Iron Will is a 1994 family adventure film directed by Charles Haid. The film stars Mackenzie Astin, Kevin Spacey, David Ogden Stiers, George Gerdes, Brian Cox, Penelope Windust, and August Schellenberg.
In 1917, Will Stoneman's (Mackenzie Astin) father is killed in a mushing accident falling into a frozen river, leaving Will to care for his family. Needing money for college and to save the family farm in South Dakota, Will decides to travel to Winnipeg, Canada. Here he will take part in the dog-sled race that his father would have entered to save the farm. Although his mother initially objects, she eventually relents. The race is from Winnipeg to Saint Paul, Minnesota. With the aid of Ned Dodd (August Schellenberg), the young man prepares both physically and mentally for the harsh weather and terrain throughout the race.
During the race, Will becomes popular with the newspaper media as reporter Harry Kingsley (Kevin Spacey) who also helped pay for Will to enter the race. The reporter tells about Will's strong courage in what he must do. As Will races for long hours for many days, he endures brutal cold, steep mountains, treacherous river passages and various other obstacles, and grows increasingly tired and sick. There are even attempts by some of the other competitors to sabotage his efforts and even hurt his lead dog, Gus. Will becomes hostile towards his competitors for their sabotage and also towards Kingsley for using him for publicity. However, when one competitor tries to bribe Will to drop out of the race, Kingsley defends Will's honor and the two make amends.
However, on the last day of the race, Kingsley becomes genuinely concerned when he sees how bad Will's condition is, as he can barely move, and advises him to drop out of the race and see a doctor, but Will insists on finishing the race to the end. Will finds himself following his arch enemy (Borg Guillarson) on a dangerous shortcut to the finish line, as it runs near a turbulent river. Will had been taking great lengths all through the race to dodge water obstacles because of what happened to his father, but he finds the courage to face this one, as Bogg's dogs turn against him for using a whip. Exhausted from lack of sleep, Will collapses near the finish line, until Ned Dodd awakens the spirit of his father's dog Gus, with a familiar whistle. The crowd joins in and the finish of this race is one of the greatest scenes in dog sledding.
Cast and Characters
- Mackenzie Astin - Will Stoneman
- Kevin Spacey - Harry Kingsley
- David Ogden Stiers - J.W. Harper
- August Schellenberg - Ned Dodd
- George Gerdes - Borg Guillarson
- Penelope Windust - Maggie Stoneman
- Brian Cox - Angus McTeague
- Rex Linn - Joe McPherson
- John Terry - Jack Stoneman
Much of the film was shot on location in Minnesota, mostly along the Lake Superior shoreline as well as Iron Range cities such as Floodwood. Although the race takes place between Winnipeg and Saint Paul, neither city actually appears in the film. The Winnipeg starting point for the race was filmed in Duluth, Minnesota near the old Central High School. The Lake Superior Railroad Museum, located in Two Harbors, Minnesota, portrayed the St. Paul train station's finish line. Due to the general lack of mountains in Minnesota (excepting the Sawtooth Mountains), scenes in which Will goes through mountainous terrain were filmed in Montana. Additional footage was shot in Superior, Wisconsin as well as Brookston, Minnesota.
Although the story of Will Stoneman is fictional, the character was loosely based on the exploits of Albert Campbell, who won the 1917 race from Winnipeg to Saint Paul, and Fred Hartman, the American hope in the race. According to Campbell, he won the race to fulfill his father’s dying wish made just two weeks before the race.
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