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Jeremiah Johnson: Detailing the Classic Robert Redford Film

Here's why hunters and outdoorsmen of all walks love this revered film starring Robert Redford.

Every single one of us that grew up hunting, fishing, and exploring our beautiful outdoor world has imagined at one time or another doing what Robert Redford's fictional character Jeremiah Johnson did, and try living alone in the wilderness to prove that we could do it.

For those of you who haven't had a chance yet to watch this revered film from the early 1970s, we'll try not to spoil it for you, but that's easier said than done!

Venerable actor Robert Redford, who had already come to fame with roles in such films as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," teamed up with director Sydney Pollack for a rousing and thought provoking movie that still instills our adventurism and survival instincts.

Set in the wilderness of Colorado (what the film describes as the "Department of Colorado"), Johnson sets out to leave civilization behind him and begin a new life away from all the things he has come to hate. He soon learns that wherever people go, their problems go with them.

The Jeremiah Johnson screenplay is based on the novel "Mountain Man" by Vardis Fisher as well as the story "Crow Killer" by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. The film script was written by John Milius and Edward Anhalt.

For outdoorsmen and women, there is so much to love about this film as it portrays our inner survival strengths and weaknesses and how we address them by ourselves.

In this movie, Jeremiah Johnson hunts, fishes, and learns how to care for himself, and that's just the beginning.

"Jeremiah Johnson" Synopsis

Without giving away the film's key plot, and with many good storylines to touch on, it seems that this particular description from Rotten Tomatoes says it best:

"A Mexican-American War veteran, Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford), heads to the mountains to live in isolation. Woefully unequipped for the task at hand, Johnson is fortunate to come across a seasoned mountain man (Will Geer) willing to teach him the necessary survival tactics. As life continues in the mountains, Johnson finds himself a native bride (Delle Bolton) and an adopted son (Josh Albee). However, their peaceful existence is threatened when Johnson incurs the ire of the Crow Indians."

Beautifully filmed in the wilds of Utah, "Jeremiah Johnson" is, in my opinion, one part survival film and two parts character driven story. Even though he struggles at first, it soon becomes apparent that Jeremiah can learn to life this kind of life, and eventually comes to find his place in the world.

From the beginning of the film, in which he looks out of place walking through a town, to becoming a true mountain man adorned with a beard, snowshoes, leg hold traps, and a .50 caliber muzzleloader, is the greatest part of this story.

The Native Americans

Identified in the film are several Native American tribes from the period that the movie is set, including the Crow, Blackfoot, and Flathead Indians. Even the Apache are mentioned.

It is said that the portrayal of Native Americans is reasonably well balanced, fair, and differentiates between the different types of tribes and cultures portrayed, but that is a matter for historians and film critics.

The leader of the Crow is identified in the movie as Paints His Shirt Red, played by actor Joaquín Martínez. Johnson also meets Flathead Chief Two-Tongues Lebeaux played by actor Richard Angarola, and ultimately takes his daughter Swan as a bride.

There is a scene in the movie where Johnson and newly found friend Del Gue, played by actor Stefan Gierasch, have a run in with some members of the Blackfoot tribe, known as mortal enemies of the Flathead tribe. We don't want to spoil anymore of that portion of the film for you.

Cast and Characters

Here is a rundown of the main characters in the movie.

  • Robert Redford - Jeremiah Johnson
  • Will Geer - Bear Claw
  • Delle Bolton - Swan
  • Josh Albee - Caleb
  • Joaquín Martínez - Paints His Shirt Red
  • Allyn Ann McLerie - Crazy Woman
  • Stefan Gierasch - Del Gue

Certainly there are more to this list (such as Hatchet Jack), but these are the most prominently featured characters in this film. There are plenty of others that have a great place in the outcome of the story.

In all, this film contains some of the most remembered lines, locations, and characters in cinematic history, but we'll leave it up to you to find out for yourself. 

It is said that the role of Jeremiah Johnson was originally meant for actor Lee Marvin and then even Clint Eastwood, with Sam Peckinpah set to be the director. However, word had it that Peckinpah and Eastwood did not get along, so Peckinpah walked away from the film, and Eastwood decided to make "Dirty Harry" instead.

This Warner Bros. film uses the vaunted, beautiful, and pristine setting of the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop for the peace and beauty of the outdoors that we all seek. The cinematography is as stunning as it gets for a movie filmed within the United States at the time, and will live among the top preferences of hunters, trappers, anglers, and any enthusiast of the amazing wilderness.

If you've never seen it, or haven't watched it for a while, now would be a great time to change that.

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