Third Man on the Mountain (1959)

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The Matterhorn Bobsleds are a pair of beloved roller coasters at Disneyland, so much so that many are saddened at its current closure due to refurbishment. Some may not know though that the ride was inspired by the live-action Disney film, Third Man on the Mountain. Let’s take a look at the movie today, shall we?

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

As the film begins (in Switzerland, I assume), we’re introduced to Rudi, a young man with a passion for mountaineering, played by James MacArthur. He gets his passion from his father who worked as a guide but died when Rudi was younger while attempting to climb the terrible mountain, the Citadel. Due to this, Rudi’s mother and uncle don’t want him to do anything with mountaineering and instead get him a job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant owned by Teo Zurbriggen, played by Laurence Naismith. This doesn’t stop Rudi though from sneaking off to climb the mountains while nobody is looking.

On one of his sneak ventures, he hears cries for help from a man trapped at the bottom of a crevasse. He rescues the man only to discover that the man is famous mountaineer, Captain John Winter, played by Michael Rennie.

“Some mountaineer you are!”
“Hey, klaatu barada nikto to you, pal!”

Captain Winter is grateful to Rudi and Rudi’s honored to meet the Captain. Captain Winter is aware of Rudi’s father and tells Rudi that he’s in town to conquer the Citadel. He only needs to find a guide willing to take him there, but nobody dares attempt a Citadel climb. He later visits Rudi’s uncle, Franz Lerner, played by James Donald, to seek his services as a guide to climb one of the smaller mountains. The trip would require one more hand, so Captain Winter suggests Rudi. Herr Franz is a loving uncle to Rudi, but also firm, so at first he refuses to allow Rudi to accompany them. But when he hears that Rudi saved Captain Winter’s life, he allows it.

The three eventually start climbing the mountain and everything goes well until Rudi goes off on his own and gets trapped resulting in Herr Franz and Captain Winter having to rescue him.

“I can’t take you anywhere!”

When they return back home, Rudi is sent back to working with Teo as Herr Franz isn’t going to send Rudi back up the mountains. However Rudi’s heart is still set to be a guide. Seeing this, Teo himself gives Rudi some more mountaineering training as he used to climb mountains himself back in the day with Rudi’s father.

Eventually Captain Winter is ready to finally tackle the Citadel and manages to hire a guide from the neighboring village, Emil Saxo, played by Herbert Lom. When Rudi hears about this, he sneaks up the mountain to join them while lying that his mother and uncle gave him permission to do so.

So that’s what the title refers to!

Eventually, Herr Franz and the other villagers learn that Rudi’s on the mountain with Captain Winter and a guide from the neighboring village. For village pride, Herr Franz and a few others decide to brave the Citadel and join the expedition. When they arrive, Herr Franz isn’t super angry at Rudi, but he and Emil have a mutual distrust of each other as they are from competing villages. Nevertheless, they do their best to reach the peak of the Citadel.

Captain Winter ends up falling sick and one night, Emil proposes to Herr Franz that the both of them leave Captain Winter and head to the peak themselves. That way, both can bring pride to their villages and Captain Winter wouldn’t be able to make it anyway. Herr Franz refuses saying that a guide’s place is with his client. The next day, Emil goes off on his own to reach the peak while Rudi sneaks off after him.

Along the way, Emil gets injured and Rudi helps him get down. Emil is shocked that Rudi doesn’t just leave him and try to get to the peak himself resulting in his heart mellowing towards Rudi and the others of Rudi’s village. Rudi, while desperately wanting to reach the peak, realizes the true purpose of a guide: to be with and take care of their client. Captain Winter and Herr Franz end up reaching the peak as they went in search of Emil and Rudi.

When they return, everyone celebrates their accomplishment, including Rudi’s love interest, Lizbeth, played by Janet Munro.

Oh yeah, she’s in this film too.

And that was Third Man on the Mountain! Honestly, it’s a really good, but simple film with great climbing choreography! It doesn’t ever get “exciting” per se, but for a film like this, that’s not a problem. It reminds me a lot of The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men in terms of tone. It’s definitely the best acting performance of James MacArthur in a Disney film!  Michael Rennie and James Donald give great performances too while Herbert Lom isn’t bad either. Sadly Janet Munro isn’t given much to do in this film which is why I only mentioned her at the very end of my review. Besides that, this is a pretty good film to leave its legacy at the Disney parks!

So, my final score for this film is 28/35 = 80% (B-) !

The next review will be posted on September 20, 2022.

2 thoughts on “Third Man on the Mountain (1959)

  1. Glad you enjoyed it! It’s very simple but also still keeps you excited, maybe at the edge of the seat, as they climb up, wondering if they make it and don’t fall off. Same with Rudi’s ambitions, it’s so simple, but you just so want him to succeed! I’d say Lizbeth had a bigger role, always be cheering and encouraging Rudi whenever they’re in town (not to mention always charming the viewer with that wonderful smile of hers). And yes, I was making countless Dreyfus/Pink Panther references whenever Lom was on screen. I actually did not know a ride is based on this film!

    1. I too was thinking of throwing in some Inspector Clouseau jokes in my review, but decided against it, lol!

      Yeah you’re right, Lizbeth does do more, but I guess the way I wrote the synopsis didn’t really make for much of an appearance from her.

      Yep, the Matterhorn Bobsleds are inspired by this film.

      Thanks for reading!

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