Richard Kiel, 7'2" actor who found fame as the popular 007 villain "Jaws" in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and MOONRAKER (1979), later found religion and helped produce this family-friendly film, wholesomely tailored to his outsized frame.
Senior citizen Amy Wilson recalls being a little girl (Noley Thornton) in the 1896 frontier town of Weaverton. Her brothers Ben (Ryan Todd) and Tommy (Chance Michael Corbitt) go to nearby Thunder Mountain to spy on Eli Weaver (Richard Kiel), a notorious hermit of massive stature and ill repute;
local lore claims he murdered his parents. The boys' tall tale of befriending the Giant of Thunder Mountain makes Amy decide she can do just as well. The girl, with her brothers in tow, marches up to the bemused Eli and introduces herself. Touched by her innocent sweetness, Eli reveals that a bear
killed his parents, not him. He accepts an invitation to the Wilson home, as a dinner guest of the childrens' widowed mother Alicia (Marianne Rogers). Amy even persuades Eli to enter Weaverton for the arrival of a traveling carnival. While Eli returns to Thunder Mountain, crooked carnival owner
Hezekiah Crow (Jack Elam) and his sons learn the giant has a substantial stash of his father's gold nuggets. The villains raid Eli's cabin while the children are visiting. Ben gets knocked out cold, and Tommy is kidnapped. Amy, in the woods with Eli during all this, has to run for her life when
the bear that killed the giant's parents attacks and must be driven off by the giant. Her tearful babbling and Ben's condition make Weaverton folk think Eli is on a rampage. A lynch mob torches his cabin and shoots him in the leg. Eli nonetheless escapes, and the truth belatedly comes out when the
Crows, still holding Tommy, take a Weaverton family hostage. Eli literally shakes their homestead to its foundation to drive out and capture the hoodlums. All now hail Eli as a hero, but he returns to Thunder Mountain.
The Old West setting (filmed around Oakhurst and Bass Lake, California) is scenic and lush, and the cast numbers a bunch of grizzled character actors (Jack Elam, Foster Brooks, James Hampton, George "Buck" Flower) seemingly born into buckskins, stetsons and blowsy, cornpone performances. Among the
sweeter moments: Eli promises to show Amy something that dwarfs even him, and when the girl opens her eyes she beholds her giant looking tiny indeed, standing at the foot of a mammoth redwood tree. God, meanwhile, is represented by the Bible that Eli reverently keeps around. Unfortunately (and
rather expectedly) most of THE GIANT OF THUNDER MOUNTAIN follows a tiresomely predictable trajectory. Kiel is okay in a rare starring role, but it takes more than big shoes to fill the cardboard part he undertakes. Top acting honors, such as they are, go to Bart the Bear, the trained ursine seen
in THE BEAR (1989) and THE EDGE (1997), whose wilderness Moby Dick schtick with Eli threatens, at least temporarily, to take this material in a new direction. The ending seems to set up a sequel, but after completion in 1992, THE GIANT OF THUNDER MOUNTAIN languished in obscurity for years before
cable-TV and home-video releases (in the process, the film was whittled down from 101 to 88 minutes). Small children might find it diverting. Others will think it pales next to more modern juvenile escapism--like James Bond flicks. (Violence.)
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