Third Man on the Mountain – Disney 1959

This is described as the best film about mountaineering ever made.    That is quite a boast but anyone seeing this movie might well agree with that comment.








Ken Annakin directed what was his third film for Walt Disney – and what a good one it was.

 For anyone who’s ever or who’s NEVER climbed a mountain (like me)this movie is a real treat.
James MacArthur  plays Rudy Matt, the son of the famous mountain climber Joseph Matt who tragically lost his life while climbing the famed Citadel mountain. Rudy’s father sacrificed his own life to save the climber that he was responsible for as his guide.

Janet Munro could melt any mans heart. She is sweet, full of fun and very beautiful. What a shame for her to die so young.   In this film she was a ball of energy.  It’s easy to realize why Walt Disney saw so much in her.

Michael Rennie was cast as the famous climber captain Winter who helps Rudy with his support when his uncle, played by James Donald, does not want him to be a guide and meet with the same fate as his father.

Laurence Naismith as always gives a great performance as Teo; the older friend and climber of Rudy’s father who was there when he died. Teo’s bark is worse than his bite and his warmth and love for both Lizbeth and Rudy is seen in many ways.

Herbert Lom also had a leading part in the film but on location he proved a bit of a pain because as Ken Annakin says, he would not do any dangerous shots on the mountain without scaffolding and he did not like the heights at all with the effect that  filming was held up  a number of times while safety elements were put in place.  However despite these difficulties with him,  the film was completed.    Herbert Lom turned to Ken and said  that although he would not risk himself  that he was after all  an actor and he assured Ken that what he would get on the screen would be OK.   On seeing the completed film, Ken Annakin had to admit that the most convincing actor climing the Matterhorn was – you guessed it – Herbert Lom !!!


Herbert Lom was born Herbert Karel Angelo Kuchacevič ze Schluderpacheru in Prague to upper-class parents Karl ze Schluderpacheru and his spouse Olga née Gottlieb who were members of Austrian nobility

Lom escaped to England  in January 1939 because of the impending Nazi occupation of the Czechoslovaki.   He made numerous appearances in British films throughout the 1940s, usually in villainous roles, although he later appeared in comedies as well.

In the Fifties he made a number of films including this one and the same year he was in North West Frontier – another one I like – set in India.

 Many of us will remember him as Dr.Roger Korda in the British television drama, The Human Jungle  (1963–64) as a Harley Street psychiatrist and this was very good and is frequently talked about even today.


Back to First Man on the Mountain -

The acting is amazing, the cinematography is breathtaking.    The filming was on location in Zermatt Switzerland where the 14,000 foot Matterhorn stands.


However one thing must be said about the terrifying shots achieved on screen because much of the really scary stuff was actually painted in later by Matte Genius of the World – Peter Ellenshaw who had worked for Disney on Robin Hood, Sword and the Rose, Rob Roy, 20,000 Leagues etc etc and many of the breathtaking scenes in any of these films were the work of Peter –  BUT so good was he with this special craft that most of the audience wouldn’t know that for instance – when you see a castle on a hill with the action below – the castle itself was matte painted onto glass in front of the camera and fitted exactly to the picture on screen. This was done to great effect on this film. Walt Disney wrapped up filming in Switzerland and turned to Ken Annakin and said ‘ Peter will be able to paint in the scary down shots far better than we can get’ and as Ken says ‘ Walt was right to such an extent that some of the audience at a preview of the film left the cinema with vertigo after seeing the sheer cliff faces and the drops below -  although none of them were aware that a master craftsman had in fact painted them in.

So just remember that when anyone says that ‘it was filmed in Switzerland on location with great effects’ that you are being visually tricked – and you would never know.

It still remains one of the most beautiful climbing films of all time thanks in a great part to Peter Ellenshaw. His work in Mary Poppins and Darby O Gill are outstanding – in fact Darby O Gill and the Little People is rated by many film experts as being one of the outstanding special effects films of all time. I have done a post on it earlier

If you are a fan of Walt Disney, this is a must see film.
This is the way movies should be made. It’s sad Hollywood does not do it like this anymore.

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