The Mountain Men

The Mountain Men is a 1980 American Metrocolor adventure Western film directed by Richard Lang and starring Charlton Heston and Brian Keith.

The Mountain Men
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Lang
Produced byMartin Shafer
Andrew Scheinman
Written byFraser Clarke Heston
StarringCharlton Heston
Brian Keith
Stephen Macht
Music byMichel Legrand
CinematographyMichel Hugo
Edited byEva Ruggiero
Polyc International BV
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • September 5, 1980 (1980-09-05)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States


Bill Tyler (Heston) is an argumentative, curmudgeonly mountain man. Henry Frapp (Keith) is Tyler's good friend and fellow trapper. Together, they trap beaver, fight Native Americans, and drink at a mountain man rendezvous while trying to sell their "plews", or beaver skins, to a cutthroat French trader named Fontenelle.

Tyler looks for a legendary valley, in Blackfoot territory, "so full of beaver that they just jump in the traps." Running Moon leaves her abusive husband, a ruthless Blackfoot warrior named Heavy Eagle, and comes across the two trappers in the dying days of the fur trapping era. While at first Bill only wants to take her to safety at the rendezvous, she eventually becomes his woman. While trapping Bill and Henry are attacked by Blackfeet and Henry is scalped by Heavy Eagle in front of Bill. Bill runs back to camp and he and Running Moon flee only to be caught. Later, Bill (thinking Running Moon has also been killed) is given a chance to run (similar to the real life event of John Colter) and is chased by warriors whom he initially eludes by hiding in a beaver den. They pursue him until he and Heavy Eagle fall into a raging river. Heavy Eagle makes it to shore and Bill goes over a waterfall. Heavy Eagle tries to make Running Moon his woman again which he cannot do. He knows Bill Tyler survived and will come for her as he had done.

On his survival trek Bill comes across Henry who had survived the scalping and eventually learns that Running Moon is still alive. He and Henry set out to rescue her while they are followed by a pair of trappers (Cassell and Lucking) also looking for the valley of beavers.

The story takes place during 1838, although it's never stated in the film, based on the fact that the beaver market was declining and the rendezvous was held on the Popoagie River. The "Era of the Mountain Man" ended two years later.

The story was written by Heston's son. The film was Lang's directorial debut. This was Victor Jory's last film. John Glover's character Nathan Wyeth was clearly inspired by the historical Nataniel Wyeth, a New England ice merchant who pioneered the marketing of Northwest salmon. Keith's character Henry Frapp could have been inspired by Henry Fraeb, a nineteenth century trapper and fur trader.

Main cast


The film was shot in Wyoming at Bridger-Teton National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone National Park.


Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert selected the film as one of their "dogs of the year" in a 1980 episode of Sneak Previews.[1]

In Leonard Maltin's annual publication "TV Movies," the film is rated BOMB and described as "crude, bloody and tiresome good-guys-vs-Indians western."

Heston later said "the film that you saw was not the film that we conceived or shot. We compromised. My son's script was much darker. It emphasized the sort of autumnal recognition that they earned as trappers. I confess that I miss that aspect bitterly. My son found it difficult to swallow. He poured everything into the script and he resented the changes. But all artists compromise. Every one of my films could have been better. Every one of them. My son learned that the people who put up the money control the film. When we saw the final cut, he was heartbroken.... I could have walked out. I could have put everything on the line but I don't like to do that. It was the director's (Richard Lang) first feature and I don't like to throw my weight around. But maybe I should have. Maybe I made a mistake."[2]


  1. Sneak Previews: Worst of 1980
  2. FOR HESTON THE KEY IS RESILIENCE: Michael Blowen Globe Correspondent. Boston Globe 21 July 1980: 1.
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