St. Helens , Killer Volcano (1981)

This is a superior made for TV movie about one of the worst natural disasters in the history of North America. The film centers on the crusty old mountain man Harry Truman played by the fine actor Art Carney who gives one of his best performances. Harry was a cracker barrel philosopher of sorts who loved all the attention given him my the media. Determined to stay put come hell or high water or a mountain blowing up in his face, Harry represents the stubborn American type who wants to hang on to cherished memories of his wife and daughter at any cost, choosing to die with his canine companion than to face an uncertain future elsewhere in a world he doesn’t know. Art Cartney captures the spirit and essence of this eccentric oddity out of place in the present high-tech world he never made.

The weakest aspect of this film is the awful music. Who ever tried to write the country and western songs had absolutely no feel for the genre. (The Italian rock band Goblin is credited.) The lyrics are cold and lifeless, the melodies hackneyed and bland. Too bad they couldn’t have got someone of the caliber of Merle Haggard or Dolly Parton to give the flick some real s**t-kicking hoedowns and barroom crying in your beer songs.

The cast other than Art Carney is adequate. David Huffman and Cassie Yates make a cute couple of opposites attracting, he a professional geologist, she an uneducated waitress with a failed marriage and a son. But they make the relationship believable and the ending probable. Of special note is the appearance of Bill McKinney as one of the loggers Kilpatrick. He is perhaps the most famous villain in screen history because of his work as the Mountain Man in “Deliverance.” In “St. Helens” he gets the short end of the stick.

The on-location photography is an added attraction with actual shots of the Mt. St. Helens eruption inserted. The scene toward the end where Harry is fishing as the mountain spews forth its load is harrowing. The attentive viewer will come away from this picture with new questions concerning the meaning of life and its brevity.