Will someone, please, give Richard Kiel his steel dentures back?
Years ago, as Jaws in the James Bond series, Kiel had a gleefully malevolent bite. But now, as the reclusive hulk in The Giant of Thunder Mountain, Kiel has the countenance of a worn, stuffed teddy bear.
Lacking leading-man looks, the 7-foot-2 behemoth must rely on his slothful charm and a meaty script to carry this Wild West saga about an ogre befriended by a little girl and, eventually, the inhabitants of a tiny frontier town.
The reclusive Eli (Kiel) suffers the trials of Job before gaining acceptance. His faith in the Bible and 8-year-old Amy Wilson (Noley Thornton) are all that sustain him when the townspeople mistakenly believe he has kidnapped the girl and her brothers and form a posse to mete vigilante justice.
Kiel has never exhibited much range as an actor. He growled threateningly and lumbered awkwardly as the metal molar menace in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, his best known films.
In The Giant of Thunder Mountain, a family film embracing strong Christian values, Kiel is saddled with a ponderous script of Tony Lozito's and his own design. The story is stultifyingly simplistic. The dialogue is stilted. The acting is below community players' level.
Even Bart, the grizzly bear, is too playful to be taken seriously as the beast that mauls Eli's parents to death and still haunts Eli like the crocodile stalking Captain Hook in Peter Pan.
The Giant of Thunder Mountain would be a complete disaster, were it not for the earnestly precious Amy and the crusty bat-eyed Hezekiah Crow (Jack Elam), the circus barker, who talks as though he apprenticed with W.C. Fields.
"What treasures have you unwittingly revealed?" asks Crow as his sons rip through Eli's cabin, looking for the giant's gold.
Eli, meanwhile, is introducing Amy to the Official Thunder Mountain Petting Zoo, a collection of friendly foxes, deer, raccoons, squirrels, eagles and owls. The animals live near the sequoias that dwarf Eli and prompt him to exalt the beauty of God and the seed the Lord plants in all life forms.
It's a touching speech, but one that Bart the grizzly doesn't comprehend. Midway through Eli's exhortations, the bear attacks the giant and Amy flees to the cabin where she's met by Mom (Alicia) and the posse.
Obedient child that she is, Amy stands silent as ordered, failing to tell Mom or the vigilantes that Eli didn't harm her and that he may have been injured by the bear.
It isn't until nightfall, when Amy has returned to town with Mom and brother Tommy (Chance Michael Corbitt), that Amy mentions that the townspeople are planning to lynch the wrong man.
Crow, meanwhile, has kidnapped Amy's other brother, Ben (Ryan Todd), with plans of selling the boy to a lonely sea captain in need of a steward.
While The Giant of Thunder Mountain may entertain viewers disgusted by Hollywood's liberal use violence, profanity and sexuality in movies, most people will find it too tame. Additionally, the picture's cheesy production values, stiff performances and the secondary status it accords women make it seem hopelessly dated.
The Giant of Thunder Mountain
Director: James Roberson
Cast: Richard Kiel, Jack Elam, Marianne Rogers, Noley Thornton, Chance Michael Corbitt, Ryan Todd, William Sanderson
Screenplay: Richard Keil and Tony Lozito
Rating: PG; violence
Running time: 101 minutes