Monday, June 24, 2024


We first see young Rudi (James MacArthur, pictured) at the top of the Citadel, a formidable mountain in the Alps, planting a red flag, an old shirt of his father's, to memorialize his father's death on the mountain years ago. Then we realize that this scene is just a daydream—Rudi is looking out the windows at the mountains while washing dishes in a hotel kitchen which is run by Teo, a former climbing guide. Rudi wants to be the first man to climb to the top of the Citadel, and while Teo sympathizes with him, he tries to keep the boy grounded to his circumstances. But Rudi sneaks out to go climbing anyway, and while on a glacier, runs across a man stuck in a deep crevasse. He helps the man out and discovers he has just saved famed climber Captain Winter (Michael Rennie) who is visiting the village. He wants to climb the Citadel with Rudi's uncle Franz as his guide, and with Rudi as a porter, but Franz wants no part of the climb, and forbids Rudi to go as well. Eventually, Winter gets Emil (Herbert Lom), a guide from a nearby city, to go up with him. Rudi's town has a long history of rivalry with Emil's town, so Rudi sees this as a chance to be his town's man on the mountain so he lies to Winter and says that his uncle has given him permission to go up the Citadel. Of course, he hasn't, and there's trouble when the townsfolk see the climbers heading up. There are weather problems and near the top, both Winter and Emil are injured. When it’s clear that Emil shouldn't be left alone, Rudi must decide if he will stay and help the unfriendly rival Emil or head up with Winter and plant his father's red shirt as he did in his daydreams.

This Disney film was shot largely on location in the Swiss Alps, on the Matterhorn (which later became a ride at Disneyland) and in the village of Zermatt. It's claimed that the cast had to take weeks of mountain climbing training, and though there are definitely some shots of the cast members on real mountains, there are also several process shots done in a studio. But those shots are mostly worked in without a loss of believability and as an adventure film, this works fairly well. MacArthur, son of Helen Hayes, was only 21 at the time of shooting and, though his performance is toned down a bit by Disneyfication, he makes a fine hero and even manages to shine next to the more experienced Rennie and Lom. The requisite romance with Lizbeth (Janet Munro from THE CRAWLING EYE and DARBY O'GILL) is bland, though supporting actors like Lawrence Naismith as Teo, Lee Patterson as a rival of Rudi's for Lizbeth’s attentions, and James Donald as Franz bring some nice background color (as, of course, do the locations). The understanding Lizabeth has to deliver a line that kinda reeks of toxic masculinity: "A man must do what he feels he must or he isn't a man." However, Rudi does step up and do the right thing at the end, even if it's not exactly what he wants to do. At two hours, it's a smidge long but it's an enjoyable film overall. [Disney+]

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