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Spencers Mountain

Gasser

Spencer's Mountain (1963)

     When I think of versatile actors who, like a chameleon, can mold their performances to fit a wide range of characters, Henry Fonda does not exactly come to mind. I have not seen a great number of his films, but through Once Upon a Time in the West and now Spencer’s Mountain, I would certainly declare the man had the ability to play whatever type he wanted. Coincidentally, the two films I mentioned that take Fonda away from his typical every-man type roles are also his most tan parts.

     In Spencer’s Mountain, Fonda plays a quarry worker who runs a family of nine children and a good amount of property during what appeared to be the same time when the film was made, the 1960s. Clay Spencer never graduated high school and it shows. Not only does Fonda affect a slight country accent but his dialogue is full of ain’ts and low-brow profanity that he delivers as if it were his natural way of speaking, not something he read from a script.

     Clay Spencer lives on a portion of land in a valley first claimed by his father –still living– 70 years prior and the family was so well-known that one of the mountains in the area was named for them. The story is a fairly hunky-dorey type. For a long while through the plot one thinks there will be no real conflict and that the story follows the rather trivial activities of this poor, country family. The eldest son of Clay and wife Olivia (Maureen O’Hara), who goes by Clayboy (James MacArthur), graduates high school with honors and wants to go to college, which is a bit of an impossibility for this poor family. Part of the story follows his plight to land a scholarship to attend the school.

     There were plenty of moments during the story when I thought, oh no! some tragic accident is going to happen here. But it did not. At least until the film was mostly over when Clay and his father get caught under a falling tree, which kills the father, but even Clay’s injury causes no real hardship for the family.

     The real star of this movie, however, are the panoramic views of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming where the flick was filmed. Spencer’s Mountain also uses Panavision, a particularly wide anamorphic widescreen format that on my rectangular flat screen TV still required two thick black bars on the top and bottom to show the full image. All outdoor views in this film are really stunning landscapes. Mountains, fields, lakes –all are on display in this beauty of a motion picture.

  • Spencer’s Mountain is set for 1:30 p.m. ET July 9 on TCM.
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Destination Tokyo

Ring a Ding Ding

Destination Tokyo (1944)

      I have never been particularly drawn to war pictures or those that pair Cary Grant opposite a bunch of men, rather than wooing a woman, but Grant made some great war pictures, and Destination Tokyo is certainly one of those (I need to revisit Operation Petticoat, which put me to sleep 7+ years ago when I bought it and has been collecting dust since).

     Grant plays the skipper of a WWII submarine that has been sent on a mission the day before Xmas to what the crew later learns is Tokyo –a city that has yet to be touched by American Navy or Air Force artillery. The crew picks up another soldier/meteorologist on the way who is fluent in Japanese and is the subject of the mission: the sub must deposit Officer Raymond (John Ridgely) on the shores of Tokyo where he and a couple crew members will assess the weather, military vessel formation and any other protections the area has so that the Air Force may move in well prepared to bomb the city.

     The mission is not as simple as that, however. When surfacing on their way to Japan, the submarine is attacked by two Japanese aircrafts who manage to lodge an explosive in the shell of the vessel. When attempting to ensnare one of the pilots after shooting down his plane, a member of the crew is stabbed in the back and killed before the youngest member of the crew fires upon the enemy. That crew member, Tommy (Robert Hutton) later needs an appendectomy just as the sub moves into the Tokyo harbor. The crew’s location is also discovered by the enemy after taking out an aircraft carrier and must escape the harbor amidst a barrage of bombs.

     Based on his other work, which essentially act to develop a general persona, Grant seems to me like the type of guy you would want to lead you into battle. Grant plays a totally relaxed, understanding and caring captain and never really asserts any power or engages in any arguments with his men, who after five patrols together seem to have the utmost respect for the man. Grant never went to war, being told he was too old to join the British Navy by the time WWII came about, but he has played a decent warrior in a number of films featuring a variety of conflicts (He also contributed some of his salary to American and British war efforts).

     The film is also fairly emotional. The submariners talk about their family, wives and children back home, and one cannot help but feel the mild, tearful twinge the characters convey. The audience also engages in true dread as Tommy must undergo surgery conducted by a pharmacist using a textbook as his guide. The way all crew members really support each other is touching and could not have been conveyed without the fine acting of a great cast.

     The film also does a great job of focusing in on the actual mechanics of running a submarine. The action was apparently so accurate that the U.S. Navy used parts of the film in its training during WWII.

  • Destination Tokyo is set for 10 p.m. ET May 27 on TCM.

Source: TCM.com, Cary Grant: A Class Apart

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