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Story of adulthood sometimes threatens to overshadow a good Civil War drama!
on March 24, 2014
When I ordered Disney's early 1970s T.V. movie "Menace on the Mountain", I was already comparing it to Disney's early 1970s, theatrical release, "The Wild Country", and I was HOPING that I'd like "MotM" as much as I liked "TWC"; "Menace" IS an INTERESTING (and and engaging) movie, but it COULD have been better.
"Menace on the Mountain" tells the tail-end-of-The-Civil-War story of the Southern McIvers family. Mr. Jed McIvers has gone away to fight the Yankees, and his wife, Leah, is in charge of their 14-year-old son Jamie and his younger brother and sister (The sister is played by a charming Jodi Foster...in a PRE-"Napoleon and Samantha" role!) Everything in the McIvers' small Southern town is reflective of poverty, depression, and general down-trodden griminess, so when the chance arrives to kill a local big cat for money, Jamie McIvers sets himself up against the local bully, Poss Timmerlake, determined to grow up quickly, AND to add to his family's low money supply (I won't spoil the outcome of that competition). Later, an angry Poss leads a band of military deserters (BOTH Rebels AND Yankees) to take over the McIvers' family home; he does so because the beautiful and nurturing, yet strong Leah rejects his advances! The already poor family is forced to leave their home, and their sorry, but engaging journey takes them to the ransacked house of a neighbor, who agrees to help them. Jamie is determined to make his family successful, so he runs away, meets a Union Major (who is incredibly handsome), and allows the man to help his family. When Jed returns home, he must assist his family in the task of freeing the hostage-held McIvers home from the lustful Poss and his band of rude, greedy deserters.
I WISH that I loved this movie, but there are a few aspects of the movie that make it slightly unenjoyable. For starters, NO story about a teen's journey to adulthood should beat you over the head with the fact that it's a coming-of-age story, and "Menace" sometimes does just THAT. From a certain point during the movie onward (I won't spoil anything), Jamie keeps trying to grow up too quickly, even though his father's absence has ALREADY made him "The Man of the House". He keeps getting frustrated and angry, and he keeps talking on and on...and on about how he has to prove that he's an adult, about how he has to save his family. His mother has to validate his new status. I think that the Major has to validate his new status, too. His FATHER has to validate his new status...TWICE! Every time that he proves himself, Jamie remains unsatisfied...until the viewer may find themselves wanting to say, "ENOUGH, already! I GET it!" Jamie's obsession with adulthood may remind some people of too much salt in the stew pot after awhile; it sometimes almost threatens to ruin what is otherwise an interesting story. "The Wild Country" dealt with the SAME subject matter, but it addressed it in a less overbearing way.
Another issue that I have with this movie is the fact that both Poss Timmerlake AND the Yankee Major are more handsome than Jed McIvers! It's a bad sign when you watch a movie, and you think that the lustful, greedy villain is better looking (and even kinder-looking) than the man whom you're SUPPOSED to be rooting for. It's ALSO a bad sign when you're wishing that the actor who was playing the role of the Major was playing the role of Jed (He almost seems to be a match for Leah, while the only truly tender moment between Jed and Leah occurs at the end of the movie), and that the man who was playing the role of Jed was playing the role of Poss!
This movie isn't ALL bad, though! I really love the fact that the McIvers family has to wade through sorrow, starvation, exhaustion, dirt, sweat, poverty, emotional distress, etc., in order to steal their happy ending out from under a bunch of villains who are greedy for lazy comfort; it's interesting to see just how much emotional and physical distress the McIvers family must overcome in order to triumph over adversity, and "Menace on the Mountain" is a movie that makes one really feel for its younger protagonists, because one can clearly see how the unfair Civil War has made them scrap, scrounge, and grow up far too quickly. I must say that I have liked few Disney heroines MORE than I like Leah McIvers; she is the most sweet, maternal, beautiful live-action Disney mom that I've ever seen, and yet, she is strong and unwaveringly determined (Leah's determination sometimes clashes with her sweeter qualities), and she knows how to survive. She defines the term "Southern Lady".
The BEST aspect of "Menace on the Mountain" is the fact that it teaches a timeless lesson about prejudice, due to the fact that it separates people based upon their ACTIONS, rather than their STATUS (Ie: Caring Vs. Cruel, rather than Southern Vs. Northern). This movie made me re-think the old stereotypes about Southerners.
Oh, wait! I ALSO love the McIvers' pig, Blossom! She's a ball of oinking cuteness, and she's one of my favorite aspects of the movie!
On another note, there are no African Americans in this movie, so if you are looking for a movie about race relations, this isn't the movie for you. I sort of knew that The Disney Company would sanitize all references to slavery out of this movie...
Overall, this movie teaches some good lessons...if you can ignore its sometimes relentless (and slightly sexist) message about men of the house and journeys to adulthood. I would recommend this movie to those who already like it, and to those who would like to teach their children to avoid being prejudiced...BEFORE they form solid stereotypes about Southerners or Northerners. I think that this movie might be more appropriate for the 8+ set, because it does deal with themes of war, starvation, anger, lust, greed, and whipping (Poss actually whips, or nearly whips, one of the other characters).