In Third Man on the Mountain Disney brings to the screen a fictional telling of the first climb of a Swiss peak called the Citadel. The real life mountain is the Matterhorn. Filmed on location in and around the Matterhorn, as well as Kanton Wallis standing in for the town of Zermatt, it is one of the best mountaineering tales brought to the screen. James MacArthur (the original Danno as in “book ‘em Danno” in the Hawaii 5-0 series) plays the part of Rudi. Rudi is a young and aspiring climber working as a dishwasher in one of the local inns. His dad died while attempting to climb the Citadel and Rudi wants to be the first to the top. Unfortunately the dishes keep piling up and it takes time to scrape off all the strudel. Rudi climbs when he can get away, and by chance meets Captain John Winter when he saves Winter’s life. After he fell into a crevasse, after slipping, no doubt, on strudel left over from previous climbers.
Lots of angst is on screen as poor Rudi is given little credit by the villagers, since he breaks a lot of dishes and dreams only of becoming a famous guide. The best parts of TMOTM is through the beautifully-done mountain sequences shot by Gaston Rebuffat. GR was not only a filmmaker, he was also on the original Annapurna expedition in 1950. His direction and photography on and around the Matterhorn, as well as the rock climbing scenes using artist Peter Ellenshaw’s matte paintings, are some of the best ever done. As always, the scariness of the climbing sequences inspired me to sit in an armchair and sweat it out.
Also in the story is actress Janet Munro, who paired with MacArthur in Disney’s The Swiss Family Robinson and with Sean Connery in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. At 38-years-old, the beautiful Janet with a great smile died of heart failure.
Herbert Lom plays the guide from a rival climbing village and has to act as the bad guy. He scowls a lot. Soon Herbert would become the poor foil in the Pink Panther films as Chief Inspector Dreyfus who was constantly befuddled and harassed by Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau. Herbert will be 95 on September 11 of this year. Michael Rennie plays Capt. Winter, the character vaguely based on Edward Whymper who led the first party to reach the top of the Matterhorn. James MacArthur (Rudi) died in 2010 at the age of 72. He was the adopted son of actor Charles Arthur and legendary screen and stage actress Helen Hayes.
Helen makes a cameo in TMOTM – look for her exiting a local hotel. James Ramsey Ullman also appears somewhere in the film as a tourist. If you can pick him out let me know.
I don’t believe Ed has made it to the top of the Matterhorn. He answered my email inquiry indicating he has not seen TMOTM. I let him know that he still has a chance. The film is available on DVD and download rental. The DVD transfer needs a remaster but at this time it is the best available. Disneyland’s version of the Matterhorn (which Disney had constructed based on his experience with TMOTM) always seeks summer climbers to ascend the mountain daily. I think Ed is fully qualified.
Third Man on the Mountain is rated 3.5 out of 4.0 peak attempts. The First Ascent is always the best. No plug intended, Ed.
Ed’s books are rated 4.0 out of 4.0 – armchair mountaineer or not.