ABC’s “One More Mountain” exposes the energy that forged the American West. Like other great tales of the West, it’s a strange and endearing story that leaves the viewer with a sense of indebtedness to those hearty souls who overcame or succumbed to the pioneer’s biggest fear: Mother Nature.
Indians, wild animals and heavy brush could be beaten back but the unbelievable cruelty encountered when the based-on-fact Reed family and others become stranded in the Sierra Mountains means that the strong survive and weak die.
Telepic starts in the Midwest. The seemingly comfortable Reed family leaves their Illinois ranch for California when James Reed (Chris Cooper) becomes bitten by the bug to move. His wife Margaret (Meredith Baxter) is not so smitten by the idea of uprooting all they’ve worked for.
Cooper plays a stoic pioneer not satisfied with the niceties of success, which is difficult for Baxter’s character. But she relents, and the family hits the Oregon Trail in the company of the Donner Party.
The presence of George Donner (Matthew Walker) sends out an ominous note to viewers, but the Reeds and Donners split when the weather turns cold and nasty. The Reed story is certainly more palatable than the horrific Donner tale. None of the Reeds is eaten, but knowing that doesn’t spoil the ending or the story.
The telepic has a strong one-two punch in the work of director Dick Lowry and scripter Gerald DiPego. Lowry directs the juve casts members well, with each feeding the feeling of incredible fear and sadness atop a wintry mountain.
Baxter heats up this production with an earnest, memorable performance, down to the pale complexion and desperate eyes of someone repressing the fact starvation is knocking on the door. Her concerns beyond her own survival, such as watching her children starve, keep the plot twisting, as she stashes away food and breaks the provisions out just when the Grim Reaper sits down to the table.
Larry Drake is on hand as a character whose greed and selfishnesswith his family’s food give an antagonistic edge at the right times to this “we’re-all going-to-die” fare.
“One More Mountain” doesn’t forget much along the trail. Production doesn’t go overboard and relies on its well-crafted script and solid acting not to just survive, but to thrive.