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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
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
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.
When I joined the IMDB community, I was asked about my favorite movie. I
was at a loss for about five minutes, trying to think of movies that I
truly consider my favorite. This movie finally won over the others I
considered when I realized that a favorite is something personal and
reproach - you may hate this movie, but I saw at the perfect time of my
and now it means much more to me than it probably could
Henry Fonda turns in an excellent performance, which is testimony to his work ethic - he vocally denounced the script as "corny" enough to throw back Hollywood film-making 20 years. The children are troopers of the same era as other classic family movies, ala Disney's "Swiss Family Robinson." I imagine the casting companies used were the same.
This movie accomplishes what it sets out to do - make you care about the Spencer family, their desire for respect and honor, and the sacrifices they make to do what they think is right. There are many moments in this movie where you could be moved to tears.
An emotional movie with, dare I say it, a lot of heart. It is my favorite movie.
I don't know what the other guy was talking about, but I found this movie to be great. Henry Fonda as the head of the family was jovial, but stern. Maureen O'Hara was her usual tough, but beautiful leading lady. The story was engaging, the scenery is breath-taking, and makes one yearn for those old films that made going to the movies an event, something really special. I'm also glad it's finally out on DVD, as my pan and scan VHS copy isn't the greatest. Plot-wise, it followed the life of the Spencer family and their many adventures, if you will. The plots weren't all over the place, it was just documenting the various happenings in the Spencer family. Anyone with a heart will love this movie!
Leonard Maltin calls the film "mawkish", and he is right on, but it is still great fun. Mimsy Farmer's Claris is a hoot ("friction, friction, friction!")! Excellent use of the Jackson Hole locations, especially the Triangle X guest ranch, which served as the Spencer homestead and is still in operation here. Two trivia notes: Bronwyn Fitzsimmons, who played the college secretary, is Maureen O'Hara's daughter in real life. According to AMC Magazine, Henry Fonda showed some off-screen interest in her that O'Hara had to squash. Fonda did the film even though he thought it was so corny it would set U.S. movie-making back 20 years. Also, you have Wally Cox's character listed as GoodMAN, but the name was actually GoodSON. Highly recommended.
This movie was very enjoyable. It was fun, heartwarming & great story for the whole family. If you like "The Walton's" you will like "Spencer's Mountain" Henry Fonda does a wonderful job trying to care for his "babies" This movies proves that not all dreams have to come true to be happy. Sometimes you can be happy right where you are if you are, if you only give life a chance. Maureen O'Hara couldn't of done better as her role as Clay Spencer's wife. Also Wally Cox was super as the new preacher in town. This movie will have you laughing and crying. It is one of the best. I have watched this movie many times and know I will watch it several more times.
Henry Fonda throughout his career showed a great flair for playing
rustic characters and endowing them with dignity. In fact that was his
introduction to film when he did the movie version of the play that
made him a star, The Farmer Takes A Wife. Of course as Fonda started
playing more of a variety of roles he was less and less in rustic
His last role of this type was as Clay Spencer in Spencer's Mountain a feel good family type picture with a rather interesting take on the facts of life. Country folks like the Spencers who deal a lot in livestock are familiar with the breeding process so it's not a huge big deal with them. At least it's not in this film as Mimsy Farmer is ready to finish James MacArthur's eduction in that regard. One of the best scenes in the film is Henry Fonda bringing over his bull to mate with one of Dub Taylor's cows with everybody looking on. I guess they're starved for entertainment in that part of the country.
In fact MacArthur's further education is what drives the film. He's the oldest of Fonda's and Maureen O'Hara's nine children and the first to graduate high school. His teacher Virginia Gregg wants to see him get ahead and go to the university. But the financial and other obstacles are considerable. Even the new minister Wally Cox tutors MacArthur in a needed Latin course.
If the Spencers bear no small resemblance to the Walton family that's because Earl Hammer who created the Waltons also wrote the novel this film was based on. Spencer's Mountain is beautifully photographed in the Grand Teton mountains of Wyoming, just as pretty and more majestic than the Walton's Appalachians. Delmer Daves who directed Spencer's Mountain also directed Jubal a few years earlier, a western also set in the Grand Tetons. The cinematography is just as good, but the resemblance stops there because Jubal is quite the adult western.
Spencer's Mountain marked the farewell performance of Donald Crisp who was 81 years old when he filmed this and had a career going back to the earliest silent films. He was a grand character actor who played an awesome variety of parts. Here he's in his family patriarch persona as Fonda's father married to Lillian Bronson in the film. Crisp won his Oscar as the family patriarch in John Ford's How Green Was My Valley.
Spencer's Mountain did good box office and it's a nice family film. But Henry Fonda's new agent passed on a Broadway play called Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and signed his client for this. Fonda never forgave the agent, I can't really blame him.
I had seen this movie in high school with a friend I grew up with and his family at a Drive-In, and it made such an impression on me at that time, probably because of the wholesomeness of the whole thing; I saw it several times thereafter, but, until recently had not viewed it for years; I bought the DVD version and watched it last night and it was just as I had remembered it, a family movie, the likes of which you will never see again.... I especially enjoyed the extras, including the premiere newsreel and interviews; the scenery is breathtaking especially on a large screen TV, and the story always keeps your interest...it is hard to explain, but to someone of my generation, they just don't make them like this anymore!! What a joy to see such actors as Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Hara, Wally Cox, Virginia Gregg, Lillian Bronson, and Donald Crisp displaying their fine talents in this film... IT was interesting to see what a fine job James MacArthur did prior to Hawaii Five O, as he had done in several Disney pictures of the era....there is a very young Kim Karayth, who later went on to fame as the youngest sibling in The Sound Of Music and other family pictures, and Veronica Cartwright, who played on many television series and also in the Hitchcock thriller "The Birds." This was the heyday of family moviemaking...where did it all go??
Wyoming father Henry Fonda (as Clay Spencer) and attractive wife
Maureen O'Hara (as Olivia) live on "Spencer's Mountain" with their nine
children, plus a grandpa and grandma. To give his large family more
room, Mr. Fonda is constructing a bigger "dream house" on his vast
mountainous estate. Another dream the family has involves education.
Looking mature for his supposedly teenage years, eldest son James
MacArthur (as "Clayboy") becomes the first in his family to graduate
from high school.
Everyone hopes Mr. MacArthur will go on to college, but he has to learn his Latin for admission. New community preacher Wally Cox (as Goodman) helps MacArthur, but there are other obstacles to overcome. The Spencer family is so large, lack of monetary funds is a concern. Last but not least, the almighty God is against MacArthur's higher education, until he can strike a deal with the Lord; if this seems strange, consider the verse "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."
A good-looking man, often appearing shirtless, MacArthur invites much female attention - but he is apparently unsure of his sexuality during the early running time. Doing everything she can to let MacArthur know she is ready for action is sexually aroused Mimsy Farmer (as Claris Coleman). MacArthur does a lot of running in this movie, but everything finally catches up with him.
This is all based on the autobiographical novel "Spencer's Mountain" by Earl Hamner Jr., which even more famously became "The Waltons" when adapted for television in the 1970s. "Clay Spencer" was changed to "John Walton". It was the last appearance for veteran Donald Crisp, who has little to do but does it well. The location photography by Charles Lawton is beautiful.
***** Spencer's Mountain (5/16/63) Delmer Daves ~ James MacArthur. Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Hara, Wally Cox
Quarry employee Henry Fonda, living on a cows-and-chickens estate in Wyoming with his wife and nine children, works on building the couple's dream home in the hills while also trying to get his book-learnin' eldest son into college. Sudsy adaptation of Earl Hamner Jr.'s thinly-disguised memoir, which led in due course to TV's "The Waltons", is full of now-familiar elements: the whiskey-sippin' grandpa, the gaggle of young 'uns who bathe together in one tub, the fiery-tempered Mrs. (Maureen O'Hara, giving us nothing new) who asks her husband to work overtime so she can buy her son a graduation ring, the funeral which brings all the scattered relatives together. Given a pictorial sheen by writer-director Delmer Daves and his team of cinematographers, this location-rich drama is so well-intentioned that it becomes rather turgid. James MacArthur seems a tad mature to be just coming-of-age and noticing girls, though Daves feasts on his creamy skin and masculinity--the only instance where the director gets some sensuality going (it sure isn't there between the adults). "The Waltons" usually managed to add a dash of vinegar to its mix of homilies and cracker-barrel wisdom; here, when papa Fonda explains sex to son MacArthur by saying, "Just remember, you ain't no bull and she ain't no cow," the incredulous will not be won over. ** from ****
Fun and wholesome story about a Wyoming landowner called Clay Spencer
(Henry Fonda) , he is a hard-working man who loves his wife (Mauren
O'Hara) and large family. Clay abhorring religion , though allows his
wife to raise the children as Christians and keeps promising to build
another family house . Spencer runs a loving and attractive family and
the kids long for a permanent home . Clay is respected by his neighbors
and always ready to give them a helping hand . Meanwhile , his son
Clayboy wants to go at University , and the schoolteacher impresses
upon Clayboy the following phrase, "The world steps aside to let a man
pass, if he knows where he is going" . Problems start when the misfit
kiddies join themselves as the free spirits and the undisciplined
preppies, along with troubled Clayboy (James MacArthur) who falls in
love with Claris Coleman (Mimsy Farmer) . There are various family
crisis but it is all very heartwarming .
Henry Fonda's entertaining vehicle with young people and agreeable actors . The film deals with a happy family , the father is a notorious handy man and the mother is a brilliant housewife . Charming tale though stuck with average screenplay based on the Earl Hamner Jr novel . Henry Fonda and Mauren O'Hara ought to keep the familiar order involving in their own home while at the same time occupy the works . Nice work by filmmaker Delmer Daves in demonstrating his skill at all areas : as technical , using all kind of resources for illustrating the interesting as well as enjoyable story with an engaging screenplay , adding great actors , professional filmmaking and correct narration , including his characteristic use of landscape .The picture is pretty entertaining and amusing , the film contains bemusing scenes , zany shenanigans , continuous laughters and various chuckles with lots of fun . Humanity and humor are high in the priorities of the director Delmer Daves who shows a considerable talent recapturing funny situations . Fine settings and adequate local colour , in fact , many locals of Jackson Hole, Wyoming were used as extras for scenes in the movie , such as the graduation of Clayboy . The picture belongs to family sub-genre whose maxim representation is ¨Cheaper by dozen ¨ with Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb and a modern version starred by Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt ; ¨Yours , mine and ours¨ also starred by Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, being recently remade (2005) by Raja Gosnell with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo . Formidable main cast , very well featured by Henry Fonda and Mauren O'Hara . Secondary cast is frankly good such as Virginia Gregg as Miss Parker , Whit Bissell as Dr. Campbell , Hayden Rorke as Colonel Coleman , Dub Taylor as Percy Cook , Mike Henry ¨Tarzan¨ as Spencer Brother and Victor French of "Little House on the Prairie" as Brother . And film debut of Barbara McNair and final film of Donald Crisp. Besides , there appears as sons ,some young actors who will have an acceptable career as TV or cinema stars such as Verónica Cartwright of ¨Alien¨. Director Delmer Daves' granddaughter, Michele Daves, made her only film appearance to date in this movie, appearing as the youngest Spencer child, baby Donnie . Maureen O'Hara's real-life daughter, Bronwyn FitzSimons, plays the part of the college dean's secretary. Colorful as well as evocative cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr filmed on location in Grand Teton National Park, Moose, Wyoming, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Raymond , California . Rousing and lively musical score by the classical composer Max Steiner .
The motion picture was well directed by Delmer Daves , though results to be excessively maudlin . His films have a special penchant for recapturing a particular atmosphere , many of this movies are about real people but they remain muted in impact . He was a notorious screenwriter , but Daves was especially a expert on Western genre , for the reason he lived a long time of his boyhood with the Navajo and Hopi Indian tribes as he realized the notorious trail-blazing ¨Broken arrow¨ the first movie for many years not treat the Indians as cannon-fodder for the cavalry , which made the picture unpopular in some quarters . He went on directing the suspenseful ¨3:10 to Yuma¨, other pro-Indian as ¨The last wagon¨ and about Modoc Indians as ¨Drum beat¨ , the Shakespearian style of ¨Jubal¨ , ¨Return of the Texan¨ and ¨Cowboy¨ which a fairly spectacle about a long cattle drive . He also realized Noir films such as ¨Dark passage¨ and ¨The red House¨ that is absolutely recommended . From 1959 Delmer Daves becomes embroiled for the remainder of his career with teenage love epics and very popular at the Box-office as ¨A summer place¨, ¨Parrish¨, ¨Susan Slade¨, and ¨Rome adventure¨, and family movies such as ¨The Spencer's mountain¨ . Worthwhile seeing .
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