The Night of The Grizzly

| November 1, 2016

Recently, during a horror movie marathon, I watched 1976’s Grizzly, which is a Jaws homage about a massive killer bear terrorizing camping tourists on a mountain.  I really enjoyed the film as a monster movie, with its great moments of blood, gore, and explosions, but wasn’t sure what to expect when popping in The Night of the Grizzly, a film from a decade earlier with a very similar premise.

I was not disappointed.

While not a horror movie, Night of the Grizzly is a tense western drama about a family man named Big Jim (Clint Walker) who has inherited a piece of farm land and means to support his wife (Martha Hyer), son (Kevin Brodie), and young daughter (Victoria Paige Mayerink) there.  Big Jim gets more and more desperate as a man-eating grizzly bear starts terrorizing the land, killing livestock and forcing Jim to make deals with men trying to take his land away from him, so he can borrow money to keep the land functioning and keep his family going.  In the end, it becomes obvious to Jim that he can’t ignore the bear or wait for it to move on to another place.  He has to kill it, and quickly becomes obsessed with the task despite his wife urging him to pack everything up and run away.

The real heart of the film is Clint Walker, who I’m pretty sure is an actual bear dressed up in people clothes.  He’s a goliath, cut from marble, with a smile that tells you everything is going to be okay.  If I sound like I’m crushing on him a little bit, I am.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a classically handsome man in my life.  On top of that, Jim’s character is more complicated than a standard Dudley Doright type.  In his obsession with killing this bear and saving his family, he does take some drastic measures and align himself with disreputable folk, compromising his unwavering moral compass for his basic need for survival.

As great as Walker is, the real highlight of the film for me is young Victoria Paige Mayerink who plays Big Jim’s daughter Gypsy.  She is rambunctious, precocious, and an absolute joy to watch in the movie.  What’s even more impressive is that Mayerink was only five during the production, and manages to completely steal the show.  I like the way she talks to Jim not as a daughter speaks to a father, but as one person speaks to a respected equal.  It’s cute, but also establishes her as a really well-rounded character.

Available now on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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