One of the most common wish-fulfillment plots in fiction is the one where someone quite their job in a spectacular fashion. Unusually, this movie acknowledges that the spectacular fashion may have consequences—satisfying as it may have been to destroy the computer, the practical result is that the person now has to pay to fix it. It’s not unreasonable, really. It’s interesting to me that, while the initial dream “and then I quit my job” happened without consulting the character’s wife, he consults her before the next possible Big Dramatic Change. Presumably he learned his lesson.
Johnny Baxter (Dean Jones) worked for an insurance agency under Perennial Disney Executive Type Mr. Carruthers (Dick Van Patten) until the day he is informed that he has inherited ownership of the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silver Hills, Colorado. He is informed that it clears $14,000 a month, so he quits his job and packs up his family. And the hotel did take in that much—years ago, when the mine was still operational. Now, it’s basically abandoned. Johnny’s uncle used to let Grizzled Old Prospector Jesse McCord (Harry Morgan) stay there in the winter, but that’s it.
Meanwhile, local businessman Martin Ridgeway (Keenan Wynn) wants to buy the hotel. He gives Johnny a $3000 loan, which is enough for him to open, on the assumption that it will not be enough to stay in business, and the land will revert to him. Because it turns out there’s enormous amounts of land that go with the property. Enough, Johnny realizes, to make a ski resort out of it. Things go wrong in a Disney fashion, and he’s left with nothing but the idea of entering the town’s snowmobile race to earn enough to make ends meet.
Unusually, while there technically is some cheating in the race—Johnny and Jesse end up taking a shortcut through some mine tunnels—it’s completely accidental and doesn’t end up influencing the results of the race in any way. Though it briefly looks like it’s going to. Frankly, the entirety of the race is just there to pad the plot and to make the ending more unexpected. Several critics point out that the actual ending is not terribly interesting to kids, and I don’t think they’re wrong, but all in all, it’s a weird sidestep.
Ridgeway is, well, a Disney character played by Keenan Wynn—he owns half the town. He even knows the specifics of Johnny’s uncle’s grants to various people. It’s made laughable that Ridgeway wants to establish a home for “wayward boys” in Jake’s name, and goodness knows it actually is laughable. But it sounds as though the town was much in Jake’s debt, making it a little surprising that no one at the beginning of the film knew the name of the hotel.
Honestly, Johnny’s plans are doubtless going to be better for Silver Hills than Ridgeway’s. After all, in ordinary times, tourism is a better long-term investment than [spoilers redacted]. It’s clear that Johnny even has interest in making his lodge appealing for more than just the winter. The movie was actually filmed in Colorado, and it makes it clear just how lovely the scenery there can be. A little town where everyone is beholden to a single unscrupulous banker could definitely do better if they pivoted their focus.
This movie shares a plot with The Million-Dollar Duck, inasmuch as Johnny needs to learn to pay attention to his son. In this case, Richard (Johnny Whittaker) comes up with several clever solutions to problems over the course of the movie, and he’s the one who pays enough attention to things to solve the major issue. It would’ve been nice if they’d fleshed out his older sister, Chris (Kathleen Cody) a bit, but at least Sue (Nancy Olson) isn’t the kind of shrewish wife Dean Jones characters occasionally had. She doesn’t want him risking his neck in a snowmobile race bare months after the first time he’d ever even seen a snowmobile, but do you blame her?