Third Man on the Mountain (1959)

Third Man on the Mountain (1959), directed by Ken Annakin.

I'm still catching up with the Disney family-friendly adventures I missed when I was a child.

Filmed on location, this is a fictional account of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, here called "the Citadel" for some reason. It takes place during the Golden age of alpinism; I never heard the term before looking it up. It was a glorious 11 years when many of the Alps were first climbed.

Young James MacArthur wants to be a climbing guide like his father, who died on the big mountain. No one believes in him except a visiting Englishman who is the world's greatest mountaineer (Michael Rennie), a washed-up guide and general rascal (Laurence Naismith), and most importantly, his girl (Janet Munro) who can put on trousers and scale cliffs as well. She sparkles here.

Others in the cast: James Donald as the sour uncle and Herbert Lom as a fierce guide from a competing village.

Some spectacular mountaineering footage by the pro doubles: free climbing on vertical walls, rope navigation of impossible-looking overhangs, and vertiginous perspectives. The actors get to do some real roped locations themselves and it does not look like easy work. A few process shots but many more real ones.

I'm actually glad I didn't see this when young; I might have had nightmares. I'm not afraid of heights only because I never go there.

In those days adventure books were for young people who wanted to be doing things. In the film when they get to a high point and look around at the surrounding peaks, the English climber says "This is here every day and millions of people will never see it" and the viewer would think "yes, I want to be there".

Score by William Alwyn.

The DVD is not very good. According to the IMDB 1.37:1 is the correct aspect ratio, which is unusual for a theatrical release in the late 1950s. Maybe the film was always intended to go to TV, or perhaps the cameras and lenses needed for the location climbing were not suited for widescreen?