Wednesday, February 02, 2011

February 17th marks 60th Anniversary of “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” premiere

By Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.: Speaker, Writer, Author of book “When America Stood for God, Family and Country”—looking to republish and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans

When was the last time a movie made you laugh, cry or just feel good?

In 1951, the “Golden-Age of Hollywood,” great family movies were at an all-time peak with such classics as: David and Bathsheba, the Day the Earth Stood Still and I’d Climb the Highest Mountain.

Cleveland, Georgia is home of the Old Stovall Covered Bridge that bridges Chickamauga Creek. This 1890s structure appeared in the movie “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain.”

I’d Climb the Highest Mountain is an wonderful American-classic that was made during the 1950s when families spent quality time at the movies where a coke was a nickel, real hot bettered popcorn a quarter and for a mere quarter you might see a double-feature film, cartoon and newsreel. Parents did not worry about the sexual, bad language or graphic scenes of the early films.

All About Eve starring Bette Davis won the Academy Award for best picture in 1950 and there was great excitement in the North Georgia Mountains. That was also the year that the movie “I’d Climb the highest Mountain” was filmed in Georgia’s red clay hills. The 1910 novel that became a movie was written by Georgia’s own Corra Harris and was entitled ‘A Circuit Rider’s Wife.’ It was a story of a young Methodist preacher and his bride as they moved to the Georgia hills to pastor a local church. Much of the movie was shot around Helen and Cleveland in what is called the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When Corra Harris died in 1935, Hollywood screenwriter Lamar Trotti, an Atlanta, Georgia native, wrote the screenplay of her book. Trotti earned his fame far from Georgia, but had kept his love of his home and its history. After World War II, Henry King, a successful director, worked with Trotti to produce the movie for Twentieth Century-Fox. King had made the religious films “David and Bathsheba” and “Song of Bernadette.” He was born in Christiansburg, Virginia.

Susan Hayward played the role of Mary Elizabeth, the preacher’s wife and narrates the story. Reverend William Thompson is played by William Lundigan. Both give fine performances about a country preacher, his wife and the Christian life of a small town in the rural South. Their faith is tested by a deadly flu epidemic, a child drowning at the church picnic and the miscarriage of their child. The faithful strength of this couple brings the people closer to one another. Mary even talks a tight fisted old man out of money and buys Christmas presents for the poor children.

The supporting cast includes: Rory Calhoun and Gene Lockhart, father of actress June Lockhart. Alexander Knox, of the movie “Wilson,” played a non-believer who was touched in the end by the goodness of the preacher and his wife. Even though Knox lost a child, he now sees his children just as happy as other children and tells Reverend Thompson that he and his family would look to the future with an open mind.

There is an emotional scene where Minister Thompson asks all married couples to hold hands and repeat their marriage vows. This is a scene worth repeating—many times! The movies climax is classic Hollywood. Thompson, as a circuit-riding minister is transferred to another church. He and Mary bid their congregation farewell. Susan Hayward became very fond of the mountain people, many of whom played extras.

An early 1900s automobile was needed for the movie. The producers found Otis Mason in South Carolina with a 1912 vintage Overland in running condition. However, he was the only one who knew how to drive it. Mr. Mason appears in the movie as the driver and just had one line “Yes Ma’am.” What would you give for just one line in a movie? Especially a line that husbands use all the time!

The movie ends with the ‘Lords Prayer’ sung slowly and reverently. The original music by Sol Kaplan and music direction by Lionel Newman is wonderful. This beautiful Technicolor classic is about the dirt roads, farmlands, old buildings and Georgia Mountain folks. Edward Cronjager received praise for the films Technicolor cinematography.

I’d Climb the Highest Mountain premiered on February 17, 1951, at Atlanta Georgia’s Paramount Theater. Susan Hayward was honored by the Georgia State Senate with a resolution declaring her an “adopted daughter of Georgia.” Hayward, born in New York, married a Georgian and they made Carrollton, Georgia their home.

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