Saturday, January 30, 2016

Snowball Express ( 1972 )

Johnny Baxter ( Dean Jones ) is your average hard-working American family man, stuck in an accounting job he doesn't like but staying on because he has a wife and two children to support. "In the five years I've been there I moved from accounts receivable to accounts payable", he explains to his wife. Fate intervenes one day when a lawyer visits his office bearing good news - his great uncle passed away and left him the Silver Hill hotel in Silver Hill, Colorado, a hotel that at one time was making $11,000 a month. Before you can say "money pit" he cleans his desk and walks right out the door, never to return to his boring job. His family is not pleased to hear that they will be moving to a town they never heard of and helping to run a hotel which none of them have the faintest idea how to do, but they follow along and come to find that embarking on an adventure blindfolded can be fun. In essence, trying something new is what Snowball Express is all about. 

The 1970s are generally not considered great years for the Disney company and the films they released during this time were not critically-acclaimed pictures. However, all of them ranked high on entertainment and Snowball Express is one of the best from this decade featuring a great cast, a clever script, and plenty of laughs. Seeing Dean Jones attempt to ski is worth the price of the DVD alone. 

Dean Jones had struck a chord with audiences in Disney's That Darn Cat in 1965 and he quickly became the studio's busiest leading man, often playing underdogs or losers just waiting for a good break. In this picture, his character, Johnny, is quite a gambler. He takes a chance packing up his family and heading out West, bluffs his way into a mortgage agreement with a scoundrel banker, and then gambles the entire property on the hopes of winning a snowmobile race...even though he never sat on a snowmobile in his life. But sometimes we all have to take risks to achieve what we want and what we think is best. 

Snowball Express, in its own light-hearted way, tells the story of a man who wants to leave his mundane routine and strike out on something entirely new. He doesn't want to do this without his beloved wife's, or his children's, consent, and yet, if need be, he would leave them and trek out on his own.......yep, because in the 1970s, men were still men. Papa Baxter was the modern version of our forefathers, who packed up their families in covered wagons to head out into the unknown territory of the West in the hopes of creating a better life. 

Once Johnny and his family arrive at Silver Hill, they find one obstacle after another to overcome, in typical Disney fashion, before they can settle down into their new home. But the Baxter family soon learns that no matter how tough things may become, if they stick together and love and support one another, everything will turn out well in the end. This is a common theme in Disney films...a message of hope. 

Snowball Express boasts a strong cast of supporting players including Keenan Wynn ( playing the villain, yet again ), Harry Morgan, David White, George Lindsay ( "Goober" ), Mary Wickes, and Dick Van Patten. Morgan, as the Baxter's grizzled hired man Jesse McCord, delivers some of the best quips in the film with his deadpan expression. 

Nancy Olson is wonderful as Johnny's wife and was frequently cast in Disney films as a strong but sweet-natured woman. Johnny Whittaker ( Family Affair ) and Kathleen Cody portray Johnny's children, and Disney regular Michael McGreevey appears as a local teenager eager to help the family convert the hotel into a ski resort.

Snowball Express was filmed on location in Colorado with Crested Butte standing in for Silver Hill. The finale - the spectacular snowmobile race - shows the beautiful winter landscapes of the area and is the highlight of the film. 

If you are considering quitting your job to buy a hotel, or just want a great way to spend an hour and a half, then take a gander at Snowball Express. It's an underrated gem from the marvelous Disney studio.


  1. I'd never heard of this, but wow, it sounds fun! I really like Dean Jones.

    1. It's a great film and we hope you are able to check it out.

  2. Not really a Christmas movie but still one of my favorites to watch in the winter season