Legends of the Fall

I love this movie—have probably seen it four or five times, and it never gets old for me.  Take spectacular Montana scenery, Brad Pitt at his most gorgeous, stunning characters brilliantly played, and a story that would wring tears from a block of granite.  For me, this is the perfect film experience.

I’m betting you’ve seen it.  If not, you’re missing out.   Set in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, between World War I and the Prohibition Era, it’s the story of the Ludlow family—the father (Anthony Hopkins), and his sons Alfred (Aidan Quinn), Tristan (Brad Pitt) and Samuel (Henry Thomas) who  live on a Montana ranch.  The tragedy begins when Samuel brings home his fiancée Susanna (Julia Ormond), and both his brothers fall in love with her.  It deepens when the brothers go off to war and

Samuel fails to return.  Tristan, who’d promised to look after him, plunges into a pit of tortured guilt that drives him away from Susanna and his family.

I won’t create a spoiler by telling the whole story, but there are some glorious scenes.  My favorite is the one where Tristan returns from his wanderings, galloping over the hills on horseback, his long golden hair flying in the wind as he drives a herd of wild mustangs ahead of him.  And waiting for him is the woman who can heal his wounded soul.

The movie goes on and on, through the history of this family, riveting to the end, so I reasoned that  this saga must be based on an  equally amazing book.   I decided to order it.

Imagine my surprise when the slender volume arrived containing not one novel but three novellas.  “Legends of the Fall,” was a narrative short enough to read in one sitting.  The other two very dark stories had nothing to do with the movie—though they were superbly written by a fine American author named Jim Harrison (born 1937).

I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.  Most movies based on novels leave out many elements of the book.  In this case, the writer(s) of the screenplay, as well as the production staff and the actors, had built the bare bones of  a story into a visually rich emotional epic.

In the 1995 Oscars, the film won an award for best cinematography and was nominated for best art direction and best sound.  In my opinion it deserved more—especially for the James Horner musical score, one of the most evocative I’ve ever heard.  I have the cd, which I’ve almost worn out playing it in the background while I write my Western scenes.

How about you?  Do you love this movie as much as I do?  Or do you have other Western film favorites?  What’s your all-time favorite Western movie?

Elizabeth Lane
I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.
Updated: October 8, 2013 — 6:28 am

29 Comments

  1. I’ve heard of this movie but unfortunately I’ve never seen it.

    Favorite Western – Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid

    I also like Across the Great Divide and Dances With Wolves.

  2. Good morning out there. Hope you’re handling the first weekday of Daylight Savings Time ok. I’ll be looking forward to your comments about your favorite Western movies. Have a happy day!

  3. Oh, I love those movies, Laurie. Especially Butch Cassidy. Across the Great Divide is an oldie but goodie. Thanks so much for stopping by this morning.

  4. I have seen Legends of the Fall a few times. It is a good movie and I have always enjoyed it.

    One of my favs is The Searchers with John Wayne. It was a gripping movie I thought.
    Another of my favs Westerns is How the West was One. It spans generations of one family and stared some great actors, Debbie Reynolds, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Karl Malden and many more..

    So many great westerns were made..
    There are so many good westerns

  5. The Searchers is such a classic, Kathleen. I’ve read it’s considered one of the best westerns ever made. John Wayne give one of his best performances.
    And How the West was Won is so much fun. A real epic.
    Thanks for visiting today.

  6. I’ve never watched Legends of the Fall from the beginning. I seem to always catch it from either mid-way or toward the end. The parts I’ve seen I’ve loved. I may have to rent the darn thing so I can see it all. I agree that Brad Pitt played his part brilliantly.

    My favorite western movie is The Outsider. It was adapted from Penelope Williamson’s book by the same title. I watch it over and over and never grow bored with it. Tim Daley made an excellent western gunfighter who finds love with an Amish woman.

  7. I’ve seen THE OUTSIDER, Linda. Such a heartwarming movie. I loved it, too.
    And yes, you really need to see LEGENDS OF THE FALL from the beginning to get the full story behind what happens later. Hope you can find the time later on.

  8. This is a movie I have never seen but will be searching it out now. There are so many great westerns out there that I really have to think to come up with a favorite. I love anything with John Wayne. One of his that I have watched over and over is McKintock. But I think my favorite westerns (I couldn’t pick just one) are Dances with Wolves and The Man from Snowy River.

  9. I enjoyed the movie but didn’t love it. However, the scene ry was spectacular and I enjoyed the acting. I’m not a fan of obsessive love affairs. Not sure why, none of those in my life thank goodness. I did love the Outsider and ironically, last night there was something on a TV reality show about a banned Amish man who rescues Amish women who want to leave. It was intense–this woman was running across a field, her face blurred by the camera and a dark figure on horseback charging after her. The narrator said that Amish men will do anything to prevent their women from leaving. The rescuer takes the women to “safe” houses until they can be educated in the “English” ways. From that I gather that we are the English. Fascinating show. I’ve always wanted to visit an Amish settlement but I may need to rethink that.

  10. I have never seen the movie but i would like too! I like westerns with a good romance in them and that end well. Im just not sure how many of those movies exist hahaha. but my fav western is American Outlaws with Collin Farrell. Its fun to watch and fall in love with!

  11. I did like this movie. I am not sure I have a favorite western because I love most westerns.Any thing with Sam Elliot or Willie Nelson and I love it.

  12. Hi Elizabeth, I loved the scenery of this movie but the tortured brother-relationships were hard for me because of continued problems with my brothers. I remember crying through it for lots of reasons,

    A recent western that I think is amazingly well done, complex, gorgeous scenery and an age-appropriate romance (Kevin Costner and Annette Bening, gloriously devoid of makeup) is Open Range. I watched it again yesterday. Good stuff.

    This very morning I downloaded The Searchers in my Kindle.

    I do agree with Quilt Lady…Sam is the man. xoxo

  13. I liked Legends of the Fall, but my all time favorite is The Searchers. I would have loved this movie even had it not been based on a true story.

  14. Back with you again. Thanks all for your great comments.

    John Wayne was the best, wasn’t he, Connie J? A cousin of mine actually got to know him. Years later, there are still photos of him all over her house. The Searchers seems to be the favorite of many. I love it too.

    Hi, Chelly. I’m into dark, obsessive stuff (like Wuthering Heights) so this movie’s dark side held some appeal. I’m surprised at the film you saw and it’s portrayal of the Amish. Aren’t they the ones who actually let their young people go out into the world before they chose to embrace the life or leave for good? Down on the Utah-Arizona border there’s a polygamist group that would be much closer to what you saw in the film. Can anybody out there throw more light on this?

    And yes, Quilt Lady, Sam is the Man! That voice gives me goose bumps!

  15. I understand how the emotions in LEGENDS can touch a sore spot, Tanya. And I, too, really liked OPEN RANGE. Wasn’t that loosely based on the Johnson County War in Wyoming?

    And several people who’ve commented here mentioned THE SEARCHERS, Margaret. That film is a true masterpiece. Makes me want to rent it and watch it again.

  16. Margaret–I had no idea it was based on a true story. Hmmm, maybe you could tell us more in a blog.

  17. I have watched Legends of the Fall, twice. The first time caught me by surprise when Brad’s wife, … (don’t want to give it away in case you want to see it.) The second time I forgot, or something and couldn’t watch the rest. I cry too easily at moments that nobody else does.
    My family has a copy of this movie and they watch it all the time, (as they do with Josie Wales).
    Saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for about the 20th time, not too long ago. It is still a good movie, after all these years. Even though Robert Redford is my age, I will always love him!!

  18. I know what you mean, Mary J. That movie contains some real heart-rippers. And the ending is more ironic than happy. But life is like that.
    I love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort is just over the mountains from where I live, and I grew up in Butch Cassidy country, so part of my liking that movie is personal.

  19. I will be babysitting my granddaughter for the next couple of hours, but will get back to your comments before the night is over. Have a lovely evening.

  20. Elizabeth,

    Sorry, I’m chiming in so late. I love Legends of the Fall, and if I’m flipping through the channels it’s a must stop for me. It’s beautiful how everything in this movie plays a part from the actors to the scenery.

    –Kirsten

  21. Oh, Elizabeth, I would have a very hard time naming a favorite western. That has always been my favorite kind. But, I love my John Wayne movies. I even got to meet him while he was making a movie, and eat with the crew, and get a picture with him. Autograph too. He even signed a card for my mother while she was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, for she loved him too. I thought that was sweet of him. He has so many great westerns, could just watch for days to see them all. But, I also love Sam Elliott in westerns. I love his voice too. Louis La’Mour westerns from his books were great, if anyone wants to google them. Then there’s Lonesome Dove, and Dances With Wolves. I love, love them all. Legends was good, but didn’t know the book it came from. Would be nice to read it. Maxie Anderson

  22. I’ve watched this movie many times. Its a good movie, and I enjoy watching it, but it’s not one of my favorites (oh, I ordered the book, too, and was surprised by it as well).

    My all time favorite Western is Lonesome Dove, with The Outlaw Josey Wales and A Mule for Sister Sarah both uwith Clint Eastwood a close 2nd & 3rd.

    Carol

  23. Interesting that you ordered the book, too, Carol. Also that nobody else found this movie as appealing as I did.
    Lonesome Dove is wonderful, as is the book. And Clint made some great films (and still does).
    Thanks for stopping by.

  24. Elizabeth, a day late and a dollar short, I still wanted to comment on your post–I loved that movie so much! Of course, I cry every time I watch it. LOL What a dilemma, to be in love with the woman your brother’s chosen! I think that’s what makes the legend of King Arthur so poignant–even though he and Lancelot weren’t true blood brothers, they viewed one another as such.

    I don’t know, if I had to choose a favorite western movie, what I would choose. Off the top of my head, I’d say HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, just because of the uniqueness of it. But there are so many good movies, all of them with different “bests”–as you say, Legends of the Fall has that wonderful musical score, and the cinematography. Dances With Wolves has that great cinematography, too. The Magnificent Seven (original) — such a cast of characters–can’t beat it. Now you’ve got me thinkin’ girl! Great post.
    Cheryl

  25. Kirsten, I know what you mean. If I run across this movie channel surfing I can pick it up anywhere. Glad to hear from somebody else who loves it as much as I do.

    Great list of favorites, Maxie. Would love to have a recording of Sam’s voice to lull me off to dreams at night. And John Wayne seems to have been a genuinely nice person. How great that you got to meet him!

    Thanks, Cheryl. I never thought of the Lancelot parallel but it does work. And then Tristan’s guilt when Samuel dies. So much emotion in that film.
    Not sure I’ve seen High Plains Drifter. That one goes on my list.

  26. Avatar

    What a coincidence—-Legends of the Fall was on one of our TV channels last night. I hadn’t seen it in years so watched it. As much as I loved the cinematography and the scenery the story is too dark for me.

  27. Hi Elizabeth.. also sorry I’m late here. Legends of the Fall was where my daughter and I both fell in love with Brad Pitt… who could forget tortured brooding Tristan?

  28. I will definitely have to watch this again. It’s not one that stuck with me – but I do remember Brad Pitt dancing with a dark-haired girl. Right movie?

  29. John Wayne is one of my favorite actors. How the West Was Won

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