The blockbuster success of Love Story (1970) reminded studios about the moneymaking potential of over-the-top tearjerkers, which explains why Universal put its muscle behind The Other Side of the Mountain, even though the bummer material seems more suitable for a TV movie. Based on the unfortunate experiences of real-life American skier Jill Kinmont, The Other Side of the Mountain depicts what happened to Kinmont (played by Marilyn Hassett) before, during, and after an accident that left her paralyzed from the shoulders down, ending her promising athletic career and confining her to a wheelchair. Adding to her woes, Kinmont became engaged to skier Dick “Mad Dog” Buek (played by Beau Bidges) after her accident, surmounting the many issues separating able-bodied persons from the disabled, but Buek died in a plane crash before they got married.
The movie frames these sad events with a quasi-uplifting prologue and epilogue, showing Kinmont looking fulfilled in her second career as a schoolteacher, but the point of the movie is bludgeoning viewers with the particulars of Kinmont’s misery. As directed by feature/TV journeyman Larry Peerce, The Other Side of the Mountain is so perfunctory it occasionally borders on self-parody—every time Peerce shows the heroine smiling, it’s a sure sign something horrible is about to happen. Even Kinmont’s best friend, fellow skier Audra Jo Nicholson (Belinda J. Montgomery), suffers the whims of fate, losing full mobility in her legs after a bout of polio.
The workaday nature of the picture is not aided by Hassett’s performance: Though sincere and wholesomely pretty, she alternates between extremes of sweetness and hysteria. Luckily, Bridges has fun with his daredevil role, and Montgomery lends sass whenever her character castigates Kinmont for self-pity. (The great comic actor Dabney Coleman appears in a minor role as Kinmont’s pre-accident coach.)
Audiences gobbled up The Other Side of the Mountain, generating enough interest for a sequel that offers an uplifting change of course from its predecessor. The Other Side of the Mountain Part 2 shows Kinmont finding love again, this time with simple but soulful truck driver John Boothe (Timothy Bottoms). The sequel also delves deeper into Kinmont’s occasionally fraught relationship with her mother-turned-caretaker, June (Nan Martin). However, whereas the first picture moves briskly by jamming years of experiences into a single feature, the second picture feels padded and thin. Nonetheless, Bottoms is appealing, exuding vulnerability even though his acting sometimes lacks polish; in a strange way, he and Hassett make a potent screen duo because the strain of their respective efforts feels compatible.
Taken together, these two movies are meant to be inspirational celebrations of Kinmont’s triumph over despair, but they also contain three and a half hours of almost relentless human suffering. So, if schadenfreude takes you to your (un)happy place, then a world of wonder awaits on you on The Other Side of the Mountain. (Available as part of the Universal Vault Series on Amazon.com)
The Other Side of the Mountain: FUNKY
The Other Side of the Mountain Part 2: FUNKY