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Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

December 29th, 2005 · 1 Comment

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Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) heads into the Rockies in the mid 19th century to live as a trapper, hoping to find something in the mountains that he couldn’t in civilization. He starts off so green that a Crow Indian is allowed to sneak up on him without his rifle within reach. Fortunately, he crosses paths with an old trapper named “Bear Claw” (Will Greer), “the first white man I seen in three weeks,” who teaches him how to survive.

Jeremiah would prefer to be left alone, but during his journey, inherits a mute boy whose family has been slaughtered by the Pawnee, and a Flathead Indian woman he is forced to marry after he unwittingly awards some ponies to her tribe. Jeremiah settles in with his surrogate family, until the U.S. Army approaches to guide them to a party of settlers stranded in a valley. Jeremiah’s craving for solitude is placed in opposition of his desire to help others, a trait that comes to define his life in the wilderness.

He makes the decision not only to guide the army, but cross over a Crow burial ground in order to reach the settlers quicker. The trespass has its consequences. The Crow retaliate against Jeremiah’s family, but even with his days numbered, Jeremiah refuses to leave the mountain. A bloody and protracted vendetta results, though ultimately, both sides learn to co-exist with each other.

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Directed by Sydney Pollack, the second of seven collaborations the director would make with Redford, and rewritten without credit by David Rayfiel after Pollack blanched at the violence of John Milius’ draft, Jeremiah Johnson is a classic. Not long winded enough to be considered an epic, it does unfold in uniquely episodic fashion, with Redford’s iconic character effortlessly making his way from one encounter in the wilderness to the next.

The dialogue is outstanding, particularly the folk music and sparse voiceover narration of Tim McIntire, which lend a romantic quality to the film right from the start:

“The story goes that he was a man of proper wit and adventurous spirit, suited to the mountains. Nobody knows where abouts he come from, and don’t seem to matter much. He was a young man and ghosty stories about the tall hills didn’t scare him none.”

Jeremiah Johnson does suffer from being squarely a western of the 1960s, with Mexican or white actors playing the Crow and Flathead Indians, and a PG rating. While it might have been more realistic or gritty, the theme of the film, the turning your back on civilization for a simpler life, still clearly resonates today.

Tags: Road trip · Western

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Randy // Sep 13, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Great movie, very enjoyable by those into this kind of film or yearn the freedom of the mountains

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