OP-ED: 'I’d Climb the Highest Mountain': When Movies Were Family Friendly

By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
OP-ED: 'I’d Climb the Highest Mountain': When Movies Were Family Friendly

When did you first see the movie "I’d Climb the Highest Mountain?’" Cleveland, Georgia is home to the Old Stovall Covered Bridge that spans Chickamauga Creek. This 1890s structure appeared in the movie "I’d Climb the Highest Mountain".\

 This wonderful movie was made during the 1950s, when families spent quality time at the movies where Coca Cola was a nickel, hot buttered 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 because most were family friendly.

"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 when "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 told the 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 into 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 movie's 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 ‘Lord’s 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" was filmed during the golden era of Hollywood. It 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.

* * * Johnson is a speaker, historical writer, author of book ‘When America Stood for God, Family and Country’ and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He lives and writes in Kennesaw, GA.
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