Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Picking Cold War Enemies Early On

Stewart Fights A New Kind Of WWII in The Mountain Road (1960)

Remember the long section in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo when Van Johnson and fellow downed pilots are taken in by Chinese villagers and nursed back to health? That was, by 1960, long ago and decidedly far away. Over fifteen years was passed and China had become our cold enemy along with Russia and others under a Red flag. Many now questioned if we should have had these for allies in the first place. Popular books proposed that China was working against us even as we fought and died to liberate them. Movies had not advanced that proposition outside of a few addressing the Korean conflict --- World War Two had after all been fought and won --- but look-backs did revise assumptions many kept since victory was achieved hand-in-hand with China and against the Axis. Never So Few in 1959 was for most part Boy's Own heroics in Burma, but with stinger that said Chinese plotted against us there, just as they surely would after surrenders were signed. Distrust hardened to drill bit that was The Mountain Road, a China-set WWII enact where the enemy wasn't Japan, but people ... no mobs ... that were killing off our troops without least recognition of all we had done for them. It was up to Major James Stewart to wipe off scourge however way he had to, and to blazes with partnership the US thought it had with a now Evil Empire.

Hadn't bothered with The Mountain Road until TCM's recent broadcast in HD/wide, this a first proper view as its still not been released on DVD, nor streaming that I could find. Precious nuggets are sometimes found like this, and while The Mountain Road is no tall-sitter on Stewart's résumé, it does deal the unexpected and is far less a reprise of WWII incidents than same incidents sifted through politics that informed years leading up to 1960 and persisting to a present day. Noteworthy is Road being a war movie, and fact Stewart did virtually none of those. Strategic Air Command had been about defense in peacetime, and as to others --- well, there simply weren't any after WWII. Stewart had done too much real combat to want to pretend at it once his fight was over. You could say that ones who hadn't served, John Wayne, Van Johnson, others, got the most mileage out of acting in uniform. I'd like knowing what decided Stewart to make exception of The Mountain Road, to step off policy he had maintained since coming home from flight duty. Maybe, or better put, undoubtedly, he felt strong about an ongoing Red China situation, and here was chance to address it. He had batted at Communists the year before in The FBI Story, not so hard a hitter as The Mountain Road, but the one we've been exposed to lots more often. The Mountain Road takes time to become memorable, jolts coming in a second half after a first where we wonder if this team will spend whole of run-time wrecking bridges and blocking passages. Tension is built along lines not dissimilar to Objective, Burma, with a pay-off almost as strong.

Saturation Opening in L.A.
I'll give up this much short of outright spoilers: The Chinese ambush and kill American troops, falling not short of atrocities we had long attributed to Japanese aggressors only. This was hard tack for 1960 viewers to bite on, and I must say it kind of surprised me. Glad to have stuck with The Mountain Road for the haul, for it was a teaching moment in ways Hollywood, at least its conservative element, fought a Cold War. There are arguments for restraint, but where Stewart arms up for revenge in a bracing third act, all of foregoing is mere noise and nuisance. Even Jim confessing for a finish that he might have gone overboard is no wash-away of viewer sentiment entirely with harsh acts he performs. The Mountain Road continued tweak of Stewart persona that Vertigo and Anatomy Of A Murder preceded with. He wasn't yet ready for surrender to fuddy Dad comedies that would nibble off status achieved in the 50's. Problem was The Mountain Road coming to grief with boxoffice Variety reported variously as slow, mild, so-so, or plain sad, this after saturation open on 5/25/60 at 150 locations to run at least through Decoration Day, Stewart canvassing twelve cities on a bally tour, and Columbia throwing $500K at nationwide promotion. Despite this, The Mountain Road failed to crack Variety's annual list of million dollar, or more, renters. Neither would there be network television play, The Mountain Road announced for syndication in May 1964 as part of a 60-title Columbia package.


Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Stinky has to ask a naive question: did the Chinese really attack American troops in World War II, or was this made up for the cold war audience? With an extensive 30-second Internet search, Stinky could find no such Chinese attack.

Regardless, this is a movie Stinky would love to see.

10:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff supplies some interesting additional data re THE MOUNTAIN ROAD:

Dear John:

I had never seen THE MOUNTAIN ROAD before Get-TV (while it was still mostly airing old Columbia pix) ran it a few years back. I remembered how Stewart had specifically avoided war pictures; accordingly, both the subject and content of ROAD surprised me. Quite an interesting post about a complicated movie.

This is based on a novel by Theodore H. White, who reported extensively on China in the '40s. I believe he knew Stilwell fairly well (he prepared the General's papers for publication after his death), and witnessed a great deal of the unrest and confusion in the country during and after the war. After years of reflecting upon this, he published the novel in 1958; it would be interesting to know how faithfully the film follows the book, and whether White's reportedly candid depiction of the ambiguous attitudes of American soldiers toward the Chinese was amped up for the cold war-produced feature. Reviews and responses to the picture suggest that it's an anti-war movie, but I can't decide whether it actually is. Is Stewart's terrible revenge against the Chinese bandits supposed to be seen as a savage overreaction or as simple (if violent) justice? I don't know -- and I wonder whether the filmmakers even meant for this to be in question.


11:09 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon points out the fine musical score for THE MOUNTAIN ROAD:

Your piece on James Stewart's film "The Mountain Road" was excellent. I saw that on TV years ago, but so many years that I can't remember the particulars terribly well. For me, the one thing that stood out was the score by Jerome Moross, who was beginning to make a name for himself as a film composer even though he'd been working in the industry for nearly twenty years by then, beginning as an orchestrator behind-the-scenes for better known, established composers. Of course, the one that really put him over, forever, was "The Big Country". I met and interviewed him in NYC in 1979 and of course I praised that one, and he reflected that Wyler wasn't among his fans. I was incredulous, and Moross smiled (in a rather pained way) and insisted, "Oh, he HATED it!" You never know!

12:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019