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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

THE MOUNTAIN (1956)

At a paunchy 56, Spencer Tracy is a tough sell as either a skilled mountaineer or as the big brother of 26 yr-old Robert Wagner in this handsome, but empty Edward Dmytryk film. A plane crash in the Alps, near the brothers’ village, has brought outsiders to town: state officials, mail inspectors, newsman, insurance agents. But when the sanctioned rescue party fails to reach the crash site, Wagner presses his retired brother to help him make the dangerous climb for plunder. Tracy reluctantly goes along as protector & guide, but when they find a survivor among the wreckage, their mission has to change . . . or does it? Edward Dmytryk, trying for the calm authority of Fred Zinnemann or William Wyler, shows effective patience during the climbing sequences, but Ranald MacDougall’s script paints the contrasting brothers with too broad a brush. Tracy’s good/noble peasant vs Wagner’s venal/callow youth. How much stronger the drama would play if we could at least partially sympathize with the young man’s desperation to get away from cows, sheep & simple souls. But only the superb cinematography of Franz Planer rises to the dramatic level Dmytryk is aiming at. And what a show Planer makes of it! Shooting on location in the enviable VistaVision format, there’s so much depth & clarity to the images, even the special effects & process shots go far above the norm. No small consideration when you’ve got to fake every mountain climbing scene for the physically restricted Tracy.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Okay, how ‘bout: HEAR THIS, NOT THAT? Get a real taste of mountain air with Richard Strauss’s ultra-humongous AN ALPINE SYMPHONY/ EINE ALPENSINFONIE. What version? Well, Christian Thielemann conducting the Vienna Philharmonic on DG is pretty tough to beat.

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