Made famous in films by Shirley Temple, who played her in 1937, and re-played many times since, Johanna Spyri's spunky Swiss heroine, Heidi, returns yet again to face more perils in COURAGE MOUNTAIN. Unfortunately, mixed in with the usual array of villains and catastrophes this time is a
bit of bizarre, crucial miscasting and a sloppy, mediocre script.
Well-cast, at least, are Juliette Caton (who played the angel of temptation in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST) as Heidi and Jan Rubes as her grandfather. Set on the eve of WW I, the story picks up with Heidi in a quandary over whether or not to use some inheritance money to attend a ritzy finishing
school in northern Italy. Just why anyone would want to leave neutral Switzerland for Italy just as the latter is about to be invaded is never made clear. But before that implausibility can register, any remaining suspension of disbelief is blown out of the water when none other than Charlie
Sheen, Mr. WALL STREET himself, pops up as Heidi's mountain pal Peter. Sheen is hardly anyone's idea of a strapping Swiss lad. Besides that, he's...well, he's a mite old to be frolicking in the fields with the barely-adolescent Caton. Though barely-adolescent girls in the audience might find the
prospect pleasant, adults are bound to be made queasy, especially at the end, which fades out on the two in a romantic (though chaste) embrace. Luckily, however, no sooner is Peter introduced than he joins the army and leaves the film, returning only to save the day for Heidi and her friends
toward the end. And even then, Sheen's stunt double does most of the work. Since there wouldn't be much of a movie if she had done otherwise, Heidi chooses to overlook the gathering clouds of war on the horizon and heads off to Italy. There she enrolls in the school, which is run by none other
than Leslie Caron as the very civilized Jane Hillary, whose curriculum seems to consist of highly partisan history lessons that, at least, fill in the backdrop for the story. There are also sessions of Isadora Duncan-style dance exercises to Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" droning out of a
Victrola. At every turn, Heidi is tormented for her country bumpkin ways. Buffeted by Miss Hillary in class for not being able to dance to Stravinsky or to find her homeland on a map, she is further taunted out of class, particularly by the snooty Ursula (Joanna Clarke). These halcyon days
abruptly end when the Italian army requisitions the school as a command post, sending the youngsters packing. Those unable to return home easily, including Heidi and Ursula, are bundled off to an orphanage, run by the evil Signor Bonelli and his wife (Yorgo Voyagis, Laura Betti). There they endure
Dickensian abuse and squalor while being forced to make and package fine soap for resale, and when Miss Hillary's attempts to reclaim her charges fail, Heidi and her pals decide to escape, make their way back across the Alps into Switzerland, and hide out with Heidi's granddad until this war thing
blows over. Somehow, Miss Hillary manages to get ahead of Heidi to alert Gramps (perhaps she was able to use the tuition money left over from her shortened semester). Gramps sends Peter to intercept Heidi, who is being pursued by Bonelli, who intends to do away with Heidi to stop her from blowing
the whistle on his orphan-abuse racket.
Virtually none of this makes any more sense than Heidi's original decision to risk death so she can dance like Isadora. But some parts of it are easier to swallow than others. For example, it's easy to accept that Peter, though a new Army recruit, seems free to abandon his post and go searching
for lost little girls in the mountains. After all, if it weren't for their swell pocket knives, most of us wouldn't even know there was a Swiss army. On the other hand, since Bonelli was only able to get his mitts on Heidi because he had a cozily corrupt relationship with the governor of his
province in the first place, why he should care that Heidi is about to expose what everybody seems to know already is, like so much else, never made clear. And we're still wondering how Miss Hillary got to Grandpa's place so much sooner than Heidi did and why, having gone through all the trouble
to get there, the writers didn't give Caron and Rubes, easily the best actors in the film, more scenes together.
It may seem like quibbling to point out these lapses in what is essentially a kids' adventure. But kids aren't dumb. They may not know the hows and whys, but they instinctively know when adults are selling them a bill of goods. And that's exactly what the makers of this film are doing from the
start, when they top-bill Charlie Sheen, who's barely in the film. They also promise adventure, then deliver a lot of trudging through the Alps with a few ski stunts near the end. Worst of all, they advertise a film with a good, engaging story and deliver a mixture of the dreary and the dreadful,
barely held together by a script so half-baked it's an insult to the intelligence of kids the world over. The actors mostly give better performances than the material deserves (with the exception of Sheen, who doesn't make much of an effort to overcome his miscasting), but COURAGE MOUNTAIN is
recommended only for parents who have trouble getting their kids to sleep. It's a great movie sedative for adults, too.
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: PG
- Review: Made famous in films by Shirley Temple, who played her in 1937, and re-played many times since, Johanna Spyri's spunky Swiss heroine, Heidi, returns yet again to face more perils in COURAGE MOUNTAIN. Unfortunately, mixed in with the usual array of villains… (more)