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Ski movies classic and not-so-classic

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Am I the only one who hears the theme of an old gum commercial when I think of ski movies? Get your sticks shined up, grab a stick of Juicy Fruit: It’s time to get psyched for some hot alpine action.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, dir. Peter R. Hunt)
Actually, about every third James Bond movie has skiing in it, with 007 hastened down the hill by armed men with snowmobiles or helicopters, occasionally to hurtle over a cliff and coast right into a hot tub with a Union Jack parachute. But On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the one that was filmed at a converted ski resort posing as Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s swanky hideaway in the Swiss Alps. One-time Bond actor George Lazenby (Sean Connery turned down a reported $1 million for the part; Lazenby would retire from the role after just one film under the misapprehension that the Bond character was a hawkish—albeit suavely so—anachronism in the nascent age of Aquarius) insisted on doing as many of his own stunts as the studio would permit. In the scene where he meets Blofeld for the first time, the coat draped over his arm hides a broken arm in a cast.

The Moebius Flip (1969, dir. Barry Corbet)
It wasn’t just rock music: Everything got all tripped-out and hazy-fantayzee in 1969, including the ski film. The Moebius Flip, directed by Barry Corbet, is like Pink Floyd on the piste, heavy on lysergic effects like color separations and tracer-riffic optical printing. The ski action is great, too—just an endless sunny afternoon of aerial flips and glittering showers of fresh powder. Can’t decide between taking acid or hitting the slopes? Now you can do both without ever leaving the La-Z-Boy.

Better Off Dead (1985, dir. Savage Steve Holland)
When the subject of Better Off Dead comes up, most people reflexively blurt the “I want my two dollars!” line from the running gag about the paperboy who stalks John Cusack’s character, Lane Myer. Not so Chad “Mountain High” Harder in the adjacent cubicle, whose first recollection is the “K-12! Noon!” challenge from the ski duel Lane must wage to regain his bruised honor—and possibly his old girlfriend, Beth, who dumps him for the captain of the ski team. Many of the most quotable quotes in this ultra-’80s comedy come from Lane’s friend Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong, aka “Booger” from Revenge of the Nerds), who offers Lane the following pro advice on how not to get killed on the K-12: “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn!”

Winter War (1989, dir. Pekka Parikka)
Okay, so it’s not really a ski movie per se. But it is an awesome movie about the Russo-Finnish theatre of the Second World War, in which Finnish ski troops fought the entire invading Red Army to a standstill with guerilla tactics including nighttime ski-raids with Suomi submachine pistols. Finns are justifiably proud of this chapter in their national history, and this film was the most expensive movie ever made in Finland. Winter War is crisp and beautiful on its release print—although you’d never know it from the butchered version available in American video stores, which makes it look like it was shot on a super 8 camera. On the other hand, the poor quality of the transfer adds a little extra grime to an already grim and grubby little war.

The Holy Mountain (1926, dir. Arnold Fanck)
This is the movie that started it all, the ancestral forebear of the ski movie. While his Expressionist contemporaries were painting sunlight and shadow right into the decors of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, director Arnold Fanck moved his studio outdoors and effectively invented a new genre in German cinema: the “mountain film,” which mixed melodrama and comedic elements with a strong dose of Aryan mythos. The Holy Mountain is arguably the greatest of Fanck’s 1920–1933 mountain film period, featuring athletic young heroes and heroines—embodying both the Aryan physical ideal and, somehow, the whole national character—in a love story set against snowy peril in the German alps. As in all Fanck’s Bergfilme (also recommended: Mountain of Destiny, Storm Over Mont Blanc, The Big Jump, The White Hell of Pitz-Palü), the cinematography in The Holy Mountain is eerie and beguiling. The film also launched the career of a young dancer named Leni Riefenstahl, whose work in Fanck’s mountain films (and one she directed herself—The Blue Light) so impressed Adolf Hitler that he gave her carte blanche to shoot the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi rally for Triumph of the Will.

Hot Dog: The Movie (1984, dir. Peter Markle)
I seem to remember about a dozen other movies like this one coming out in the early ’80s (basically Porky’s/Police Academy/Spring Break on skis) when I was too young to watch them but did anyway. But for some reason this is the only one that sticks with me. Basically a lot of bad-hairstyled nudity posing as comedy, Hot Dog follows naïve Idaho ski bum Harkin Banks to national freestyling/ hot-tub makeout championships in Squaw Valley, Calif., picking up a gorgeous ski bimbo named Sunny along the way. It’s badly dated, but who can forget the Chinese Downhill gag? Despite my fondest hopes, nothing like this ever happened to me in 1984. Maybe because I was 13 and usually went skiing with my church youth group.

smetanka@missoulanews.com

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