Spencer’s Mountain (1963): Fonda's Family Drama

An innocuous family drama, Spencer’s Mountain, written and directed by Delmer Daves, who has done better work before, co-stars Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara in an old-fashioned, inspirational melodrama that was later appropriated by TV in shows like ”The Waltons.”

Henry Fonda renders a modest, unassuming performance in an atypical role, as Clay Spencer, the hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-cussing, but benevolent, patriarch of a fiercely independent Wyoming family living in the Grand Tetons.

At first, he resists the interference (or rather encroachment) of organized religion on his existence. Spencer is the kind of man who believes in God, but doesn’t want others to tell him how to do that, when to pray, or how to show respect for God.

Firm and down to earth, for most of the tale, he is trying to finish the house he promised his wife, Olivia (Maureen O’Hara), a strong, independent woman, for their growing brood.

There’s an age difference among the kids, and the eldest son, Clayboy (James MacArthur), needs his father’s help. Rebelious, he may be the first of the Spencers to go to college. The scenes between Spencer and Clayboy are standard-issue generational conflict. On the verge of manhood, he is tempted by Claris Coleman (Mimsy Farmer) and Minnie-Cora Cook Kathy Bennett.

Vet actors Donald Crisp (Supporting Oscar winner for “How Green Was My Valley”) and Lillian Bronson plays Spencer’s aging, and even more traditional, parents.

The film boasts nice CinemaScope photography, which shows to an advantage the picaresque Wyoming locations.

One of the last tales made for all members of the family (just a few years before the Vietnam War, which will change forever the cultural and cinematic landscape), “Spencer’s Mountain” was extremely popular at the box-office.


Running time: 119 Minutes.
Directed by Delmer Daves
Screenplay: Delmer Daves
Released: May 16, 1963 Wide
DVD: Jul 8, 2003


Henry Fonda Clay Spencer
Maureen O’Hara as Olivia Spencer
James MacArthur as Clayboy Spencer
Donald Crisp as Grandpa Spencer
Wally Cox as Preacher Goodman
Mimsy Farmer as Claris Coleman