The Ten Best Snowshoe Films: Snowshoeing with James Bond and the Sundance Kid

The best movies, television programming and cartoons featuring the art of snowshoeing are ranked in order for the first time ever, just in time for gift buying and winter watching in those extra-dark hours. And how about this: stars who played iconic roles such as James Bond and the Sundance Kid come to the forefront in these discoveries.

What amazed wasn’t the dearth of snowshoeing in movies, but rather the diverse movie subjects utilizing them: monsters, love, Tweetie Bird and murder. A lesson I learned in compiling the list “101 Movies to Watch 1001 Times” in my book, HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life . . . there is not a lot of snowshoe drama drawing attention at the theaters. But there are gems out there, ready to be found and discovered by you.

First the ground rules unless you believe Harvey Logan. Logan is a character played by Ted Cassidy—better known as the Addam’s family’s “Lurch”—wanting to knife fight Paul Newman’s Butch early in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Butch wants to talk about “the rules” to give himself some time to figure out a way to get around this sure death. “Rules!” belts Logan, “There’s no rules in a knife fight.” Then while Logan remains perplexed, Newman disables him with a strategically placed swift-kick.

So here are the rules: first, no knives at the writer, a minor detail. There are films out there I may not have discovered that utilize snowshoes. Great! Email me the names or links. We’ll develop the ultimate list and give you credit, unless it’s like Gone With the Wind on snowshoes and the contributors number the thousands. In that case, first email wins.

Films that count are features, cartoons and television programs containing snowshoeing scenes. Documentaries are not included. The television programs for this list were not viewed but taken from reports. The movies and cartoons were.

Movies involving snowshoes are like a hot-rod Mustang in Steve McQueen’s Bullit; they’re important, in some cases critically so, but aren’t the star. On the other hand, maybe someone can write a screenplay for a 50-mile snowshoe race like director great, John Frankenheimer’s 1966 Grand Prix auto-fest. There are certainly beautiful snowshoers racing trails, particularly in the women’s class where all should be in film, so we have the players for a full-length feature. It just has not happened yet. Though I will reveal I read a script (written by a California screenwriter), and if you fund it I guarantee a title role. Really. And it is not all that much money, like Willy Nelson once said, “If you say it fast” after losing a $20-million IRS judgment.

After a day out on those pristine trails covered with that snowy white stuff, ignite a bountiful fire, hang your snowshoes on the wall, cuddle up with someone (or something) warm, and start enjoying snowshoe films with this list as your guide. Let the countdown begin:

Did not qualify: Donner Pass: The Road to Survival

1978 Television movie. An “Awful piece of history blandly delivered” is how an online critic described it. I never found a copy, but did locate a piece of film showing closing credits, probably the film’s highlights. Indications, and other likelihoods are this move had snowshoes.

This closing clip is disputable, though, as it shows filming in Utah whereas other info has it filmed in Arizona. Maybe they ate the snowshoes?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvuQavnKQBE

Did not Qualify: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

This film’s history reflects snowshoes are in it, but I never found scenes of them at all, including just hanging on the wall as decoration. Moreover, I patiently watched the entire dull DVD, too.

The only redeeming value? This little play on words:

Trevor: [as they are climbing] Hey, look at all the schist.
Sean: What?
Trevor: It’s a metamorphic rock. Green schist, white schist, mica-garnet schist…
Sean: Oh. Schist.

Honorable mention: The Day After Tomorrow – starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal

10. (tie) Cheaters Never Win – and They Cheated!

From the 2001 television series The Amazing Race, comes this 2003 episode.

where a dozen pair of teams start the race with cars—naturally—in Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, then fly to Italy where they have to find a snow-buried beacon. Two friends, Monica and Sheree, take a special route using snowshoes and finish fourth; hey, great for the snowshoe team. They should get a free invite for the USSSA National Snowshoe Championships for that.

Of the dozen couples competing including circus clowns, pro-football wives and just about any other combo you could think of, a homespun dating couple from South Dakota are the only ones eliminated because of snow. As all know blizzards are epidemic in South Dakota, just ask. Maybe there’s irony there.

10. (tie) Bump!

In a recent (2010) episode titled “Reno,” Shannon McDonough, the host for all 27 episodes—yes, 27 in case you missed some—goes wild, but first gets her exercise snowshoeing on a nearby mountain trek. Perhaps she traveled some of the trails of the Fresh Start Snowshoe Race or one of the NorthStar Snowshoe Races in their series. Then it was Après snowshoe time at the luxury resort. An amenity for only a television star, she might have received an extra towel or two . . . must wipe those snowshoes dry as all snowshoers know.

10. (tie) Moonwolf

Did you see this is in 1959? If so, besides being one of the few who did, I can reveal now 11 minutes were deleted for the U.S. release of this German firm made in Finland. Why these 11 minutes we’ll likely never know.

The plot is essentially a researcher’s dog, whom he found and saved years before, is selected to be a research subject. Why? Because they need a dog to go into outer space, a kind of Rin Tin Tin captures a missing asteroid. Landing back on earth, though, is in—you got it—deep, inaccessible mountainous snow. Where was Snowshoe Thompson when you needed him?

So our researcher, Dr. Peter Hom, has to snowshoe in this hazardous terrain to save astro-dog once again.

08. Death Hunt

A 1981 yawner with two big stars, Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin. They have to hunt one another on screen with a viewing audience who will stay to the end, and the only way to stay that long watching this film is by death . . . thus the movie’s name. It almost works. I thought I was dying.

The snowshoes trample snow in the big country, but frankly you wished they would have used them to slap the director, Peter Hunt, who fantastically directed Bond movies Goldfinger and From Russia with Love. What gives? http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi614531353

Here’s what makes the grade, though, and that is Angie Dickinson. You’ll have to watch to see if she ever snowshoes. Heckuva quote follows, though, particularly for those who fight mosquitoes:

W.W. Douglas: If you’re headin’ up to old Curly’s, I can save you the journey; skeeters got him last spring. Ate through his eyelids and pumped him full of poison. Curly finally got a gun and blew his brains out.

Albert Johnson: That’s one way to stop the buzzin’.

07. Rock-A-Bye Bear (cartoon)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi11IAqa9Pc

Directed by Ted Avery, a descendant of Daniel Boone, who started in 1929 cartooning. He created the memorable Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons. He is remembered for his commercial where cartoon bugs yell what before getting sprayed? “Raid’s Here!”

He created Daffy Duck, Chilly Willy, Screwy Squirrel, and was about to run out of double names until he finished with Bugs Bunny. Lots of snow in this cartoon, and they sometimes make better time without snowshoes. Avery created the idea for Bugs to quip, “What’s up, Doc?”

05. (tie) Snow Business (cartoon)

From 1953 comes Mel Blanc voices with Sylvester (known as Thomas before this cartoon) and Tweetie snowed-in together at Grandma’s cabin who is away at the moment. She can’t drive back there in her T-Model because the roads are closed; she goes anyway, begging the question of traction on those bicycle-type wheels, but, after all, this is a cartoon.

When the radio at the cabin says “snowed in for six weeks” all the puddycat could find to eat was birdseed; Let’s see, guess what else Sylvester thought he could eat? Thus, the adventures begin. Oh, and a mouse in the house makes Tarzan seem like Bozo of the jungle compared to this little guy.

Then, who snowshoed to the rescue wearing a heavy backpack with wood snowshoes like a Mountain Man endurance racer in either the Perkinstown or Stomp the Swamp Wisconsin snowshoe races? Granny!

Warren Foster (think “I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat”) wrote the story. Carl Stalling (most famous unknown composer of the 20th century; king of cartoon’s music) did musical direction while I. “Friz” Freleng directed. Freleng was head animator at Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies.

Beautiful colors, plus viewers will learn a brand new word to use when frustrated: “Flibbertigibbet,” pronounced flib’-ber-t-gib-it, loosely means someone who frustrates you. An example is, “Flibbertigibbets pass me all the time in snowshoe races.” Watch for the word early in the story.

Then, CBS censored (!) a part of the cartoon where Mr. Mouse stuck the cat’s tail in the toaster probably thinking kids would be doing that all over the world. If that were the case, just imagine what “we” would be doing if viewers acted out Sylvester’s or Porky Pig’s actions.

05. (tie) Tweetie Pie (1947)

Oscar winning short, Mel Blanc voices with Sylvester wearing four tennis rackets—forwards and backwards—as snowshoes. Hey, not a bad idea back then since they were woodies.

Sylvester chases Tweetie in the backyard snow and is forced to kiss the birdie to show he “cares” for Tweetie. The mother of the house admonition to Syl, when she goes out , “and remember, no tricks!” gives you a clue of what’s coming.

And, ever up-to-date, Tweetie has a bird’s own Facebook page, no kidding. No, I don’t know if Tweetie Tweets. “Friz” Freleng (see above Snow Business) was nominated for several Oscars, winning with this one. One more tidbit: He was a co-creator of the Pink Panther series of cartoons. Now if the Pink Panther had ever worn snowshoes . . . .

Included in the 4-Disco Collection, unrelated to snowshoeing, but important to our rights to participate, was a cartoon short titled, “Old Glory.” This Blue Ribbon selection features a young Porky Pig not wanting to learn the Pledge of Allegiance. As a kid, he falls asleep and is visited in a dream by Uncle Sam in full regalia. A terrific short history of the USA is put in terms all can enjoy. My favorite was talking about the pioneers coming here to search for freedom and found injustice.

.04 (TIE) The Bourne Legacy

From the wonderful series by Robert Ludlum, whose history and lessons of his success I highlight in HARMONIZING:Keys to Living in the Song of Life ,comes this follow-on plot allowing the franchise to move on from the Matt Damon days. Jeremy Renner IS agent Aaron Cross and shows the muscularity and solid face to be believable when he cracks someone in the head with his elbow acting like a machine gun bam, bam, bam. Right from the intro Cross is in the wild winterlands making treacherous leaps without fear all to get more “chems,” the keep-me-from-going-crazy pills that allows mere mortals to achieve abnormal strength and intellectual capacities.

Many of us achieve that with aspirn.

He would need them not only in the deep forest but also in eluding the beasts in the real world, the government agency who pulled the plug on the program in an effort to save taxpayers taxes? Yeah, right; no, better-still, save their phoney-baloney jobs. No need to give the ending, but let’s just say there’s plenty of room for Legacy II where they can kill off the girl he saves in this version, thus providing him motivation to wack a bunch more people, particularly if he pulls those snowshoes out of his pack.

It’s real fun, beautiful camera work in the snow and elsewhere, plenty of laughs and good times along with the suspense of it all. I rated it an “8” on the IMDB board.

04. (TIE) The Thing from Another World

This throwback movie made in the 1950s is entertaining though the snowshoe scenes are somewhat lame. For example, snowshoers cover ground while others in boots cover the same terrain, and no one leaves a footprint. I have been on some hard snow before, created through heavy rain falling on an accumulation, but even that crunches down and often falls through. But, to give the movie its due, this is before the time of computer painting snow on the grass, so the special effects are passable for the time.

James Arness plays “The Thing” but you never see him in his Marshall Dillion mode like in the long-running television series Gunsmoke. Unlikely the movie required a lot of acting ability to perform the monster character, but there is a lot of humor mixed with the thrills.

For example, check this dialogue:

Character, Ned “Scotty” Scott: “So few people can boast that they’ve lost a flying saucer and a man from Mars all in the same day! Wonder what they’d have done to Columbus if he’d discovered America, and then mislaid it!”

What else would you expect but a bloodthirsty alien green beast when stationed at an isolated arctic station? In 2001 the movie was added to the National Film Registry.

02. (tie) Far North (2007)

One of the most haunting of movies I’ve ever viewed, period. This movie would curl Hitchcock’s hair if he ever had any.

Snowshoes play a small part in plot of the movie, like most, but manage to be in the happiest scenes. The story’s impact grows as the movie, filmed in the snows of tundra land, reveals secrets. The brutal part of their circumstance leads to shocking twists. One can’t miss the special feature “Making of Far North.” http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi249299737/

02. (tie) Grey Owl (1999)

A 1999 release starring Pierce Bronson, famous for his James Bond roles, in a true account of a Canadian trapper who became a converted conservationist. Either his background was a part of the native Indian tribe or he lived with them.

The movie, directed by Richard Attenborough, has a thoroughbred running things with his previous acting, directing, and producing credits. Movies he directed or was involved in include A Bridge Too Far (1977), Gandhi (1982), A Chorus Line (1985), Chaplin (1992), in addition to acting in two of Steve McQueen’s films, The Great Escape (1963) and The Sand Pebbles (1966). Grey Owl, nominated for a number of honors from small awards committees, is surprisingly entertaining, far better than its box-office take. The real winner in the movie is the snow, woods, and scenic territory snowshoers will recognize as favorite stomping grounds. Difficult DVD to find as it never got a theatrical release in the U.S.A. Maybe too much beauty, not enough bombs and exploding cars.

There is plenty of snowshoeing on single track, and a key part of the movie involves crossing a lake covered with deep snow. This trailer is a good example: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2091581721/

Pierce Bronson, snowshoeing heartily, was able to stop after a long distance and without breathing heavily talk normally, making him with that VO2 Max level a sure candidate for the USSSA Snowshoe National Championships.

Plus he wrote a book by hand (part of the plot) while out in the woods, yielding a near-best seller without an editor or approval copies. I have never felt so slow while typing my manuscripts. Of course he had Canadian actress Annie Galipeau in those cold blustery nights motivating him to compose, and later keeping him warm if you get my drift.

01. Jeremiah Johnson

Sydney Pollack, terrific director (examples Tootsie, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Out of Africa), combined with actor Robert Redford in this outdoor classic (no, the Sundance Kid never snowshoed that we know of; didn’t swim either). Will Geer, playing a mountain man “Bear Claw,” considered himself a radical in real life. That goes against the grain of his role as grandpa in long running television series, The Walton’s. Screenplay was by John Milulus who wrote Apocalypse Now and the infamous Indianapolis Monologue in Jaws, plus Dirty Harry and Magnum Force. In addition he directed other projects with Edward Anhalt (42 films as a writer like 1964’s Beckett).

One tidbit: originally Johnson was to be played by Clint Eastwood and directed by Sam Peckinpah. As a Peckinpah fan—his take on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is on my screen at this moment—the fireworks between those two heavy weights would have ended up like Garrett and the Kid: somebody would gun somebody down.

Pollack and Redford did six films together, this was No. 2, and set in the mid-1800s. Character of Rev. Lindquist, who has been in a number of films is Paul Benedict who reached fame from The Jeffersons where he was the prime and proper Englishman. He also appeared in the comedy Waiting for Guffman among many others.

A trail pal, Del, tells Johnson toward the movie’s end when our hero is beginning to head to Canada: “Well . . . keep your nose in the wind, and your eyes along the skyline,” not a bad thought for all of us on trails with snow or dirt. http://matttrailer.com/jeremiah_johnson_1972

The movie was filmed in the Wasatch National Forest, so when you’re racing the Kahtoola National Qualifier there, stay on the lookout; Redford may be nearer than you think. Also production in Snow Canyon State Park, Uinta National Forest, and others.

So that’s the list, not ten as promised, but 11. I just couldn’t ignore Bump!. Check out the trailers (when I could find them), too. Rent these movies, or find them at the library, too. The cartoon multiple-discs are great box sets.

And when you come upon a movie not listed here but utilizing snowshoes, send me the link or name. I will compile a full list. Often times the hard part is finding a copy of a movie. I can assure you that one movie, not listed here, I tried hard to find but never came up with a copy.

The one movie you bring to my attention may be the new No. 1 . . . or my name isn’t Robert Redford.

Write phillipgary@snowshoemag.com

My “101 Movies to Watch 1,001 Times” – find it in HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life: http://amzn.to/hLfjP9

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About Phillip Gary Smith

Phillip Gary Smith, Senior Editor, published "The 300-Mile Man" about Roberto Marron's historic doubling of the Tuscobia 150 mile endurance snow run. He publishes "iHarmonizing Competition" on various forms of competition, including drag racing, his favorite motorsport. Earlier, he wrote "HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life" as a manual for life with chapters such as Winning by Losing, Can God Pay Your Visa Bill?, and a young classic story, The Year I Met a Christmas Angel. His book, "Ultra Superior," is the first written on the Superior Trail ultra-distance events. He mixes writing with his profession--the venture capital world--a dying art. He is a creator of CUBE Speakers, a group espousing themes in "HARMONIZING: Keys" in a unique way. Currently, he has two books in the works. Write to him at Phillip@ultrasuperior.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook @iHarmonizing.

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