A film we (yours truly) loved as a child was Snowball Express (1972), starring that bankable Disney celebrity, Dean Jones.
In Snowball Express, Jones inherits a Colorado ski resort from a long-lost uncle. He quits his Boring City Job and moves his family Out West to the Colorado mountains – only to discover the “resort” is a derelict building inhabited by raccoons and a grizzled freeloader (Harry Morgan).
We loved this film as a kid. We loved the slapstick and the family’s Saint Bernard and the mayhem. “Walt Disney sure knows how to make a good movie,” we said.
This Expert Opinion of an 11 year old was based on one viewing in the school gymnasium the day before Christmas holidays. We were uncertain why the school would uncharacteristically cancel classes to show us a movie, but everyone agreed this was the Best Decision.
Snowball Express was already an older film by that time, and there were no chairs provided for our viewing comfort – the gymnasium floor Must Not Be Scratched – but Who Cares! We all knew, Deep Down, this event would never be repeated.
We’ve often wondered, in the years since, if our admiration of the film was based on the experience of seeing an actual movie during school hours, combined with the holiday season.
With that in mind, we recently re-watched Snowball Express, and made a surprising discovery.
It is a terrible film.
Now, Snowball Express may be one of your favourites, and we agree there are many admirable things here. For example, it was filmed on location in Colorado, and it has real snow, not fake studio snow.
You couldn’t ask for a better cast. Besides Jones and Morgan, who are always Worth It, there is Nancy Olson, who plays Jones’s wife and is a grounding presence in all the madness. Plus, she has a fabulous wardrobe.
But the script.
Considering there are three screenwriters credited on this film, it is astounding that the plot is so contrived and the dialogue painfully juvenile. (“Shut up, Wally!” is one memorable example.) To be fair, the script is much better in the beginning, before it plunges into Chaos.
Bear with us for a moment. In Poetics, his How-To Guide for the ancient Greek theatre, Aristotle explains how plots should be handled; namely, a probable impossibility is better than an impossible probability. So if the resolution to a desperate situation is an everyday occurrence, but not possible in this instance, it discredits the movie. As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s better to go with a credible miracle.
Snowball Express is full of impossible probabilities, and it grinds you down. You start to wonder why you’re even here in the first place.
However, there is an unexpected benefit to the film, and that is the work of amazing stunt performers.
The best reason to watch Snowball Express, in our opinion, is the dazzling stunt performances, including snowmobile racing and downhill skiing. (Watch a clip of the stunt skiing here.)
Critics at the time were lukewarm about the film, although the “trick skiing” received positive notices. But even the impressive stunt work didn’t improve its performance at the box office. Snowball Express doesn’t appear the list of 100 Top-Grossing Films of 1972, which has, in our opinion, a rather grim selection of movies.
Now that we’ve given you every reason not to see this film, should you give it a go? Young children may enjoy it, and if you have an interest in stunt performers, you should add it to your Must Watch List.
As for yours truly, the re-watch was a disappointment, but it hasn’t diminished a cherished memory of enjoying a feature film in the school gymnasium just before the Holidays.
Snowball Express: starring Dean Jones, Nancy Olson, Harry Morgan. Directed by Norman Tokar. Written by Don Tait, Jim Parker & Arnold Margolin. Walt Disney Productions, 1972, Colour, 93 mins.