Third Man on the Mountain

Third Man on the Mountain is a 1959 American Walt Disney Productions film directed by Ken Annakin and starring Michael Rennie and James MacArthur. Set during the golden age of alpinism, its plot concerns a young Swiss man who conquers the mountain that killed his father. It is based on Banner in the Sky, a James Ramsey Ullman novel about the first ascent of the Citadel, and was televised under this name. The film inspired the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland Park.[3]

Third Man on the Mountain
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Annakin
Produced byBill Anderson, Walt Disney
Written byEleanore Griffin
Based onBanner in the Sky
by James Ramsey Ullman
StarringMichael Rennie
James MacArthur
Music byWilliam Alwyn
CinematographyHarry Waxman
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • November 10, 1959 (1959-11-10)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$1,700,000 (US/Canada rentals)[2]



Original Novel

The film was based on the 1954 novel Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman, who had written The White Tower. The novel was based on the real life first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865.[4] Captain John Winter was based on Edward Whymper but the young character of Rudi was entirely fictional. The New York Times called it "a superb moutain climbing story for younger readers".[5]


Movie rights were bought by Disney in July 1957.[6] It was his fifth film shot in Britain, following Treasure Island, Robin Hood, The Sword and the Rose and Rob Roy.[1]

In January the lead role was given to James MacArthur, who had just been in Disney's The Light in the Forest. Eleanor Griffin was assigned to write the script.[7] The job of directing was given to Ken Annakin, who had made a number of films for Disney. David Niven was to play the other lead.[8]

In June 1958 Michael Rennie replaced David Niven.[9]

Janet Munro made the film as the second in a five picture deal with Disney, the first being Darby O'Gill and the Little People.[10]


Filming began 23 June 1958. The film was made on location in Switzerland with Gaston Rébuffat as the head of the mountain second unit photography.[11] it was mostly shot in Zermatt, a location that Walt Disney was familiar with from his ski trips. The studio portions of the film were done in London.[12] Zermatt was the model for the fictional town of Kurtal. Mountaineering scenes were shot in Rotenboden.

The entire cast and crew, numbering 170, did a course in mountaineering before filming began on 23 June 1958.[1]

James Donald fell eighteen feet off a crag shooting a film but escaped with minor injuries. Assistant cameraman Pierre Tairraz fell in a crevasse and broke three ribs.[1]

The extraordinary difficulty of making this film on the Matterhorn was chronicled in the "Perilous Assignments" episode of Walt Disney Presents.

Helen Hayes visited her son MacArthur on location and told Disney that she wished she could be in the film. Disney had a small role written for her.[13]

"On my day off I climbed the Mattehorn," said MacArthur.[14]

Post Production

The musical score for Third Man on the Mountain was composed by William Alwyn and features the original song "Climb the Mountain" by Franklyn Marks.[15]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "it is open to question whether the techniques of climbing pictured here, and some of the desperate deeds of mountaineering, were used almost a hundred years ago. Be that as it may, and however one feels about accuracy, the business of mountain climbing is excitingly visioned all the way ... What's more, the scenery is lovely."[16] Variety said, "It has the sort of high altitude thrills to send the viewer cowering deep in his seat and the sort of moving drama to put him on the edge of it."[17] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The scenery alone ... is worth the price. A Walt Disney company spent grueling months in the Swiss Alps grinding out painful shot after shot, but they came back with a Technicolor treat that is high on suspense, excitement and simple, uncomplicated fun."[18] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post declared it "a fine example of a Disney Fiction Film, well photographed and welcomely wholesome."[19] Harrison's Reports said, "As is the case with most Disney productions, meticulous attention has been paid to production values, and the film is overloaded with cloying sentiment. However, it is difficult to present a logical argument against a successful formula, and there seems to be no reason to deviate businesswise from the recent Disney pattern."[20] The Monthly Film Bulletin called the mountain scenes "almost continuously impressive and terrifying. But Ken Annakin seems happier selecting camera angles and arranging foolhardy action sequences than directing dialogue. Everyone but Michael Rennie and James MacArthur overacts vigorously, possibly in an effort to prevent the valley scenes seeming too elementary for schoolboy audiences. But in fact the whole buoyant and absurdly exciting production seems set fair to become a children's screen classic."[21]

See also


  2. "Rental Potentials of 1960". Variety. January 4, 1961. p. 47. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  3. p.267 Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney 2008 University of California Press
  4. Tales of Mountaineering T.M.L. The Christian Science Monitor 11 Nov 1954: 17.
  5. The Challenge: BANNER IN THE SKY. By James Ramsey Ullman. 252 pp. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company. $2.75. For Ages 14 to 16. Lent, Henry B. New York Times 12 Sep 1954: BR32
  6. OF PEOPLE AND PICTURES: Film Version of Turgenev's 'Month in The Country' Planned--Other Items By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 23 June 1957: 93
  7. Disney's Next Stop for Film: Switzerland Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 15 Jan 1958: a9.
  8. W. C. Handy's Life Screens: Nat (King) Cole Sings Blues in Toned-Down Music Film Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 24 Apr 1958: B9.
  9. FILM EVENTS: Stewart in New China Picture Los Angeles Times 21 June 1958: B3.
  10. Of Local Origin New York Times 5 June 1958: 39.
  12. p.267 Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney 2008 University of California Press
  13. Looking at Hollywood: Helen Hayes Greets Disney, Gets Role Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 21 July 1958: a2.
  14. THE TV SCENE---: MacArthur Joins Irish Parade Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 16 Mar 1959: A10.
  15. Johnson, Ian (2005). William Alwyn: The Art of Film Music. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. p. 288. ISBN 1843831597.
  16. Crowther, Bosley (November 12, 1959). "Screen: Disney Adventure". The New York Times. 27.
  17. "Film Reviews: Third Man on Mountain". Variety. September 16, 1959. 6.
  18. Scheuer, Philip K. (November 11, 1959). "'Third Man' Scenery Worth Price". Los Angeles Times. Part I, p. 27.
  19. Coe, Richard L. (November 26, 1959). "Disney Tale Aptly Scales the Alps". The Washington Post B10.
  20. "'Third Man on the Mountain' with Michael Rennie, Janet Munro and James MacArthur". Harrison's Reports. September 19, 1959. 150.
  21. "Third Man on the Mountain". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 27 (312): 11. January 1960.
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