Jeremiah Johnson

1972, Movie, PG, 108 mins

Review

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Slow as molasses. Redford stars as a lone wolf who dislikes civilization. He moves into the Rocky Mountains in the 1830s but is barely managing to stay alive when trapper Geer meets him and takes him under his wing. For a year Redford learns all the basic skills of survival in the wilderness, and then he's off on his own. When he comes upon a settlement that has been wiped out by marauding Indians who have left only a woman, now deranged, and her son alive, he buries the dead, transports the woman to a ferry, and adopts the boy. Later, he finds another rugged trapper, bald Gierasch (who shaves his head so that the Indians will not attempt to scalp him), left buried up to his neck. Redford rescues him and later when they raid an Indian camp, Gierasch scalps several of his victims. When they are again on the trail, Gierasch spots advancing Indians and puts the scalps into Redford's pack. The Indians are not hostile, however, and when they discover the scalps of their enemy in Redford's possession, he is hailed as a great warrior.

These Flathead Indians insist that the chief's daughter, Swan (Delle Bolton), be given as a wife to Redford. Rather than risk insulting the tribe and losing his own scalp, the young trapper takes the Indian woman with him. They all form a bond of deep affection as they carve out a cabin and clearing in the wilderness. All is tranquil until a US Cavalry unit arrives and asks Redford to guide the troopers through the mountains to a stranded wagon train of settlers. He does, reluctantly leading the soldiers through the sacred Crow Indian burial grounds.

Beautifully photographed in the wilds of Utah, this film unfortunately doesn't know when to stop; it feels consumed by a self-concious desire to be arty, and offers a treatment too cool for its subject matter. The dialogue, by John Milius and Edward Anhalt, is full of homespun homilies that undercut the attempted seriousness. Of the small cast, Will Geer steals the film. The story is purportedly based on the experiences of a real trapper known as "Liver-Eatin' Johnson," so called because of how he disposed of his victims. Not until the very end of the shooting did Pollack decide how Redford would meet his fate. "Pollack wanted me to freeze to death," Redford was later quoted, "but I preferred to leave Johnson's fate up to the audience's imagination by having him disappear into the mountains." That ambiguous fate is exactly what happened to the real Johnson, and it's one that befalls Redford in the film. leave a comment

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