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?