KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “The Other Side of the Mountain”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

The Other Side of the Mountain

This one is a real deep dive, I saw it once in 1975 and a remembered very little of it. I think this film was a slow roll out across the country and had built up some word of mouth as a romance. My memory may be playing tricks on me but I am pretty sure I saw this with my friend Dan Hasegawa and Diane Heitchew, a girl on the Speech team with us back in High School. We were all friends and Dan was always bringing her to activities that Fall when we were both freshmen at USC and Diane was still in High School. I know that the screening I went to was at the Avco Cinema Center in Westwood, right on Wilshire Blvd. That theater has been replaced with a very different movie complex, but it was a very popular location in the 1970s, with basically no parking and you risked being towed if you parked in the neighborhoods. 

The film is a true story (billed that way in the opening credits, not “inspired by”) about skiing champion Jill Kinmont, who as an Olympic hopeful, was paralyzed  the week she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, in an event that would have qualified her for the U.S. Olympic team. She was in a romantic relationship with U.S. Skier Buddy Werner at the time of the accident, but that relationship did not survive the tragedy. She was also connected with Champion skier and flying daredevil Dick Buek, and that is the romantic angle that this film takes. 

“The Other Side of the Mountain” could be the template for a thousand inspirational TV movies over the next twenty years.  It follows a very straight narrative, showing us the promising young woman in her prime, and the playful connections she has with others in the skiing community. She has a best friend who was also a skier who contracted polio and lost the ability to ski. The true life events in the film all take place in the mid-fifties and there are a lot of things that evoke nostalgia, but also make us glad that we don’t live in that era. The tragedy occurs on the cusp of her greatest accomplishment and is emotionally hard hitting as a result.

Anyone who has seen one of these kinds of movies will recognize the style, or lack thereof in the film. The camera is not very dynamic but there are a few scenes of skiing that are mildly satisfying. There are several montages in the film, some of romance blossoming in the snow, some of the difficult rehabilitation that Jill goes through and all of them are accompanied by schmaltzy romantic music which is incredibly generic. Charles Fox the composer of the score was a prolific writer of music, primarily for television, which is why this may sound so cliché. The end song, was performed by Oliva Newton John, at the height of her musical career pre-“Grease”. That may account for the fact that the song got an Academy Award Nomination.

Beau Bridges, playing a part that could also have been done by his brother, is Dick Buek, the romantic partner who will not give up on Jill. There is a sequence of him coming to the hospital and taking her out of her bed that is funny and could convince you that romance was indeed possible for these two. The rehab scenes and the visit that Jill makes before her accident, to see her friend with polio, will make you happy that you don’t live in that period. Sincere medical providers were limited in the resources and tools they had access to, and it makes Jill’s struggle even more compelling. 

If there is a moment of injustice in the film, it comes when Jill, struggling to be productive after her paralysis, discovers that academic institutions will not hire a teacher in a wheelchair. Can you imagine the outcry today if someone took that attitude? There would be protests and twitter bombs and outraged tiktok videos everywhere. There was a sequel to the film that featured the same actress, Marilyn Hassett, playing Jill Kinmont, in later periods of time. I never saw the sequel but it would not surprise me that part of it would  feature her pushing back on the barriers that she faced trying to become an educator. 

Larry Peerce was the director of this film and he seems to have missed out on a major career. After some dramatic successes in the 1960s, he was relegated to TV movies in the 70s and 80s, and frankly, based on this film, it seems that he was best suited for those. His film “The Incident” did come up in our Lambcast Discussion this week (Thanks to Howard Casner). 

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