kind of money when your father even worked overtime to get you a graduation ring, did you ever see university boys, there rich boys, their daddys have money or they wouldn't even let them inside the gates.
See more »


Followed by A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion (1993) See more »


In the Garden
Written by Austin Miles
Sung by Olivia Spencer (Maureen O'Hara) and the cast at the funeral
See more »

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User Reviews

Maybe maudline, but a classic thanks to Fonda and the cinematography.
16 September 2003 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Before The Waltons, there was Spencer's Mountain. Based on the autobiographical novel by Earl Hamner, Jr, this heartwarming family drama fathered the beloved TV series and features all its familiar ingredients-poor family with nine children struggling to make ends meet, rural setting, live-in grandparents, gifted oldest son, mother named Livvie, coming-of-age crises-the list goes on and on. Even the famous (and corny) "good night" ritual debuts here; the names may be different (there's no Mary Ellen, Jason or Jim-Bob), but the indelible long shot-darkened house with one lamp burning in an upstairs window-is framed exactly as it would be on television nine years later.

Along with the similarities, though, come some changes. Instead of Depression-era Appalachia, the Spencers confront their problems in contemporary Wyoming, affording a more dramatic backdrop and the ability to deal with modern mores. And instead of John-Boy, we have Clay-Boy (James MacArthur), the oldest son of Clay Spencer (Henry Fonda) and his wife (Maureen O'Hara). While Clay-Boy is not an aspiring writer like his TV counterpart (and flaunts a decidedly more beefy physique), he does win top honors in his high school class and harbors a potent desire to attend college and escape his sheltered mountain life. Clay-Boy's efforts to meet the university's academic and financial requirements, as well as Clay Sr.'s burning wish to build his dream house, are among the everyday issues the Spencers must face.

Maybe if The Waltons never existed, Spencer's Mountain would better stand the test of time. But so ingrained is The Waltons in our collective conscience, it's difficult to divorce Spencer's Mountain from it-and from the elements that have prompted merciless parody over the years. The folksy, homespun attitudes that permeate Delmer Daves' production alternately provoke charmed smiles and withering cringes, usually depending on who is speaking the lines. And while the film benefits from breathtaking location shooting in Grand Teton National Park, even the majestic snow-capped peaks can't dilute the sugar coating that drips from many scenes.

Unfortunately, the younger actors bear the brunt of the blame. MacArthur tries his best, but often is sabotaged by the annoying Mimsy Farmer (yes, Mimsy) as Clay-Boy's sweetheart Claris, whose hormones rage so ferociously she practically eats Clay-Boy alive during their breathy love scenes. Such frank treatment of blossoming sexuality is commendable, but seems laughably inappropriate in such a family-oriented film, at times transforming Spencer's Mountain into a watered-down version of A Summer Place (interestingly enough, also directed by Daves).

Fonda and O'Hara, on the other hand, make an ideal couple, acting with an ease and familiarity that gives their relationship a warm, comfortable feel. Fonda especially embodies the uneducated, hard-drinking, heart-of-gold Clay Sr., always willing to fight and sacrifice so his brood can enjoy a richer, more prosperous life. Without a doubt, Fonda is the soul of Spencer's Mountain, and his natural, beautifully shaded portrayal keeps the film from descending into a maudlin mess.

Despite its shortcomings, Spencer's Mountain is tough to knock. Featuring forthright, salt-of-the-earth characters, timeless family themes and lovely cinematography, it wiggles its way into the heart and, like the noble Spencers, we graciously forgive its faults.

24 of 27 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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