31 January 2011 | gerdeen-1
A labor of love by the great Lamar Trotti
Lamar Trotti, one of the finest writers in Hollywood during its golden age, was a native of Atlanta. The year before he died, he was both producer and screenwriter for this tale of a Georgia mountain preacher and his beautiful wife in the early years of the 20th century. The movie was shot on location in what was then a very rural area of the state, and Trotti promised the locals that their culture would be respected.
He kept his word. "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain" avoids condescension toward the people of Appalachia and their religion, which makes it an unusual film. But thankfully it's not too sentimental either, though it is ultimately an inspirational film.
The story is adapted from a 1910 novel by Corra Harris, a Georgia writer who was once nationally famous, and somewhat controversial, though she was not much remembered by the time the movie was made. Harris had been married to a minister herself, but the story was not autobiographical. It does have the ring of authenticity, though. The backwoods was really the backwoods a century ago, and a stylish, city-bred woman would have felt restless even if she was deeply in love.
Henry King was a great choice to direct the film. He was religious himself, and at home with the material, and he had begun his long filmmaking career in the era in which the story takes place. Stars William Lundigan and Susan Hayward do an adequate job, though she seems just too glamorous for her surroundings. Ironically, from today's perspective, the fact that Lundigan is no longer much of a "name" makes him a better fit for the role of the preacher.
The scenery is a big part of the film's appeal. North Georgia is not as spectacular as the Rockies, or even the Great Smokies, but it is a gorgeous area. And it was largely unspoiled when this movie was made.
I notice that many Georgians writing about this movie have strong memories of the time when it was being made. In those days, it was rare indeed for a motion picture to be shot in Georgia. People drove from hours away to see what Hollywood types looked like.
Susan Hayward's move to Georgia in the late 1950s had nothing to do with this film, and her new home wasn't in the mountains, but what she did was unusual for a Hollywood star of that era. She met and married a Georgian with the unglamorous name of Eaton Chalkley, and she lived with him on his farm when she wasn't making films. Chalkley was the love of her life. When he died, she moved out of the state because she couldn't bear to live at their home without him. When she herself passed away, she was buried beside him, in the cemetery of a church near his farm.
Whenever I see "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain," I think of the Chalkleys.