- Directed by Sydney Pollack
- May 7, 1972 (Cannes) / December 21, 1972 (New York City)
A man disgusted with civilization seeks solitude in the mountains.
I will begin with this: Jeremiah Johnson is not a bad movie. I know this is blasphemy to some who raved to me about it when I bought it or I told them that I bought it but it is not a great movie either. I will call this movie only okay.
My biggest complaint is that this film’s story is not a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Rather it is a set of individual stories linked together by the character of Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) with each having him as the central character. There is the story about his arrival in the mountains. There is the story about him coming to care for a child. There is also the story about him getting a wife. Each in my view is distinct unto itself.
That makes it difficult for me to get into the movie. They start building interest and building interest and then they are clearly done with that portion of the film and then another story starts so they build interest in that and the story ends and another begins and the whole process starts all over.
From the start there is very little known about Jeremiah Johnson’s life before the opening scenes. The only thing that is really clear is that he came from the East and, as shown by his inability to catch a fish or even survive in the wilderness, he has very little if any real outdoor skills. I see Redford and I take the implication here being that Johnson was what was once called a ‘pretty boy’ that lead a bit of a sheltered life.
The costumes are great with some bordering on flamboyant. I am not saying that as an insult. Having seen a few pictures from the era in history books they emulated some of the more garish (can I use that word in this case) type of outfits. Bear Claw Chris Lapp (Will Geer), whom Johnson learns most of his skills from, wears something that looks cool but you might question the functionality of. Google ‘Peter Freuchen’ and you will see images of a real life individual dressed like Bear Claw is here.
Who is giving that voiceover? Seriously. I found it reminiscent of the Wilford Brimley voice over from Last of the Dogmen. In both cases it helped the film rather than hurt it. In fact in both cases the film would have been less without the voiceover. Here it helped set up a few things that otherwise could not have easily been set up and were just tossed at you within the story. A character that you never actually see in the film giving narration is bothersome and shows a poor narrative.
What action there is in the film is good and there are some jarring moments in the story. Redford does a good job as a man trying to avoid people who no matter how hard he tries seems to keep running into them. You can feel his desire for a quiet or solitary life and irritation at not being able to achieve that.
The story here is inspired by the life of a man called Liver-Eating Johnson-a name that was reportedly earned because he ate the livers of his fallen enemies. I will not go into detail on his life (with what is known mixed with myth). It would have made a vastly more interesting story than what we got here. This is very sanitized by modern standards.
Jeremiah Johnson is not a bad Western, but it is not great either. There is some fine acting but without one singular story the acting does not quite help. I will get this an if you want.