Cast & Crew
When New York insurance accountant Johnny Baxter learns that his long-lost uncle, Jacob Barnesworth, has left him the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silver Hill, Colorado, he happily quits his boring job and announces to his skeptical wife Sue that they are moving. Arriving in the small town of Silver Hill in the dead of winter, Johnny, Sue, their daughter Chris and son Richard are chagrined to find that the supposedly profitable hotel is actually a boarded-up mess that lacks heat and water. That night, Johnny reveals to Sue that he had to spend their $1,700 in savings on attorney fees and other expenses, thus making their financial situation even more dire. When they hear noises downstairs, Johnny and their cowardly St. Bernard, Stoutheart, investigate and encounter Jesse McCord, an old miner and friend of Jacob, who offers to become their bartender and bellhop in exchange for room and board. The next day, hoping to obtain money for improvements to make the hotel operational, Johnny decides that he needs a bank loan. Despite Jesse's warnings that the only banker in town, Martin Ridgeway, is mean and dishonest, Johnny goes to him. Ridgeway turns Johnny down but offers to buy the hotel, saying that it has always been his dream to turn the hotel into a home for wayward boys. Later that day, Wally Perkins, who works at the town garage and has a crush on Chris, rides over to the hotel on his snowmobile and cheerfully offers to help. Looking at the snow-covered peaks near the hotel, Johnny suddenly realizes that the hills would make excellent ski slopes if he could obtain the money to develop the property as a resort. Undaunted by Ridgeway's rejection, Johnny tries calling bankers in neighboring towns and is able to make an appointment with Wainwright, an avid skier who sees merit in Johnny's plan. Assuring Wainwright that he is an expert skier, Johnny agrees to meet him at a nearby ski resort. Assuming that Johnny has been truthful about his skiing abilities, Wainwright takes him on the chair lift and shows him the slope, which locals call "Nightmare Alley." Terrified, Johnny feigns an old football injury and tells Wainwright to ski ahead. As he is trying to board the descending chair lift, Johnny loses his balance and crashes into some bystanders, causing him to careen down the slope, injuring himself and several unfortunate skiers. Later, while Johnny is nursing a concussion, Ridgeway arrives at the hotel and tells him that he has reconsidered his earlier request and will loan him $3,000. Despite Sue's misgivings, Johnny quickly signs the papers. After Ridgeway leaves, Wally agrees to help by becoming the ski instructor and handyman for $100 a month, plus room and board. During the next few weeks, Johnny and the others make great progress with the repairs and cleanup, although a disaster with the hotel boiler meant that there was not enough money left over to buy an engine for a skiers' rope tow. Jesse suggests using an abandoned steam engine to power the tow. The engine would have to be towed up the hill, though, and they soon find that, under pressure from Ridgeway, who controls all of the finances in town, garage owner Double L. Dingman and other locals with heavy equipment will not allow Johnny to use it. When things seem the bleakest, Richie suggests using the steam engine's own power to transport it, and they soon have an operational rope tow in place. On opening day, there are no guests until Wally, who has been using dynamite to blast out stumps, causes a small avalanche to cover the tracks in front of an approaching ski train. When Wally sees the stranded passengers, he quickly summons Johnny and Jesse, who transport them by sled to the lodge. With the hotel full, Sue and Johnny happily anticipate a growing venture. The next morning, as Wally, who has never before taught anyone to ski, tries to teach some of the guests, he accidentally slides down a hill, breaks his arm and is trapped hanging from a tree. Jesse uses ropes from the steam engine to pull him up, but, in the process, the small woodpile used to fuel the engine catches fire. Unknown to Jesse, the fire grows, spreading to the ropes, which then break, sending the engine crashing down the hill and through the first floor of the hotel. Later, when Johnny asks Ridgeway for an extension of his first month's payment on the loan, Ridgeway refuses, instead offering to take over the hotel and give Johnny $200 cash. Faced with losing everything, Johnny feels that he has no other choice than to enter Silver Hill's annual cross country snowmobile race, which has been won for the past several years by Ridgeway. Figuring that even the third place $1,000 prize will be enough to see them through the first payment, Johnny determines to enter Wally's ramshackle snowmobile, "The Mighty Mongrel," into the race and drive it himself. The long-suffering Sue then tells Johnny that she will not stay in Silver Hill to see him killed. On the day of the race, after Sue, Chris and Richie have left town, Johnny enters the race with Jesse as his reluctant partner, pitted against the race favorites, Ridgeway and Double L. Despite setbacks and near-catastrophic crashes, Johnny and Jesse manage to keep up with Ridgeway's vehicle throughout the race. As the teams approach the home stretch, Johnny and Jesse race ahead until they crash into a snow bank a few yards from the finish line. They try to get their crippled snowmobile back on track but it stops a few inches before the line, enabling Ridgeway to win the race. Late that night, Johnny finally crosses the finish line assisted by a horse. Although crestfallen, Johnny is happy to see that Sue has returned, warmly embracing him and saying that she plans to stay. The next day, as Johnny is about to sign the papers to forfeit the hotel, Ridgeway's secretary, Miss Wigginton, blurts out that the only reason Ridgeway wants the property is because of its 3,000 acres of valuable timber land. She then reveals that, decades before, the land had been deeded to the Ute Indians by the kindly Jacob, but because the Utes had all died or moved elsewhere, the land reverted back to him. Overjoyed to learn that they can stay because the valuable land will provide an income, the Baxters go out onto the ski slopes so that Sue can finally learn to ski.
Dick Van Patten
Robert F. Brunner
Ronald R. Grow
Joe Jay Jalbert
John B. Mansbridge
La Rue Matheron
Frank R. Mckelvy
Robert J. Schiffer
Mike St. Hilaire
John M. Stephens
Ron Vargas Sr.
Ron Vargas Jr.
Arthur J. Vitarelli
While the screenplay for Snowball Express was adapted from the book Chateau Bon Vivant by Frankie and Johnny O'Rear, there are few similarities between the two, with the O'Rears' story serving more as inspiration for the screenplay written by Don Tait, Jim Parker and Arnold Margolin.
During the height of Walt Disney's live-action films in the 1960s and 1970s, Dean Jones became one of the studio's top stars, beginning with his first film for the studio, That Darn Cat! in 1965. In the years that followed, Jones starred in a string of hits including The Ugly Dachshund (1966), Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) and two films in the popular Herbie series: The Love Bug (1968) and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977). Jones also appeared on Broadway in the original production of Under the Yum Yum Tree in 1960 and was originally cast in the lead of Stephen Sondheim's Company in 1970, but only staying long enough to open the musical before being replaced by Larry Kert, who was subsequently nominated for a Tony for his performance. Jones was also a staple of television throughout his career, appearing in several Walt Disney Productions as well as popular series such as Murder, She Wrote.
Perhaps best known for her performance as Betty Schaefer in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), Nancy Olson appeared in several films throughout the 1950s, including Union Station (1950), So Big (1953) and Battle Cry (1955). In 1960, Olson made her first film for Walt Disney Productions, Pollyanna, starring Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman and Karl Malden. Olson made several more films for the studio, including two films alongside Fred MacMurray: The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and its sequel Son of Flubber (1963).
While not as successful as some of Walt Disney's more popular live-action films of the era, Snowball Express was well-received as it followed the familiar family screwball comedy formula that audiences were accustomed to from the studio, as well as familiar faces in Jones and Olson, as well as character actors Harry Morgan, Keenan Wynn and George Lindsey.
Director: Norman Tokar
Producer: Ron Miller and Tom Leetch
Screenplay: Don Tait, Jim Parker and Arnold Margolin
Cinematography: Frank V. Phillips
Editing: Robert Stafford
Music: Robert F. Brunner, Evelyn Kennedy, and Franklyn Marks
Cast: Dean Jones (Johnny Baxter), Nancy Olson (Sue Baxter), Harry Morgan (Jesse McCord), Keenan Wynn (Martin Ridgeway), Johnny Whitaker (Richard Baxter), Michael McGreevey (Wally Perkins), George Lindsey (Double L. Dingman), Kathleen Cody (Chris Baxter), Mary Wickes (Miss Wigginton), David White (Mr. Fowler) and Dick Van Patten (Mr. Carruthers).
By Jill Blake
The film's working title was Château Bon Vivant, which was also the title on the Frankie and Johnny O'Rear novel on which it was based. As noted in the onscreen credits, the picture was filmed on location at Crested Butte, CO. The first few scenes of the film, interiors that were set in New York City, appear to have been shot in the studio. Although the Hollywood Reporter and Variety reviews list the film's running time as 99 minutes, and the New York Times review lists it as 84 minutes, studio records state the running time as 93 minutes, 38 seconds, which was the approximate time of the print viewed.
According to news items, Walt Disney Productions purchased the rights to the novel in July 1967, shortly after its publication. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item on March 4, 1968 reported that Jim Parker and Arnold Margolin (who, with Don Tait, were credited onscreen as co-writers of the screenplay), would write the adaptation, a January 10, 1969 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Stan Cutler and Martin Donovan were writing a treatment for the film. Cutler and Donovan are not credited elsewhere and the extent of their contribution to the released film has not been determined. Modern sources include Randy Whipple in the cast.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972