Jeremiah Johnson (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sydney Pollack|
|Produced by||Joe Wizan|
|Screenplay by||Edward Anhalt
|Story by||Raymond W. Thorp
|Based on||Mountain Man
by Vardis Fisher
Crow Killer by Raymond W. Thorp Jr.
|Music by||Tim McIntire
|Editing by||Thomas Stanford|
|Studio||Sanford Productions (III)|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||108 minutes
116 minutes (Long version)
Jeremiah Johnson is a 1972 western film directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford as the title character and Will Geer as "Bear Claw" Chris Lapp. The film has been said to have been based in part on the life of the legendary mountain man Liver-Eating Johnson, based on Raymond Thorp and Robert Bunker's book Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson and Vardis Fisher's Mountain Man.
A jaded veteran of the Mexican War (1846–48), Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) seeks solace and refuge in the West. He aims to take up the life of a mountain man, supporting himself in the Rocky Mountains as a trapper. His first winter in the mountain country is a difficult one; he has a brief run-in with Paints-His-Shirt-Red (Joaquin Martinez), a chief of the Crow tribe, who observes a starving Johnson futilely fishing by hand.
Initially, Johnson uses a .30 caliber Hawken rifle for hunting and protection, but finds it under-powered for his needs. He stumbles on the frozen body of Hatchet Jack (another mountain man), clutching a .50 caliber Hawken in his dead hands. Jack's legs were broken while fighting a bear, and knowing he was going to die, Jack wrote a will giving his rifle to the first man who came across his corpse. Johnson gladly takes it for his own. He then inadvertently disrupts the grizzly bear hunt of the elderly and eccentric "Bear Claw" Chris Lapp (Will Geer). After meeting at gunpoint ("I know who you are; you're the same dumb pilgrim I've been hearin' for twenty days and smellin' for three!"), Lapp takes him in and mentors him on living in the high country. After a brush with Crow Indians, including Paints-His-Shirt-Red (a friend of Lapp's), and learning the skills required to survive in the mountains, Johnson sets off on his own.
In his travels, he comes across a small cabin whose inhabitants were apparently attacked by Blackfoot warriors, leaving only a woman (Allyn Ann McLerie) and her uncommunicative son as survivors. The woman, maddened by grief, forces Johnson to adopt her son. He and the boy - whom Johnson dubs "Caleb" (Josh Albee) - come across Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch) ("With an E"!), a mountain man in severe disfavor with several local Indian tribes. The bald-headed Gue has been robbed by the Blackfeet. They buried him up to his neck in the sand and stuffed feathers up his nose. Rescued by Johnson, Gue travels with him and Caleb, and they eventually come across a Blackfoot camp.
The two men sneak into the camp in the dead of night to retrieve Gue's possessions, but Gue opens fire with a pistol, and the two mountain men kill the Blackfeet in the ensuing confrontation. Johnson and Gue leave the encampment with Gue taking several Blackfoot horses and scalps. Johnson, disgusted with the needless killing and Gue's actions, turns and goes back for Caleb. Soon afterward, they are surprised by Christianized Flathead Indians, who take them in as guests of honor for their brave deeds. Johnson unknowingly insults the chief by giving him the stolen horses and the scalps of the Blackfoot (their mortal enemies); according to Flathead custom, the chief must now give him an even greater gift: his daughter Swan, to be Johnson's bride. After the wedding ceremony (which seems to be a mixture of traditional American Indian and Catholic rituals), Del Gue goes off on his own way, and Johnson, Caleb and Swan journey on into the wilderness.
Johnson finds a suitable location to build a cabin and, with the help of the boy and his new wife, settles into this new home. They slowly develop an identity as a family, and Johnson and Swan become genuinely intimate. Just when his life seems to be turning around, Johnson is pressed into service by the U.S. Army Cavalry, who persuade him to lead a search party to help save a stranded wagon train. Ignoring Johnson's advice, they take a route through a Crow burial ground; because of this trespass on their sacred ground, the Crow tribe sends a raiding party to kill Swan and Caleb. While returning home through the same burial ground, Johnson senses something amiss when he notices the graves are now adorned with Swan's blue trinkets; he rushes back to the cabin, only to find his family slaughtered.
Johnson sets off after the warriors who killed his family and attacks them, killing all but one - a heavy-set brave who sings his death song when he realizes he cannot outrun his enemy. Johnson leaves him alive to tell of the mountain man's quest for revenge, the tale of which soon spreads throughout the region and traps Johnson in a bloody feud with the Crow nation. The tribe sends its best warriors to kill Johnson; one at a time, he defeats all of them. His legend grows and the Crow come to respect him for his skill, bravery, tenacity and honor. He meets Del Gue again (now with a full head of hair), who tells Johnson of his growing reputation. Del Gue asks about Caleb and Swan, to which Johnson replies: "I never did take him to Hawley", and "she never were no trouble". Johnson returns to the cabin of Caleb's mother, only to find that she has died and a new settler named Qualen (Matt Clark) and his family are living there. Near the cabin, the Crow have built a monument of sorts to Johnson's bravery and fighting prowess, periodically leaving trinkets and symbolic talismans as tribute.
Johnson and Lapp meet for a final time in late winter or early spring - neither man is quite sure what month it is. A weary Johnson shares the rabbit he is roasting, and Lapp observes, "You've come far, pilgrim", to which Johnson replies, "Feels like far". Lapp asks Johnson: "Were it worth the trouble?" Johnson's ironic, enigmatic reply - "Eh....what trouble?" - serves to define both men's characters, each aware of the struggles and losses of the life he has chosen. Lapp reaffirms his preference for life as a mountain man and congratulates Johnson on keeping his head of hair, because so many are after it; his parting words to Johnson - "I hope that you will fare well" - are the last of the film.
The final scene is a wordless encounter with Paints-His-Shirt-Red, Johnson's avowed enemy since mid-film and the presumptive force behind the attacks on Johnson. Several hundred yards apart, Johnson reaches for his rifle for what he thinks will be a final duel, but Paints-His-Shirt-Red raises his arm, open-palmed, in a gesture of peace that Johnson returns, closing the film.
- Robert Redford as Jeremiah Johnson
- Will Geer as Bear Claw Chris Lapp
- Stefan Gierasch as Del Gue
- Delle Bolton as Swan
- Josh Albee as Caleb
- Joaquín Martínez as Paints His Shirt Red
- Allyn Ann McLerie as The crazy woman
- Paul Benedict as Reverend Lindquist
- Jack Colvin as Lieutenant Mulvey
- Matt Clark as Qualen
The script was originally written by John Milius who says he was paid $5,000 to write it at first - but he was then hired to rewrite it several times and wound up earning $80,000 on it. Sam Peckinpah was originally attached to direct with Clint Eastwood to star, but Peckinpah and Eastwood did not get along so Peckinpah left the project; then Eastwood decided to make Dirty Harry instead. According to Milius, Edward Anhalt and David Rayfiel were brought in to work on the screenplay but they continually had to rehire Milius because no one else could do the dialogue. Milius says he got the script's idiom and American spirit from Carl Sandburg and was also influenced by the novel True Grit.
The film earned $8,350,000 in North American rentals in 1973.
- "Jeremiah Johnson, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
- "Festival de Cannes: Jeremiah Johnson". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-04-13.
- Segaloff, Nat, "John Milius: The Good Fights", Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, Ed. Patrick McGilligan, Uni of California 2006 p 283-284
- Jeremiah Johnson at Rotten Tomatoes
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
- Jeremiah Johnson at the Internet Movie Database
- Jeremiah Johnson at AllRovi
- Jeremiah Johnson at Box Office Mojo
- Jeremiah Johnson at Rotten Tomatoes