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The Mountain (1956)

CRUMBLIES… 2 crumblies  (including one crumbly for the scenery)

I’d forgotten about Spencer Tracy.  He was a stellar actor, beau of Katharine Hepburn (with added Catholic oddness), and a man blighted by alcoholism. The disease aged him horribly, which is what led me to The Mountain. For a quick search of t’ internet brought up pictures of Tracy in his mid-fifties, but looking an addled seventy, alongside a skinny and beautiful Robert Wagner. The two are reunited after 1954’s Broken Lance. Tracy of the white hair and craggy face; Wagner of the floppy pretty-boy hair and girl’s skin. Grandfather and Grandson, I thought, clawing their way up a metaphor. There’d be hints and tips for the ancient and the young, here…

They play brothers.


Their Mum had a thirty year gap between producing the boys and…what a load of bollocks. Credibility is not the strong point of The Mountain: it has some lovely vistas (Chamonix), some pretty dodgy studios-back-projection-and-sometimes-they-went-there scenes of the two on The Mountain itself, and a horrible, horrible script. It is a brightly-coloured pile of improbabilities, albeit based on a book which was itself based on a crash in 1950 of an Air India plane.

To the plot. Up the local mountain, an Indian plane crashes. There’s much to-do in the village, where Zachary Teller (Tracy) herds sheep to much clanking of sheep bells. Chris Teller (Wagner) scowls and gets patronised. Cain and Abel; simple and good vs. petulant and not much else – okay, bad, but it sure comes across as a two-hour sulk.

For various reasons I didn’t really care about, an initial expedition to the plane fails and Zach loses an old friend. Oh – and he is also flirted at by Claire Trevor for other reasons  that go nowhere. Chris Teller is a bit of a shit, wanting to sell the family home for money because…um..he’s a bit of a shit. He even slaps his simple-and-good brother like it’s a debating tactic. Then Chris has an actual idea: go up the mountain, ransack the corpses, be rich. Zachary is resistant, what with being simple-and-good, but ultimately caves to the emotional blackmail. Wagner’s Chris achieves this by sulking, squawking, petulantly threatening and huffing: just like in the Bible.

Old Jack was in a piss before they even got near the gorgeous scenery. My issues: brothers, my arse; characters so simplistic its moronic; old Zachary is the fittest wretched-looking fifty-five year old in film; Wagner is a flip-flopping twat with no depth or reason. And then they work their way up the mountain. This is the best bit because they rarely speak. Trouble is, the best bit keeps going on and and (let me hammer a spike into this sentence for ten solid minutes else I may fall to my death) and on. You’d think they’d start bonding, what with Tracy taking the lead and saving Wagner’s arse a fair amount. Rope skins the hands of the ancient brother (nice effect as the blood pours off him…), but he’s fine after dragging junior bro’ back up sheer rock…and, nope, no bonding. Or character growth.

SPOILERS – they get to the plane and discover the quaintly credited “Hindu Girl” in the wreckage. Excitingly, she’s played by Marlon Brando’s key woman of the next three years,  Anna Kashfi. Zachary wraps her up and ties her to a sledge. She doesn’t speak English and is basically dazed, but you just know she’s getting her first thoughts together for her kiss-and-tell (Brando for Breakfast, 1980).

And that’s rather more than you need to know without watching the thing. Will they all live? Will Chris (Cain) do the deed to Zachary (Abel)? Or will this pat cack get first prize in the Obvious and Shite Awards 1956 and be resolved by some bollocks ex machina and Chris (Cain)’s hubris..? Go on, guess.

All in all, a huge disappointment. There’s a strain between the brothers that could have played out as family issues, even generational difference (the old, slow tortoise and the keen, young hare), but the script doesn’t even give them the dignity of being telling archetypes, they’re just flat, irritating caricatures you wish would fall to a bloody death. The story of the film’s making is more interesting than the nonsense on screen.

It’s on Netflix. If you’re too cheap or incapacitated to get to Chamonix yourself, watch with the sound off. Cos bits of it are pretty.


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