Friday, November 13, 2009

My Side of the Mountain (1969)

Directed by James B. Clark. Seeing this one grew directly from a misunderstanding. Karen had been reading this autobiographical anecdotes by White House press corps correspondent and animal fancier Jean George entitled "The Tarantula in My Purse," and she remembered aloud that she'd also written this great novel called "My Side of the Mountain." And I said, what, that weird thing that all the girls in my junior high were running around with? Wasn't there some crappy TV movie made out of that? And she looked at me and shrugged.

So I poked around on the InterWiki, and it turns out I was thinking of something called "The Other Side of the Mountain," which was about this female downhill skier who has a bad accident, becomes paralyzed, finds love, and most certainly does have a crappy TV movie made about her.

Turns out "My Side of the Mountain" is much more in the predictable wheelhouse of the author of the "Tarantula" book of animal stories, the tale of a kid who takes to the mountains to live off the land. And a perfectly decent movie was made of the book, though while I'm only familiar with about 50% of the book I can say that the flick is substantially different from it.

Either way, this pleasantly subtle movie tells us why Sam wants to live in the mountains -- he has read every fact about surviving in the wild but he doesn't know for sure if he can do it. What the movie lets us ponder is why it is so easy for him to leave his family. Fortunately, this isn't a heavy concern; in fact, the magic of this film is the way it make everything seem so plausible.

We see Sam make his home in the trunk of a tree, train a bird of prey, and skin and clean a deer. Specifics are explained to fascinating detail without risk of nausea; the broad stroke here is the coming of age thing, which is well done. The movie has a reasonable ending, invented about halfway through the story that the book tells, but is well worth seeking out.

By the way, the disc cover shows a bear? The bear is in this for like 10 seconds. A raccoon has a starring role compared to the goddamn bear.


  1. I always think of this book when I see acorns. Doesn"t the protagonist make acorn pancakes?

  2. in the book he does, the movie skips the pancakes and goes straight to pine cone waffles