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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

the oh-no! DVD of the week: ‘St. Helens: 30th Anniversary Edition starring Academy Award Winner Art Carney!’

sthelensdvd

I’d like it noted that the exclamation point and the stuff about Carney being an Oscar winner are included in the official title at Amazon. I didn’t add that. Though I might have if I thought it was funnier that way. Which it is.

So what’s it all about? It’s “the true story of Harry Truman… one man against the volcanic eruption of the century!” It’s right there on the DVD cover. I didn’t know people took on volcanic eruptions — I figured everyone just ran — but I guess there’s some sort of nobility in standing one’s ground against the bastard lava. It’s about time someone put their burned stump of a foot down and said, “No more!”

The true story of the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the men and women whose lives were thrown into chaos when the volcano blew its top, leveling over fifty square miles of virgin forest, spewing out a plume of ash and smoke that circled the globe. Academy Award Winner Art Carney takes on the role of Harry Truman, who refused to let the impending disaster move him from his mountain home, and David Huffman plays the geologist who predicted the eruption. Filmed entirely on location in Bend, Oregon in the aftermath of the May 18, 1980 seismic event, St. Helens is an up close and personal look at the largest volcanic explosion in North American history, blending original footage and drama with actual newsreel footage of the eruption!

Newsreel? Was this made in 1938?


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  • I guess I miss the “Oh No!” aspect of this. I grew up in Victoria, BC, where the explosion at Mount St Helen’s was actually felt. (Yes, Victoria is 200 miles to the north; the bang was that big.) The story of Harry Truman, an old innkeeper who resolutely refused to evacuate, was well-known. It made a memorable tale, because he was such a character and no one could get him to abandon the place where he’d lived for so many years. Lava wasn’t the problem, by the way, at least not for Harry. It was the massive and sudden blast, said to be the equivalent of a 20 to 50 megaton atom bomb. After that, the landslide and lava would be mere details to Truman, although it meant trouble for people further away, but not quite far enough. Fifty-seven people died.

    I vaguely remember seeing this film and don’t remember it as a bad film. Actually, I don’t remember that it was fabulous either, but I think it was reasonable quality for a TV movie at the time. Art Carney, Academy Award winner or not, did a fine job as Harry Truman.

  • bitchen frizzy

    The cover art and slogan on this release make it look cornier than it is. The cover art is remininscent of an old B-movie. A cartoon volcano?

  • Well, that’s true, b.f. The actual eruption took place in the morning and didn’t look a thing like the illustration. It was way scarier. (There may not have been newsreel footage; but there was news footage. Yikes.)

  • Michael

    Persephone’s right; this WAS actually a decent movie–at least if memory serves (and it’s been a while). The lava has me laughing, though. No lava, just a big boom and a LOT of ash and mud. I was about 100 miles from it, myself. My parents thought I’d thrown something against the wall when they heard the boom.

  • MaryAnn

    I haven’t seen the film, but I’ll take your word for it that it’s decent. In which case, the marketing of the DVD is even more oh-no! than I thought it was originally.

  • Hasimir Fenring

    Is there a triumphant freeze-frame of him holding up a newspaper with the screaming headline ‘ST. HELEN’S DEFEATS TRUMAN’?

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