Legends of the Fall

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Legends of the Fall
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edward Zwick
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Susan Shilliday
  • William D. Wittliff
Based on Legends of the Fall
1979 novella 
by Jim Harrison
Music by James Horner
Cinematography John Toll
Edited by Steven Rosenblum
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • December 23, 1994 (1994-12-23) (USA)
Running time
133 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million
Box office $160.6 million[1]

Legends of the Fall is a 1994 American epic drama film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond and Henry Thomas. Based on the 1979 novella of the same title by Jim Harrison, the film is about three brothers and their father living in the wilderness and plains of Montana in the early 20th century and how their lives are affected by nature, history, war and love. The film's time frame spans from World War I through the Prohibition era, ending with a brief scene set in 1963. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards and won for Best Cinematography (John Toll).[2] Both the film and book contain occasional Cornish language terms, the Ludlows being a Cornish emigrant family.[3]


Sick of betrayals the United States government perpetrated on the Native Americans, Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) leaves the army and moves to a remote part of Montana. Along with One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis), a Cree friend, he builds a ranch and raises his family. Accompanying them are hired hand and outlaw Decker (Paul Desmond), Decker's wife Pet (Tantoo Cardinal), and daughter Isabel Two (Karina Lombard) (named after Ludlow's ex-wife). Ludlow has three sons: Alfred (Aidan Quinn), the eldest, is responsible and cautious; Tristan (Brad Pitt), the Colonel's favorite son, is wild and well-versed in American Indian traditions; Samuel (Henry Thomas), the youngest, is educated but naive and constantly watched over by his brothers.

Ludlow's wife Isabel (Christina Pickles) does not adapt to the harsh Montana winters and moves to the East Coast; Tristan vows never to speak of her again. At age 12, Tristan touches a sleeping grizzly bear. The bear awakens and injures him, but he stabs at the bear's paw and cuts off a claw.

Years later, Samuel returns from Harvard University with his fiancée, Susannah (Julia Ormond). Susannah talks with Isabel Two and learns of her fondness for Tristan. Susannah finds Tristan captivating but loves Samuel. Before they can marry, Samuel announces his intention to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force and aid Britain in the fight against Germany. Much to their father's displeasure, Alfred also joins. Although Tristan does not want to join, he does so to protect his brothers.

During World War I, the brothers find themselves in the 10th Battalion, CEF. Alfred, commissioned as an officer, leads a charge into no man's land. The attack results in heavy casualties, and Alfred is wounded. While visiting Alfred in the field hospital, Tristan learns that Samuel has volunteered for a dangerous reconnaissance mission. He rushes off to protect his brother but is too late, as Samuel is disorientated by the enemy's gas attacks and fatally shot by German machine gunners. A devastated Tristan kills Samuel's attackers and holds Samuel until he dies, then cuts out his brother's heart and sends it home to be buried at the ranch. Tristan single-handedly raids the German lines. He returns to camp with the scalps of German soldiers hanging around his neck, horrifying his fellow soldiers. He is discharged but does not go home. Alfred returns to Montana and proposes to Susannah, but she declines.

Tristan returns home, where Susannah finds him weeping over Samuel's grave. She comforts him, and they become lovers. A jealous Alfred confronts Tristan and leaves to make his name in Helena. Tristan is plagued with guilt over Samuel's death and feels responsible for driving Alfred away; he leaves Montana for several years, wandering around the world. Susannah waits for him, only to receive a letter telling her to marry someone else. Alfred comforts Susannah. Ludlow finds them together, which leads to a falling out between him and Alfred. Ludlow later suffers a stroke. He does not speak for years and the ranch deteriorates. Susannah marries Alfred, now a congressman. Alfred's business and politics cause him to get involved with the O'Banion brothers, John T. (Robert Wisden) and James (John Novak), bootleggers and gangsters.

Tristan returns during Prohibition, bringing life back to the ranch and his father. He goes to Helena where for the first time in years, he sees and talks with Susannah. Tristan presents her with a gift from his travels and tells her to send his congratulations to Alfred for him being a congressman and leaves, despite the obvious feelings that remain between the two. Tristan falls in love with a now 20-year old Isabel Two and they marry. They have two children, the elder being a boy named Samuel. Due to the family not being as wealthy as they were years ago, Tristan supports his family by becoming involved in small-scale rum-running, but also finds himself at odds with the O'Banion brothers, who warn him of reprisal should he continue selling alcohol on their territory.

One day, Tristan, Isabel Two, their children, Pet and One Stab go to a carnival in Helena and there for the first time in years, Tristan talks with Alfred, who is accompanied by Susannah. Before they leave, Tristan once again engages in rum-running and is unknowingly spotted by John T. O'Banion. When the group are returning to the ranch, they are ambushed on the road by John T. and a posse of corrupt police officers, including Sheriff Tynert (Kenneth Welsh), working for the O'Banions, who claim Tristan "violated" the Volstead Act. Unfortunately, things get out of hand when one of the officers tries to intimidate Tristan by firing with a Thompson submachine gun and in the process accidentally kills Isabel Two. In a fit of grief, Tristan beats the officer nearly to death before he is restrained by the other officers and then beaten and robbed of his money by John T.

After Isabel Two's funeral, Alfred informs Tristan that the officer who killed Isabel wаs only reprimanded and John T. O'Banion was not a suspect of her murder. He also lets Tristan know that he must service 30 days of jail time for nearly killing the officer. Tristan reluctantly complies and is jailed. Susannah visits Tristan in jail, still having feelings for him, but he refuses her advances and remains fixated in getting his revenge on John T. O'Banion. After Tristan is released, he and Decker carefully plot their revenge against those responsible for Isabel Two's death; Decker takes high position at a hill from which he waits for and kills with a sniper rifle the officer who killed Isabel Two, while Tristan follows John T. O'Banion to one of the O'Banions' moonshine warehouses in Helena and after a struggle, pushes John T. O'Banion against a nearby pitchfork which protrudes through his chest, killing him and thus avenging Isabel Two.

Realizing she cannot live without Tristan and unhappy in her marriage to Alfred, Susannah commits suicide. Susannah is buried besides Samuel and Isabel Two at the Ludlow ranch and her funeral is attended by everyone, including Tristan. Following the funeral, Alfred, who remains alienated from Tristan and Ludlow, speaks with Tristan and voices his notice of how even though he was the elder brother who always followed the rules and was responsible, unlike Tristan who never followed any rules and was irresponsible, he was still not as loved as Tristan was by everyone, including Samuel, Ludlow and Susannah. Tristan complies with Alfred's request and leaves him for a moment alone to mourn Susannah at her grave.

The remaining O'Banion brother, James, along with Sheriff Tynert and another corrupt officer, arrive at the ranch, intent on killing Tristan for murdering John T. Just as Tristan begs for O'Banion to take Tristan to the woods and kill him there as he does not want his son to witness his father's death, Ludlow, who despite still having physical difficulties due to his stroke, rescues him, using a cleverly concealed double-barreled shotgun (which Tristan gave to Ludlow after his return from his worldwide travels) to kill James O'Banion and the nearby corrupt officer, while Sheriff Tynert is gunned down by Alfred before he could kill Tristan and Ludlow. Alfred reconciles with his father and brother.

Claiming responsibility for the men's deaths, Tristan asks Alfred to take care of his children and leaves for the mountain country. Over time, Tristan and Isabel Two's children grew up and had their own children; unfortunately, nearly everyone Tristan knew and loved, including Alfred, Ludlow, Decker and Pet, died before him over the years and are all buried with Samuel, Isabel Two and Susannah in a family plot on the grounds of the Ludlow ranch. In 1963, Tristan, now an old man, investigates an animal carcass in the woods. Suddenly, he is confronted by the same grizzly bear he encountered when he was 12. He draws his knife and fights it. As they struggle, the image freeze-frames as One Stab narrates; "It was a good death".




Legends of the Fall was primarily filmed on location in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Principal photography began in mid-September 1993.[4] The World War I battlefield scenes took two weeks to film and were shot near Morley, Alberta, with hundreds of locals and a few Canadian Forces soldiers recruited as extras.[5] The Ghost River Wilderness Area in Alberta served as the filming location for the Ludlow ranch. A historic harbour area in Vancouver called Gastown was augmented with period building facades for the Helena, Montana street scenes. Hotel scenes were shot at the Hotel Europe at 43 Powell Street in Vancouver. Additional scenes were shot at Maple Leaf Square in Gastown, Vancouver, and Ocho Rios in Saint Ann, Jamaica. Filming wrapped up around January 1994.[6]


Box office[edit]

The film opened in limited release on December 23, 1994 and expanded to a wide release on January 13, 1995. During its first weekend in wide release, which was a four-day weekend due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the film reached number one at the domestic box office after grossing $14 million.[7] After its initial run, the film brought in a final box office total of $160,638,883.[8] Against its $30 million budget, the film was a financial success.

Critical response[edit]

Legends of the Fall received mixed to positive reviews. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 56% of 54 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.8 out of 10.[9] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 45 based on 23 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[10] IMBD gave the film a score of 7.5/10 based on reviews from critics, indicating generally positive reviews.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described the film as "pretty good ... with full-blooded performances and heartfelt melodrama."[11] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone particularly praised Pitt's performance saying, "Though the admirable Quinn has the toughest role, Pitt carries the picture. The blue-eyed boy who seemed a bit lost in Interview With the Vampire proves himself a bona fide movie star, stealing every scene he's in."[12] Comparatively, Chris Hicks of Deseret News noted, "Pitt is the hunk of the moment, and Legends of the Fall will only further cement his big-screen, romantic leading-man status. And he is satisfying as the internalized, rebellious Tristan (look for that name to be given to more than a few babies over the next few years). Even if the character seems only a slight twist on the similar role he played in A River Runs Through It. (He even becomes a bootlegger!)"[13]

On the other hand, Rita Kempley of The Washington Post stated that the film's "...yarn doesn't so much sweep as sprawl across the screen in all its panoramic idiocy."[14] Janet Maslin of The New York Times commented, "Before it turns exhaustingly hollow, this film shows the potential for bringing Mr. Harrison's tough, brooding tale to life. And the actors may have captured the spirit of the story, but that's impossible to know." She concluded, "These are performances that lost too much in the editing room, smothered by music and overshadowed by a picture-postcard vision of the American West."[15]


The film was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (John Toll), Best Art Direction (Lilly Kilvert, Dorree Cooper), and Best Sound (Paul Massey, David E. Campbell, Chris David and Douglas Ganton), and won the category for Best Cinematography.[2][16] In addition, the film was nominated for the Golden Globes for Best Picture – Drama, Best Actor – Drama (Brad Pitt), Best Director (Edward Zwick), and Best Original Score (James Horner).[17]

The film was also nominated for the American Society of Cinematographers for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases (John Toll), took second place at the Awards Circuit Community Awards 1994 for Best Cinematography (John Toll) and nominated for Best Original Score (James Horner). It was also nominated for the 1995 Camerimage Awards for Golden Frog (John Toll) and at the Western Heritage Awards 1995 won the Bronze Wrangler Award for Theatrical Motion Picture (Edward Zwick (director), William D. Wittliff (writer/producer), Anthony Hopkins (principal actor) and Brad Pitt (principal actor)).

Home media[edit]

Legends of the Fall was first released on DVD on April 29, 1997, and once again on October 17, 2000.[18] The film was later released on Blu-ray on February 8, 2011, with bonus content that includes two audio commentaries, deleted scenes with optional commentary and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.[19]


  1. ^ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=legendsofthefall.htm
  2. ^ a b Hicks, Chris (13 January 1995). "Legends of the Fall". Deseret News. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (2007). The Celtic Languages in Contact. Potsdam University Library#Potsdam University Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-3-940793-07-2. 
  4. ^ "Hopkins lines up Beethoven role". Reading Eagle. 27 August 1993. p. 51. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  5. ^ "Reel Adventures Alberta Movie Maps". Alberta SouthWest. pp. 1–9. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Ansen, David (16 January 1994). "The Flowering Of A Late Bloomer". The Daily Beast. p. 2. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  7. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for January 13-16, 1995". IMDB. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "Legends of the Fall (1994)". IMDB. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "Legends of the Fall – Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  10. ^ "Legends of the Fall". CBS Interactive. Metacritic. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (13 January 1995). "Legends of the Fall". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Travers, Peter (13 January 1995). "Legends of the Fall | Movie Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  13. ^ Hicks, Chris (17 January 1995). "Film review: Legends of the Fall". Deseret News. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  14. ^ Kempley, Rita (13 January 1995). "'Legends of the Fall' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  15. ^ Maslin, Janet (23 December 1994). "Grit vs. Good Looks In the American West". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  16. ^ "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  17. ^ "Golden Globes, USA 1995". Lucy Media. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  18. ^ "Legends of the Fall". 9 October 2000. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  19. ^ Calonge, Juan (29 November 2010). "Legends of the Fall Blu-ray Announced, A River Runs through It in Regular Case". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 

External links[edit]