My Side of the Mountain was a family movie made in 1969 by Paramount Studios. The story revolves around thirteen-year old Sam Gribley (Teddy Eccles), a devotee of Thoreau, as many were back in the in 1960's. Sam decides to leave the city (set in Toronto) to spend a sabbatical in the Canadian woods to see if he can make it as a self-sufficient spirit after his parents promise a summer trip that doesn't pan out.
His immediate companion is his pet raccoon, Gus, which lives with him in the city. He gathers supplies at a local store and leaves his family behind, hops on a bus and heads down the 401 with Gus to "what he calls" the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. In actuality he ends up in the picturesque town of Knowlton, Quebec, SE of Montreal, in the Notre Dame Mountain Range of the Appalachians. Here he finds the perfect mountain stream and pond location to build a home in an old dead tree. Now he can begin his long-awaited algae experiments, as well as prove his ability as a solitairy, young Thoreau living off the land and communing fully with nature.
Sam wants badly not to have to feel needful of the urban and modern world, however after he sees a falcon flying overhead he wants to learn more about falconry. This will require a journey back into Knowlton and to the local library. Here he winds up coming into contact with his spiritual companion, the idealistic librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins), who supplies Sam with books on survival and falconry.
As Sam reads and learns about his new bird hobby he locates a nest of the local falcon and plans to steal one of the baby falcons to raise and train as his own. The scene where he is dive-bombed by the mother falcon is as real as it gets in movies. The poor mother falcon has lost the battle and Sam is now the guardian of the bird of prey he names Frightful. Frightful becomes Sam's new best friend and food supplier, that is until he comes home to his wooded tree pad to find a stranger awaiting. This older man, Bando (Theodore Bikel), is to become Sam's new best friend and mentor. Bando is a wandering folk singer who travels Quebec and the world in search of new folk songs and traditions. He also knows a trick-or-two about survival. The two share ideas and know-how with one another and enlighten each others' worlds. They also enjoy each others' pancake recipes (Sam makes algae pancakes and Bando makes great syrup).
Eventually, as the pair have bonded over the summer and September's cold air sets in, Bando lets Sam know that it is his time to leave before winter approaches. Though Sam once seemed contented in his Zarathustrian solitude it is obvious he too needs people in his life. After climbing the nearby mountain together Bando says his good-byes and the reality of Sam's own loneliness sets in. Wilfred Joseph's haunting background music sets the tone. Sam goes back to his tree home, but keeps his brave face and spirit in check.
More bad fortune awaits the boy from here-on in. Soon reality intrudes when another of Sam's' kindred spirits, Frightful, is killed by an insensitive hunter. Sam is devastated. Still, he manages to survive this disillusionment as winter sets in. His bright demeanour returns as he witnesses the local fauna playing in the winter snow. He also has the warmth of his tree home in place (previously he and Bando built a make-shift chimney out of clay from his river pond).
The final chapter takes place as Sam and Gus sleep by the fire as a terrible blizzard sweeps in. Soon their wooden home is blanketed in snow and without air the two will die in the smoke-filled chamber. Panic-stricken, Sam realizes what has happened, and in order to survive he begins to dig his way through the snowed-in doorway to the outside air. Luckily for him his two best adult friends have gotten together and have decided to come visit him since it is Christmas Day. While digging his way out he hears Bando's familiar voice through the snow drift and starts digging faster until finally both see each other's smiling faces. Relieved, Sam still doesn't know about Bando's other surprise. Miss Turner then comes into view walking over the newly fallen snowscape. The four then have a mini-Christmas celebration and sing Good King Wenceslas over Bando's guitar playing.
Bando then shows Sam a newspaper clipping that details his parent's concern over their missing son. With this Bando and Miss Turner convince Sam that he should go home. Sam accepts the idea as he knows that he accomplished all that he set out to do and so much more. Since that day Sam has been envied the world-over for his fortitude, bravery and self-sufficient resourcefulness. Sam says good-bye to his home and pond and the four head off around the side of the mountain.
My Side of the Mountain is a "refreshingly non-condescending adaptation of the novel by Jean Craighead George". It was set in the real town of Knowlton on Lac Brome of Quebec's south-eastern townships near the border with Vermont. I have taken photos of the locations used so please take a closer look at the links above. I also run a website dedicated to the old CBC kids adventure series "The Forest Rangers". Five of the actors in this tv show also appeared in this movie, these being: Ralph Endersby (Boy in the Soda Fountain), George Allan (Other Boy in the Soda Fountain), Frank Perry (Mr. Gribley), Tom Harvey (Deer Poacher) and Larry Reynolds (Other Deer Poacher).
To order the movie or the book series click the links below.