50 Movies for 50 States: Week 52 – Wyoming, Film – The Mountain Men

Week 53 – Wyoming

The Mountain Men (1980), produced by Columbia Pictures Corporation and Polyc International BV, directed by Richard Lang, written by Fraser Clarek Heston, with Charlton Heston, Brian Keith, Victoria Racimo, Stephen Macht, Seymour Cassel and David Ackroyd, cinematography by Michel Hugo, original music by Michel Legrand

Well, helloooooo there city slickers! Name’s Ramblin Pete and I’d like tell you story about two men … two MOUNTAIN men.

Beaver hunters they were!

Oh, quit your snickerin’. I’m not talking about beaver in the way some feisty young men like to talk about the furry patch which lies betwixt a young lady’s thighs. Don’t get me wrong, Bill Tyler and his good buddy Henry Frapp – the two true men of the frontier I speak of — never did meet a piece of poon tang they didn’t want to just dive into headfirst. Just like they never met a bottle of whiskey they didn’t want to just suck dry1. But when it came to beaver, the only beaver they knew was that which constituted their livelihood – Castor canindensis – those paddle-tailed, dam-building rodents whose skins (or “plews” as their known within the trade) at one time could fetch a pretty dollar on the colonial market.

But how the times have changed! As Bill and Henry are fixin’ to learn, silk is the new beaver. Much to our boys chagrin, that same woman who might once proudly have strut about town in a beaver-skin hat now demands to be accessorized in silk – the fruit of the Oriental worm. I’ll tell you what it is. It’s worm shit, that silk! Hell, I might as well squat over a bucket and crap out a few nickels, because it seems there’s more of a chance of that happenin’ than Bill and Henry have of getting a fair price for their plews.

Still, there might be hope for our boys. Talk amongst the red men is that, beyond the mountains, there’s a whole valley full of beaver. Gawd damn. Just imagine that. Beaver as far as any man can see. Even if the going rate for plews is on the downward slope, if what Bill and Henry hear is God’s honest truth, there’s enough plews lyin’ in that valley to retire out Californee way!

There’s even this squaw, Running Moon, who claims to know the way to this beaver-filled canyon. She was a slave of the Blackfoot tribe, till old Bill and Henry came to her aid. Problem is, now her old man, one mean sunofabitch named Heavy Eagle, is lookin’ to take her back to his teepee.

I never did find out what happened to those two men … those two MOUNTAIN men. And I know I promised you a story, but – dagnabbit! – pardon my language. You see, they made a movie about Bill and his ever-faithful companion Henry. It was called The Mountain Men, as fitting a title as I’ve ever known. Bill was played by that hero of American folklore, a true actor’s actor if I say so myself, Mr. Charlton Heston. Henry was played by Brian Keith, a former carny turned television star. Running Moon was played by Victoria Racimo, who I reckon looked a little familiar until I remembered that she played the lead squaw in the timeless family classic, Ernest Goes To Camp.

The Mountain Men was directed by Richard Lang, a director primarily known for directing shows on the picture tube like Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. You know … real highbrow-type material. The movie was based on a script by Fraser Clark Heston.

Heston, you say?

That’s right. Old Charlie Heston’s boy wrote the screenplay to this here adaptation. It was perhaps the highlight of his career, since he’s got a resume shorter than a polar bear’s dick2. Well, I’m not shocked because Fraser Clark Heston is an awful writer. The lowpoint of The Mountain Men occurs during one of the movie’s many fight scenes. I’m watchin’ the movie, then all of the sudden … did I just hear the N word? I rewind. Yep. Boy Heston has his daddy droppin’ the N bomb. Funny thing is, I didn’t see one N in the whole movie! Not that it would be appropriate to judge someone based on their color, gender, religion or sexual preference. Or to call any person an N, which is something I doubt Bill would have ever done. He was a progressive mountain man. Maybe that was just daddy Heston ad-libbin’ or stretchin’ out his actors legs, as they say in the biz.

The Mountain Men is about as politically-correct as you’d expect from the son of a former NRA president who once played Moses. And even if Charlton Heston did once support the civil rights movement, assuming he had a pretty strong influence on the content of The Mountain Men, the message of the movie is clear as it pertains to race: brown-skinned people may deserve the compassion and mercy of whites, that certainly doesn’t make them equal. Those crazy injuns are just a little more animalistic than us proper whites. Any person with a little common sense might be able to let that sort of thinking slide if this were a movie from the 1960s or earlier when Hollywood was more inclined to wear its ignorance on its sleeve. But this movie was made in 1980. Didn’t Heston Jr. ever see that commercial with the crying Indian? Who cares what the commercial was about. The Indian was crying.

If you’re not easily offended though, The Mountain Men can be pretty fun. Heston and Keith curse and drink and fight and fuck. It’s rated R, mostly for language, but it’s also pretty violent even if that violence isn’t incredibly gory. People are stabbed and shot with arrows. Keith’s character gets scalped and SURVIVES. What makes all of this so much more entertaining is that, half of the time The Mountain Men feels like a feel-good family adventure. Then, someone calls someone else a cocksucker … or, the N word … and it’s like, “Excuse me?” I’m actually kind of surprised that Heston was in this film given the conservative image that he tries to convey. But I guess he really cared about his son to be in his terrible movie. Thanks dad!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Ramblin’ Pete is me, Matt Dunn. I was just trying out something new for this FINAL 50 MOVIES FOR 50 STATES REVIEW. When Ramblin’ Pete said he never found out what happened to Bill and Henry, that was me talking. I never found out what happened to those two crazy coots because I didn’t get to see the end of The Mountain Men. It was available on Netflix Instant one day, when I was able to watch part of it. Then, when I went to watch the rest, it had expired. But I saw the first half … and that was enough – which is probably the best way of summing up my experience with this film. It’s offensive. It’s predictable. It’s kind of entertaining. But, when it comes down to it, I can think of a hundred better things you could be doing with your time than watching The Mountain Men. Take up stamp collecting. Volunteer with your local animal shelter. Plant an herb garden…

Others movies filmed in Wyoming: THERE ARE NONE. Okay, maybe there are some. But there aren’t many. Maybe we’ll talk about another Wyoming movie when we do ANOTHER 50 MOVIES FOR 50 STATES3. Until then, keep reading The Critical Masses. You’ll be a better person for it.

Next week: A look back at 50 Movies for 50 States

1 Editors note: Several shots of whiskey were consumed in the creation of this review as it was determined appropriate in order to try and embody the mountain man way of life and fully “become” the character of Ramblin’ Pete.

2 Approximately 7 inches … and shrinking!

3 Coming soon?



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