16 September 2009 | jTube
Worth another look for fans of 1970s flicks
The early to mid 1970s were an interesting time for movie-making and some of the films from that era can be fun to re-visit. While not on a par with Summer of '42 or Love Story, this film has some charms that make it worth another look.
Made to reach for some of the box office success of the syrupy romance Love Story, The Other Side of the Mountain tells the true story of Jill Kinmont, the teen-aged downhill skier with Olympic gold in her sights who's dealt a full Kleenex box worth of tragedies.
Beautiful cinematography (although the prints I've seen lately have been dirty) takes us through her 1950s teenhood in the Eastern Sierras, full of boys, BFFs and her steely determination to win in high school ski meets.
Although the tale of a vivacious girl becoming crippled is one of the biggest clichés in movies, Jill's paralyzing injury, the result of a ski race, is still memorable. In a fall on the slopes (staged unconvincingly by turning the camera on its side) Jill goes from hard-charging athlete to high-level quadriplegic, paralyzed from her chest down, left with no use of her hands, and dependent on others for every basic and intimate task.
We see her imprisoned in traction, straining to move her wheelchair, helpless in a swimming pool, fretting about the medical corset that keeps her upright before a visit from her then boyfriend. But through Marilyn Hassett's portrayal, we see the same strength and determination that made her a ski champ re-emerge as she learns to live her new life on wheels. She pushes to complete her education and fights to become the first paralyzed teacher in the state. Throughout, she's supported by her family and the James Dean-ish hot-dog skier, Dick Buek, played by Beau Bridges in a likable performance. Buek spares Jill the hand-wringing weepy treatment over her plight and instead challenges her to make a life with what's she's got left. Which, it turns out, is a lot.
This movie overall is not one for the ages. Larry Peerce and the scriptwriter (David Seltzer, whose next film was The Omen!) never stray from the formula, and give their actors some very stilted lines to work with. But instead, look in the corners – look at Marilyn Hassett's moments of flint underneath the pink sweaters and girly vulnerability. Look at Beau Bridges's squinty grins and twitchy physicality. Think about what it takes to turn the page on an athletic life and live in a body that you can't feel, facing each day in an electric wheelchair. And reflect that it's the story of a real person.
Unfortunately this Universal release seems to have dropped off the face of the earth: I haven't seen it on any TV schedule in a long time, the VHS release is out of print and there's no DVD in site. I'm beginning to think it was a casualty of Universal's film vault fire in 2008, although the studio claims it had copies of everything. This movie was the 9th top-grossing film the year it was released, just ahead of Tommy.