Khan Descending


One of the top fun-favorite pics of my youth, Henry Levin’s 1965 comic-book-come-to-life action adventure GENGHIS KHAN invades Blu-Ray in a fantastic, restored limited (3000 units only) 1080p rendition, thanks to the warriors at Twilight Time, in cahoots with Columbia Pictures Industries.

About as historically accurate a movie biopic as Night and Day (come on, folks, where else are you going to find comparisons between Genghis Khan and Cole Porter?), The Buster Keaton Story or The Scarlet Empress, KHAN begins with the capture, torture and slavery of the child Temujin (aka Little Genghis).  The culprit is the evil Jamuga (real spelling “Jamukha”), who only resists pulling wings off flies because it’s too nice (he has Temujin’s father tied to four horses and ripped into quarters).

Temujin grows up wearing a yoke around his neck, fueled by hate and revenge that finally causes his now-adult body to rebel once he gets a gander at Jamukha’s purchased bride, the ga-ga gorgeous Bortei (real spelling “Borte”).  Temujin instantly decides to steal both his freedom and the bride (as they say, behind every great man is a woman; more so, when it’s Francoise Dorleac).

Temujin forms a band of bad boys and girls made up of persecuted villagers, tiny militia, and freed prisoners that grow into the leader’s infamous Mongol horde.  This doesn’t sit well with Jamukha, who relentlessly pursues his nemesis – a journey that leads all the way to the Great Wall of China (Yugoslavian locations ably filling in for Asia); here, Temujin gains the favor of the Emperor, who, nevertheless, forcibly acquires the horde’s protection by imprisoning (albeit luxuriously) the people’s army for years.

Before the internet, curious history geeks like myself raided the local libraries to get the skinny on real-life movie characters (ergo, the above correct spelling of characters).  Truth be told, Genghis Khan wasn’t exactly a nice guy.  He totally was into killing, torturing, raping, pillaging and cheating his way across the Asian landscape, dreaming all the while of conquering the world.  Although much of this aberrant behavior isn’t enacted in this movie, remarkably some of it is.  Women are “taken” and jokingly so (and, in both 1190 and 1965, they uncomfortably seem to love it); later, the Emperor is brutally murdered as the horde votes to leave the palace (the Khan is the first human to see the possibilities of fire power derived from its original entertainment creation:  fireworks).  Crazier is the slut-shaming of the beauteous aforementioned Borte, who is raped by Jamukha after being momentarily captured (it’s implied that her and Temujin’s first born is actually Jamukha’s).  As she tearfully tells her hubby what transpired in his enemy’s tent, a conflicted Khan essentially sighs “que sera, sera,” minus the Doris Day vocalizing.  Equally astounding is that Columbia geared this movie as a summer family pic.  What were they thinking?  Borte was never raped by Jamukha; most of Temujin-Jamukha revenge antagonism was made up by screenwriters Clarke Reynolds and Beverley Cross (from an original story by Berkely Mather), who should have known better.  In fact, Temujin and Jumukha grew up together as childhood friends (they were even blood brothers), but their equal desires for power drove them apart, making them mortal foes (in actuality, Borte was briefly kidnapped by renegade Tartar bands, but was rescued by the combined forces of Temujin and Jamukha’s troops).  Perhaps the pic’s writers didn’t want to repeat a relationship so similar to that of Masala and Ben-Hur.  That said, for Jamukha, producer Irving Allen cast Stephen Boyd, who excels at seething chest heaving in ways that would terrify the Marquis de Sade.  Ditto, the ads for KHAN, which replicated the Ben-Hur title carved out of a mountain (or of gold, or here, from a massive pagoda), likewise indicative of other1960’s epics (El Cid, King of Kings, etc.).  Another anomaly of the movie is that the storyline that doesn’t allow many of the characters to age.  Dorleac, for example, seems to still be in her late twenties at the climax, making her minus-12 when first seen.  In truth, Jumukha, captured by Khan, was offered a sweetheart deal:  combine their armies into one invincible killing machine.  Jamukha, refusing to share the scepter of power, opted instead to be allowed to commit suicide; Khan, gregariously ageed.

The mostly Caucasian cast is star-gazing outstanding, although often embarrassing, wearing Chinese stretched eye gear, and includes Robert Morley (as the Emperor), Telly Savalas, James Mason, Eli Wallach, Michael Hordern and Woody Strode.  Temujin/Genghis is portrayed by none other than the decade’s Egyptian go-to guy for exotic validation, Omar Sharif.  Sharif, the client of the worst agent ever, doesn’t get top billing (Boyd does); he, instead, holds fast to his standard last but not least, “and with Omar Sharif as…”  WTF!?  Of special interest for contemporary TV fans is the appearance of Lucille Soong as one of the ravishing half-naked concubines.  Soong currently plays Granny on the hit series Fresh off the Boat.  It’s important to note her participation, as she’s one of the few authentic Asians in the movie.

GENGHIS KHAN more or less follows the template of The Vikings:  a dash of history, but wall-to-wall action and sex from fade-in to fade-out.  Henry Levin, who guided picture-goers through such thoroughly enjoyable fare as The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm does a splendid job keeping the proceedings moving.  He is greatly aided by some spectacular Technicolor and Panavision photography by the terrific d.p. Geoffrey Unsworth (2001 – A Space Odyssey).  For me, a major aspect of GENGHIS KHAN’s appeal was the rousing score by Yugoslavian  composer Dusan Radic (available as an IST on this platter); to my knowledge he only did two widely seen international movies (this and The Long Ships, which also boasts fantastic music).

GENGHIS KHAN ruled my summer back in 1965.  My friends and I went back to see it three more times; we even engaged in Jumukha/Temujin antics, with tied up long branches through our arms subbing for a yoke.  What a reprehensible little band of savages we were!

GENGHIS KHAN.  Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries.  CAT # TWILIGHT 339-BR. SRP:  $29.95.

Limited Edition of 3000.  Available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment and



Death Becomes Them


Another childhood favorite, harboring a cache of dark underbelly laughs, 1964’s WHAT A WAY TO GO!  blew me and my little friends away when we saw a sneak preview at the treasured Onterora palace in early July.  Of course, we didn’t get the pic’s sardonic mean streak, which, at the time, pretty much outraged its many critics.  Natch, I see it now, and, while I still nostalgically enjoy this movie immensely, I’m hard-pressed to find more than a handful of guffaws, or, the fact that I ever believed that this all-star opus was a hilarious masterpiece.  No matter, it’s now up to you to decide in this beautifully remastered CinemaScope Blu-Ray, available from the pallbearers at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.

What tripped me up in ’64 was the never-ending star-gazing that WHAT A WAY offered.  Not knowing what to expect when the lights dimmed, ‘ceptin’ it starred Shirley MacLaine, my first real movie crush (due to seeing My Geisha with my parents during the summer of 1962), I was gobsmacked in disbelief during the credits, thinking that it was a gag.  Alas, twas not a jest, for there they were:  Dick Van Dyke (my favorite TV star at the time), Dean Martin, Robert Cummings (Shirl’s My Geisha costar), Gene Kelly!!!  And, wait, in a wacky comedy – Paul Newman AND Robert Mitchum???!!!  WTF!  And I couldn’t even process the many great supporting players in the piece.

Okay, so what is WHAT A WAY TO GO!?  It’s the “riotous” story of po’ girl Louisa May Foster (MacLaine), whose hottie looks attract local rich creep, Leonard Crawley (Dino, who owns the town and most of the folks in it).  Money means nothing to Louisa, being a devotee of the beauty of the simple life.  Louisa’s mantra becomes personified via her attraction toward the poverty-plagued “competitor” of Martin’s, Thoreau-addict Edgar Hopper (Van Dyke), who runs a ramshackle general store, more suitable for Hooterville than (wait for it) Crawleyville.  These two 99-per-centers marry, and then it happens.  Wanting to give his wife the better things in life, Edgar begins a traditional “everything must go” sale, and the community responds in droves.  Soon his desire for wealth takes over his soul, pushing now-destitute Martin into obscurity.  Finally, Van Dyke’s mania kills him, but not before leaving his weeping widow with millions.

So a grieving Louisa takes off for Paris where she meets taxi driver/avant-garde artist (again, wait for it) Larry Flint (Newman), who shares his loft with Frida, a painting chimpanzee.  Utilizing a tip from his new lover/wife (yep, they get hitched – Shirley and Paul, not Newman and Frida), the painter tweaks his musical brush machines (they create art to the vibrations of music), causing a sensation.  He, too, is soon deceased, when the mechanical monsters turn on him.

Louisa’s next triumph is landing Howard Hughesian billionaire Rod Anderson, Jr. (Mitchum); since he don’t need the moolah, she figures it’s a safe marital union.  There’s is a happy albeit brief liaison until MacLaine convinces Mitch to simplify and live out a quiet farming existence.  This causes his demise in the movie’s funniest intentional moment, as he attempts to milk a bull.

Louisa’s final “conquest” is a New Jersey diner clown.  Literally. Behind the putty makeup is one Pinky Benson (aka Kelly, Gene not Emmett), who annoys the patrons with a soft-shoe and ditty, “I Think That We Should Get Acquainted.”  Except no one thinks so, until, celebrating a birthday with Louisa causes him to refrain (again, at her idea) from putting on the Pennywise makeup and doing it like…well, Gene Kelly.  He becomes a superstar, and an obnoxious one at that – deservedly trampled to pink pulp by his adoring fans.  This is all told to neurotic psychiatrist Bob Cummings, who early-on decides that he’ll risk marriage to Louisa for the chance to become mega-rich.  A surprise ending changes both his plans and hers.

The plot-point to WHAT A WAY TO GO! is that money not only corrupts, but that all men are basically scumbags, easily lured into cash-plastered dens of iniquity (except for Mitchum, who’s merely a doomed moron for wanting to give it all up).  The only truly honest character in the show is Louisa’s money-grubbing, mercenary mother, played brilliantly by Margaret Dumont (in her final screen appearance).  There’s also a cute bit from Reginald Gardiner as a crazed house painter, hired to color Kelly’s Jayne Mansfield-inspired Pink Palace.

WHAT A WAY TO GO! is a lavishly executed poison bonbon, written in venom by (one last “wait for it”) famed screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green (from a story by Gwen Davis).  Perhaps with a snarkier captain at the helm, the movie might have become the sour dough classic it aspires to.  Yet, for some bizarre reason MacLaine (who was involved in the production along with her husband Steve Parker and soon-to-be Planet of the Apes producer Arthur P. Jacobs) decided to go with J. Lee Thompson, the sidesplitting director of such mirth-filled romps as The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear (okay, that said, I’m a BIG fan of Thompson’s and MacLaine’s follow-up, the ultimate guilty pleasure, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home; where is THAT Blu-Ray?).

In keeping with the Pinky color scheme, the opening Fox logo is totally magenta-ed.  Ha-Ha, Fox, the joke’s on you –  every DeLuxe Color movie ended up looking like that; fortunately, the rest of the disc looks spectacular, thanks to the recent 1080p High Def transfer.  For anyone who’s ever seen Singin’ in the Rain, you are no doubt aware that Comden and Green were avid movie buffs.  This love surfaces in WHAT A WAY, to quote a Mary Poppins song lyric, “in a most delightful way.” Each of Louisa’s marriages are fantasized by iconic mini-movie moments:  Van Dyke is a silent comedy, Newman, a New Wave foreign arthouse pic, Mitchum a Ross Hunter-esque “lush budget” romance (with approximately ten million  Edith Head Oscar-nominated costume changes for MacLaine), and Kelly – what else? – an MGM musical.  All of this is magnificently shot in CinemaScope by the great Leon Shamroy.  The audio, featuring a nifty score by Nelson Riddle sounds just grand (it’s mono, even though the original release was in stereo).

Curiously, the movie had a long history at Fox, originally being planned as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe, who had the bad taste to die before the project could be properly pitched.  Next, it was slated for Elizabeth Taylor (no doubt penance for Cleopatra, which, BTW, is shamelessly hyped throughout WHAT A WAY); keeping with the all-star dead husband theme, her costars were to be Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis (or they could have just cast all her real-life spouses); bizarrely, every one of these gentlemen appeared in John Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger.  MacLaine’s take, unquestionably, remains the best of the lot (and, indeed, she mined the all-star male shtick again three years later in Woman Times Seven).

Like I said, we saw this at a special summer release screening before it hit Manhattan.  Fox and MacLaine heavily promoted the picture the previous spring, having its star do a mammoth publicity gig at The New York World’s Fair, although why this movie was chosen remains a mystery since, unlike the famed park’s international brotherhood message, WHAT A WAY TO GO!‘s key theme is that life is essentially crap.

WHAT A WAY TO GO!  Color.  Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.  CAT # K20743.  SRP: $29.95.



Cary On Teacher


A movie too cute for its own good, an experience that would be diabetically lethal were it not for its lead and supporting cast, 1964’s FATHER GOOSE reaped mucho golden eggs at the box-office for Universal, became a highly beloved Boomer pic and is now available in all its widescreen Blu-Ray glory from Olive Films, in conjunction with Paramount Home Entertainment.

The story, a one-line pitch to the suits, was as follows:  Cary Grant as a bum!  Bingo.  That role reversal did it.  S.H. Barnett’s story was quickly developed by the star’s picks Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff (the former who guided the dapper screen veteran through the smash hit Charade), for his Granox Co., to fashion the tale into a “rollicking” screenplay about a crusty American who dropped out of the Establishment, ridding himself of the idiots who were ruining his life.  Yeah, I know, sounds like a perfect 1960s “find yourself” narrative, except it was a bit early – in fact, a quarter of a century early.  You see, this story takes place in the South Pacific, during WWII at the height (not Haight) of the Japanese invasion.  A beach-combing roustabout, Grant’s Walter Eckland cruises the islands fishing, cursing, drinking and absconding with military supplies to carve out his dubious existence.  The British and Australian Navies tend to look the other way, as Eckland’s knowledge of the islands is impeccable, and, know that soon the opportunity will arise for payback time – to become an atoll scout, reporting sightings of enemy ships and planes.  This causes a lot of friction between the curmudgeonly slob and the crisp, snarky Aussie commander Frank Houghton, played brilliantly by Trevor Howard.  Personally, I would have loved an entire movie about this odd couple at war during war.  But this is not to be.  For, as wars have a tendency to do, tragedy strikes, and, Walter is soon saddled with a gaggle of shipwrecked English and French schoolgirls (the daughters of diplomats) and their prim and proper spinsterish teacher.  And, thus, the scenario effectively makes Grant/Eckland Lord of the Filles.

Now we know underneath them instructin’ Miss Grundy coiffe and togs, there pants a vibrant easily-aroused Parisian beauty.  And, hey, it’s Leslie Caron; as for her charges, a size-placed order of Madeleine illustrations come-to-life, well, when the older versions get a gander at Father Goose (his code name), it reprises an even more uncomfortable rendition of the Caron-related “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”

Of course, Grant turns out not to be the reprobate everyone takes him for (he’s a noted ex-college history professor).  And, of course, Catherine (the Caron character) isn’t the harpy she pretends to be.  And, of course, this opposites’ attraction blossoms into a Hallmark valentine.  Who’d have seen that coming?

Surprisingly, FATHER GOOSE won an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.  Well, maybe NOT so surprisingly.  Grant knew what he was doing, and wanted a more family-oriented follow-up to Charade.  Indeed, he greenlit the project with former costar Audrey Hepburn in mind, and only settled on Caron when Hepburn had committed to My Fair Lady.  Too bad.  I say that because I’ve never been a big Caron fan (the only movie I really liked her in was Fanny, but that was largely because of the look and music).  Never got her.  That said, I’ve also never got Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, or, more recently, Jennifer Lawrence.  But that’s just me (gotta say I wasn’t shocked to discover that Gigi wasn’t the nicest person off-camera either – actively trying to fire Vincente Minnelli and other lovely stuff).  I will admit that she does do a great drunk scene.

Weirdly enough, the movie was directed (and quite well, too) by Ralph Nelson, fresh off Lilies of the Field and about to embark on two movies I like way better, Once a Thief and Duel at Diablo.  The spectacular Technicolor photography was achieved by the wonderful d.p. Charles Lang (remember, this is a Universal picture and most of the pic seems to have been shot at the Black Lagoon/on McHale’s island).  The music, another bone of contention avec moi, is by Cy Coleman.  Again, I’m in the minority, as the title song “Pass Me By” (by Coleman with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh) became an instant standard, covered by seemingly every larynx in the business; to me it was another earwig torture, driving me through “easy listening” hell throughout most of the Sixties.  The remainder of the score is equally precious, rife with kiddie-friendly flutes and wah-wah audio to punctuate the Disney cartoon sight gags.

The no frills Olive Films Blu-Ray is an excellent platter designed to fully enjoy this movie (a deluxe special edition is available if you’re one of the millions of FATHER GOOSE fans).  The 1080p imagery is really good, and fairly accurate in replicating the Lang’s Technicolor visuals.  The mono track is excellent.

FATHER GOOSE was a big Christmas release in December 1964.  A wise move, as it wowed ’em in the aisles with its wooing on the isles (bringing in over $12M in domestic rentals).  Even smarter was the Catskills release.  Either they brought it back that summer, or held off until the usual crowd descended upon the various resorts and bungalow colonies.  I vividly recall being transported in a Town and Country station wagon with fellow adolescents to a neighboring town, where the picture was playing in mid-July, 1965.  The theater, I’ll never forget, was perhaps the smallest movie house I’d ever been in (it was packed).  It was also a nest haven for Universal product; the coming attraction one-sheets and inserts were for Shenandoah and the trailer preceding FATHER GOOSE was for Mirage.  Useless trivia, but this is Summer Movie Memories.

FATHER GOOSE. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment. CAT # OF648.  SRP: $29.95.




How Blue Was My Valley


Some of the happiest times of my life were spent during mi familia‘s summering in the mountains during those formative years, spanning 1958-1972.  Most of this vacationing was done in the picturesque town of Fleischmann’s, NY, located in the Catskills (the remainder in Budd Lake, NJ).  And much of this fun encompassed the local bijou, aka The Onteora.  This modest movie palace is my favorite celluloid emporium of all-time – and for many reasons (my first visit to the movies without adult supervision, my first date, my first Hollywood crush and, truly the first time I realized that I was hopelessly in love and addicted to la cinema).  The Onteora had a simple but brilliant policy:  Two shows nightly, matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and rainy days.  Natch, as soon as clouds dotted the skies accompanied by the those initial rumbles of thunder, the clinking of coins from kiddies’ piggy banks could be heard across the county (admission was .50).  The Onteora printed up weekly 4-page programs, available at the box-office and throughout the town; these handbills (which I wish I had kept) announced the coming attractions, days of screenings – Fri-Sat-Sun – and featured graphics from the movies’ various pressbooks.  Window cards and list placards would likewise be displayed within the tiny hamlet’s shops, restaurants, the library, on telephone poles and across the vicinities’ many bungalow colonies and resorts (it was a famous summer spot for Jewish New Yorkers, largely due to the fact that Gertrude Berg built her home near there.  Brown’s was a particularly popular Catskills hotspot (ya know: “Brown’s is my favorite resort!” – Jerry Lewis).

Like I said, The Onteora was the first place I was allowed to go unsupervised (with my other lollipop-reeking peeps); not that big a deal in retrospect (a pleasant stroll down a mountain path that wound into the town proper), but a MAJOR big deal then.  The movie, BTW, was The Moonspinners (Budd Lake proved more problematic, as there was nothing within walking distance, so, drat, at the total mercy of adults!  Uuuggghhh!).

My Fleischmann’s movie-going also was a test run to see if I could behave, permitting me to go the neighboring duchy of Margaretville (at the Galli-Curci) without parental or other family (my older sister) control (I went with a friend and his grandparents).  Ironically, the movie in question celebrated the quest for liberty and freedom: Spartacus.

The Onteora and other theaters in the adjoining towns had terrific managers.  They knew which movies would draw.  So, if a certain pic, like Father Goose, got a December release, it would not play the Catskills until the summer (or it would be brought back “by popular demand”).  There were perennials – pictures that would play and replay during my years there; I can recall three:  Peyton Place (which I was NOT allowed to see), Auntie Mame and Pillow Talk.  Most of the titles at The Ont were Universal, Columbia and Fox (although we occasionally got an MGM, UA or Paramount).  Often, The Ont was ground zero for upcoming releases, meaning we got to see them before they hit Manhattan, sometimes before they “debuted” at Radio City Music Hall (The Unsinkable Molly Brown).  Perhaps The Ont’s most wily showmanship ploy was the pre-July 4th unveiling of the trailer to Jason and the Argonauts.  They showed it all summer long, so that by the time they actually played the pic (mid-August), every child from a five-burg radius was lined up down the street.  The Ont also sold my favorite movie candy, Sugar Daddies, CinemaScoped-shaped chocolate pops that came with full-color widescreen wildlife cards and lasted for the whole picture; price:  a nickel.  Good stuff.

Throughout August, I’m going to discuss four Fleischmann’s movies that made an indelible impression upon my already-demented mind.  Fortunately, this quartet comes by way of various Blu-Ray companies, seemingly intent upon propelling me into second childhood.  These days, that ain’t bad!


Like so many memorable motion pictures from my pre-teen days, 1963’s SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN is a pseudo-guilty pleasure.  I say, “pseudo” because, unlike many of the reviews from the time, it’s really a well-made and quite beautiful looking movie.  The pic was written and directed by Delmer Daves, continuing his Warner Bros. smash hit streak that began with 1959’s A Summer Place (followed by Parrish, Susan Slade, and Rome Adventure).  It’s a lavish, big star extravaganza that takes full advantage of the sumptuous Wyoming (Jackson Hole) locations.  SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN, we learn from star Henry Fonda’s narration, is not far from the cleavage of the Grand Tetons (named by French trappers “’cause they resembled big bosoms”).  This early-on sets the stage for the core of SPENCER‘s mantra:  that everyone in the local community is sex-frenzied, but in a warm, convivial way.  Spencer himself is the father of nine children, and one of nine brothers on a long-claimed homestead.  Pap Spencer’s two favorite activities are fishing and slapping his shapely wife on the butt.  His goal is to build a spectacular home for his brood atop Spencer’s Mountain.  Oh, wifey, BTW, is Maureen O’Hara, and Fonda’s dad is spry, wily Donald Crisp (in his final screen performance); ergo the John Ford reference in my title (more Fordian nods include the singing of hymns and ballads, including “Shall We Gather by the River”).  Hank’s (aka Clay) oldest son, Clayboy (James MacArthur – a refreshing upgrade from Daves’ teen of choice Troy Donahue), too, has a dream:  to go to college (he’s the first Spencer to graduate high school, and the only male in the region to complete the four year curriculum).  Men in the community all work at the quarry.  They cry poor, but, frankly, the land alone “owned” by The Spencers, even in 1963, must have been worth millions.

Pappy Clay’s boss, Colonel Coleman (Hayden Rourke), has sired a randy filly named Claris.  This brings us to a very special part of the proceedings, namely one of the greatest screen credits of all-time: “Introducing Mimsy Farmer.”  Already, Mimsy exhibits the traits that would endear her to me and the actress’s throngs of fans worldwide; in short, she’s a total nympho (but in a very clean S&M way, because those letters stand for “Spencer’s mountain,” not…oh, never mind).  Everything she does is sex-oriented, primarily her determination to be deflowered during the summer by MacArthur. “I’m terribly enthralled with human reproduction,” she pants, arriving for the season astride a nevertheless worried-looking equine.  Later, when bathing the newest Spencer, she coos how he’s “in the fetal position,” an observation that nearly causes O’Hara’s Olivia to faint dead away.  When gifting a deluxe dictionary to Clayboy, Claris is adamant to note that she had studiously underlined “all the naughty words.” When she finally has her way with Clayboy, Clay, Sr.’s response to seeing his oldest child’s sunburned back is a lovely father-to-son comment that wisely and responsibly covers the most important aspect of first time/outdoor sexuality: “Next time find a place in the shade.”  In short, Claris Coleman/Mimsy Farmer is a goddess; this is in direct contrast to Skanky MacCrotchpitt (not her name, but just as well could be). Skanky (okay it’s Minnie-Cora Cook, as portrayed by actress Kathy Bennett) is a dark-haired ho’ out to snare Clayboy herself (when she loses, she settles on a rich, elderly rancher – an act that later wreaks havoc with the Spencer clan).  Oh, yeah, must mention that even little Spencer tyke Pattie-cake (Kym Karath) is bathroom-obsessed with her bodily fluids and waste.  It’s that kind of an all-American family.

When Fonda isn’t drinking himself silly, he’s getting the new minister sloshed and then lobbying to get MacArthur into the nearest university.  Ultimately, he is aided by the clergyman and Clayboy’s Miss Grundy teacher (Wally Cox and Virginia Gregg, respectively, who, it is implied, may be canoodling with each other as well).

SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN was based on a novel by Earl Hamner, Jr., and is generally acknowledged to be the basis for his later, more celebrated work The Waltons (there’s even a “Goodnight, Clayboy,” etc. moment utilizing the identical longshot of the Spencer/Walton home as the lights go out).  The locale was wisely changed from the boonies of Virginia (during the Great Depression) to the majestic Northwest (in modern day), a decision that, publicity-wise, greatly aided the Wyoming tourist board.  I went back to see this movie for a second time, simply because I was so taken with the breathtaking scenery.  Since then, I’ve always harbored an ambition to visit Wyoming (maybe one day…).  The glorious Technicolor and Panavision photography is by the wonderful d.p. Charles Lawton, Jr.  As with all Daves epics, there’s a preponderance of sweeping crane shots (he actually owned his own crane, and would have it sent to locations of all his projects).  The music, not surprisingly for a Warners pic of the time, is by Max Steiner, and is generally upbeat, boisterous and well-suited to the joys of family values via Masters and Johnson.

SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN was generally trashed by the critics; nevertheless audiences loved it, bringing in over $4M during and after its Radio City Music Hall release.  Critic Judith Crist, a name probably not so well remembered now, made her then considerable reputation on this movie (along with the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra, and Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown).  The vitriol and vinegar review, admittedly sarcastically on point, helped (along with her Liz and Preminger takes) win Crist many awards for criticism, yet branded her as “Hollywood’s Most Hated Person.”  What Crist, like so many other movie critics failed to do was to judge the overall experience of the movie.  The crazy, Lil’ Abner sex stuff was packaged in an expertly directed and photographed tableau that splendidly showcased the possibilities of 2.35:1 widescreen. A genuinely beautiful moment is quietly delivered by the two leads, as Fonda asks O’Hara if she wouldn’t mind losing her dream home.  “It was your dream, Clay,” she solemnly replies.  A simple exchange superbly played by two marvelous screen thesps (one certainly worthy of Ford). It’s also well edited, designed and scored.  Cinema is a collaborative art after all.

The remaining cast of SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN includes a plethora of memorable 1950s and 1960s TV and movie faces, including Lillian Bronson, Whit Bissell, Dub Taylor, Hope Summers, Victor French, Mike Henry, Veronica Cartwright and Larry D. Mann.  It’s also (along with Mimsy’s) the screen debut of Barbara McNair, who belts outs “Glory, Halleluljah” during the outdoor graduation ceremony (a moment specifically targeted by Crist, who claimed that the African-American actress/singer must have been airlifted to the event, as she’s the only POC on view.  Hey, I never said Crist wasn’t funny).  The movie was also a family affair for both Daves and O’Hara.  The former’s granddaughter appears as one of the Spencer spawn and O’Hara’s teenage daughter, Bronwyn (under her real last name of FitzSimmons) is the assistant to the Dean (Rusty Lane) of the university Clayboy aspires to (with the tear-stained line to her employer, “You must live for days like this”).

The Warner Archive Blu-Ray of SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN is flat out sensational.  Those “big BOOssomed” ranges (to ape Fonda’s delivery) look fantastic in 1080p High Def and the ebullient colors really do replicate the Technicolor look.  Ditto, the mono sound, featuring that rowdy Steiner score.

Some mighty fine extras, too, including premiere footage in Jackson Hole, plus, a series of on-location interviews with Fonda (who acts completely affable and professional during the repeated similar questions from one-on-one sessions with American journalists).  Fonda, it should be noted, wasn’t fonda this movie or his subsequent Warners pic (Sex and the Single Girl); yet, you’d never know it from his responses during these mini-interviews (that said, when one newsman quotes The Christian Science Monitor’s snipe at SM as “a marshmallow version of Tobacco Road,” Fonda, scoffs, “I think that’s fair.”). O’Hara, on the other hand (who does not appear in these segments) adored Daves and starred in his next and final work, The Battle of Villa Fiorita.

A perfect 1960s time capsule, SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN defines the era’s big Hollywood entertainment.  And, dammit, I still want to get to Wyoming!

SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Home Video.  CAT # 1000642546.  SRP: $21.99.

Available from the Warner Archive Collection: or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.