Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spencer’s Mountain

Lately I’ve been watching more movies than usual for this time of year. Last week it was Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris. Kerrie Flanagan of Northern Colorado Writers posted at The Writing Bug about it and other movies about writers.

The last movie I saw in a regular theater was the most excellent remake of True Grit. By “regular” I mean the big metroplex-type monstrosity. There is, however, a funky little place in town called the Lyric Cinema Cafe. The screen is small, the seating limited, but you can take a plate of hummus with pita bread and a glass of wine in and sit on a sofa to watch a movie. It’s pretty cool.


spencer movie

When Spencer’s Mountain arrived in the mailbox from Netflix, I popped it right into the DVD player for later viewing.

Now, you may remember that I like to watch The Waltons (see Admitting It is the First Step). But for the last few months the episodes on television have been from the final two seasons. Grandpa, Grandma, Olivia and John are gone, John Boy is played by a completely different actor, Rose and her grandchildren have moved in. Things are different. Too different. The series had jumped the shark years before.

So I was anticipating the movie the television shows were based on. Itself based on Earl Hamner’s book by the same name, Spencer’s Mountain stars Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara, and James MacArthur (book ‘em Danno). Sure, some of the names are different – Clay and Clay-boy rather than John and John-boy, but who cares? Finally, a chance to revisit the original sensibilities of The Waltons, a close rural family in Virginia during the Depression.

Hrm. Not so much.

First off, one glimpse of the mountains during the opening credits and K said, “Those are the Tetons!” And they were. The director/producer/writer, Delmer Daves, moved the whole shootin’ match to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. No longer was John Boy trying to go to Boatwright University. In the movie, the desired big-city school was the University of Wyoming in Laramie (which, by the way, is almost 400 miles away from Jackson Hole, so the whole idea of popping over in an afternoon to find out why Clay-boy didn’t get his scholarship is a little hard to swallow).

The story didn’t take place during the Depression, either. Daves moved the situation to contemporary times – which was the early ‘60s (the movie came out in 1963). Clay drank a lot, worked in the rock quarry, and there were nine children. All that’s fine, and probably true to the book, but the promiscuous darling after Clay-boy was one modern babe.

Henry Fonda did a good job. Maureen O’Hara did not give her best performance however, and her Irish accent kept creeping in at odd times. The whole movie felt inconsistent and somewhat lost. The plot, which set in the place and time of the book would have worked, felt thin and pointless. From what I’ve found online, Earl Hamner wasn’t terribly happy about Daves rendition, either.

Boo. The only cure may be tracking down a copy of The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which was the pilot for the series. Ellen Corby even plays the grandmother.

At least the reruns are circling back around to 1972. With all that the news throws out these days, watching a family struggle during the Depression is downright uplifting.

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