Spencer Tracy’s Gravitas

A great moral conflict lies at the heart of The Mountain which still resonates today. Starring an aging Spencer Tracy and a fresh-faced Robert Wagner, it’s man versus the mountain in an epic clash of decency versus greed. A retired mountain climber is cajoled into a treacherous expedition by his amoral brother in this thrilling adventure tale from director Edward Dmytryk (The Caine Mutiny). Inspired by the crash of Air India flight 245 in 1950, The Mountain is a strikingly written Hollywood film with searing themes.

Brothers Zachary (Spencer Tracy) and Chris (Robert Wagner) Wheeler live simple but poor lives in the shadow of a gigantic mountain. Zachary is a legendary mountain climber and guide now getting up there in years, largely retiring from the strenuous job after a nasty fall killed several members of his expedition. Having raised his much younger brother Chris since childhood after their parents passed, it’s more of a father-son relationship between the two very different men.

The sad moral at the heart of The Mountain may be more interesting than its excellent action and danger

When a plane carrying several wealthy people crashes in the nearby mountains, Chris eyes the situation as a chance to escape poverty and move away. The inexperienced climber plans to loot the wreckage despite improbable odds of surviving the dangerous climb. Recognizing the inherent danger of the situation, Chris manipulates Zachary into aiding him. It’s two men versus the mountain in a thrilling battle for survival against the elements and the harsh landscape.

Beyond Tracy and Wagner the cast includes Claire Trevor, William Demarest and E.G. Marshall. Some attention over the years has been given to the vast disparities in age between the featured stars, who play brothers. A bigger issue may be Tracy’s advanced age nearing 56 at the time, portraying a hearty mountain climber well past his peak. There’s a little credibility problem he has in the role a few might not get past.

Today’s Hollywood likely casts someone younger in the leading role with a greater physical presence. Hollywood studios like Paramount in the 1950s simply didn’t share those concerns. They were looking for star power above the marquee. What’s funny is Tracy proves his worth and then some, pulling off the demanding role while far outclassing his much younger co-star Robert Wagner. The screen icon makes the character his own.

The Mountain is a powerful and often moving adventure, made in the heyday of Hollywood’s studio system which reliably cranked out survival dramas seemingly effortlessly. Still in his Twenties, Wagner’s primarily one-note performance feels stiff next to screen legend Spencer Tracy, one of the era’s most acclaimed actors. Tracy imparts Zachary’s dilemma with wonderful pluck and finesse, turning what could have been maudlin drama into a tense and harrowing thriller. The sad moral at the heart of The Mountain may be more interesting than its excellent action and danger.

The Mountain Blu-ray screen shot


Filmed in Paramount’s VistaVision process, Imprint licenses a satisfactory HD transfer from the studio for the 1956 production. Boasting a 2K scan from the original negative, The Mountain’s vivid colors and contrast are its strongest features. Maybe a touch of ringing, though it’s difficult assessing older VistaVision movies that haven’t been restored. There’s no visible evidence of damage and wear in the elements.

Minor fluctuations in the grain structure aside, the unprocessed transfer from largely clean elements naturally reflects the VistaVision cinematography’s slightly softer focus. Scenic mountain vistas and stunning location photography provide plenty of eye candy in the 1.78:1 presentation. Generally the video quality is above average for vintage Hollywood filmmaking, with small dips in a few process shots.

Olive Films put out a BD for the film over a decade ago. Likely the biggest difference between the two discs is Imprint’s use of a BD-50 with a healthy AVC encode, efficiently and transparently capturing the occasionally gritty video quality. Definition and clarity are fairly solid with rugged black levels. I’d love for Paramount to give it a new 4K scan from a complete photochemical restoration but that looks highly unlikely. Grab the Imprint disc before it goes out of print.


The Mountain’s 2.0 PCM faithfully reproduces the original monaural soundtrack with little fanfare. Dynamics are limited in the dated recording with minor hiss. Dialogue is cleanly intelligible. Fidelity is okay, there’s just something lacking from the entire soundtrack in terms of punch and immediacy.

The most disappointing sound comes when the plane crashes. The paltry bass is a far cry from the enveloping whiz-bang approach of today. Action is underwhelming in terms of stage depth and imaging.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font.


Olive Films released a barebones BD all the way back in 2012 and the film never received much attention on DVD at all. Thankfully Imprint out of Australia has gone back and issued the Paramount film with new special features in a beautiful limited edition. Since it’s highly unlikely Paramount themselves get around to issuing the Spencer Tracy flick on UHD, this is now the definitive home video edition. My highest recommendation for fans.

The Blu-ray is coded for all regions, so customers worldwide can play the disc without an issue. The Mountain is #198 in the Imprint Collection, arriving in a clear case with a glossy slipcase. The unique slipcase is limited to 1500 units only.

Audio Commentary – A new one by film historian Howard Berger delves into the film’s background with enthusiasm and knowledge.

Above the Precipice: actor Robert Wagner Remembers 20th Century Fox, Spencer Tracy and The Mountain (25:53 in HD) – A new phone interview with the film and television star who discusses working with an icon like Tracy and challenges on the movie. He dives into his own background and early career at Fox.

Director Edward Dmytryk on the “Hollywood Ten”: 1990 interview (24:44 in SD) – The director discusses getting blacklisted in 1947 and how it shaped his career. A fascinating bit of Hollywood history from the inside.

Note: The Mountain’s Theatrical Trailer was listed in press materials but is nowhere to be found on this disc.

Full disclosure: This disc was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we approach all review material, please visit our about us page.

The Mountain
  • Video
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  • Extras


A haggard Spencer Tracy outshines his younger co-star Robert Wagner in this searing adventure tale of two men guided by far different moral compasses

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 44 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots ripped directly from the Blu-ray:

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