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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Legends of the Fall (1994) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Col. William Ludlow (Sir Anthony Hopkins) finds himself unable to help The People whom an uncaring government had him fight against in the Indian wars, so he settles in Montana “to lose the madness over the mountains and begin again.” He sires three strapping lads: the eldest Alfred (Aidan Quinn), the middle one Tristan (Brad Pitt), and the youngest Samuel (Henry Thomas) who grow up strong. His wife Isabel (Christina Pickles) unable to bear the harsh winters heads east but advises him by post to accept that the growing boys will choose their own paths. Being All-American they follow life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Samuel is the Life of the family. Against his father's wishes, he goes to Canada to enlist to fight the Krauts in the simmering Great War. His two brothers enlist, as well, to watch over him. Samuel prays for the souls of his lost comrades in arms, but “I also prayed for personal glory,” to distinguish him­self in battle. He complains in a letter that, “Tristan and Alfred watch over me so care­fully that I may never get the opportunity.” At last he seizes his chance to volunteer for a dangerous recon mission. Bullets are flying. This is not a sure way to live a long life.

Tristan is Liberty personified. As Alfred puts it, “I followed all of the rules, man's and God's. And you, you followed none of them.” For his crimes against nature in the war, he was—in the deleted scenes—insti­tution­alized (“I cannot bear the Asylum another day.”) For violating the Volstead Act, he had to spend some time in the hoosegow. His liberty had its limits.

Alfred's thing was the Pursuit of Happiness. He goes to Helena: “a city turned modern over­night, bursting with all the energy and vitality of our times. I feel alive here.” He prospers financially, then is elected con­gress­man and further­­more marries, but to a woman who can only cause him pain. Not the happiest result.

Lovely Miss Susannah Fincannon (Julia Ormond) migrates to her new family in the west where she loves Life, lusts for Liberty, and settles for Prosperity. Not the happiest of immigrants, I would say.


Thomas Jefferson had declared in a famous writing the truism of God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Legends” explores their limitations. Due to the extreme wickedness of ancient man God wiped them all out in a world­wide flood but spared righteous Noah and his brood in an ark. That was then. (Gen. 8:21) “And … the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” There is, how­ever, a caveat; God instituted capital punishment to prevent the world from going too far down­hill: (Gen. 9:6) “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” When Samuel wants do his duty as part of a civilized nation to fight against naked aggression, he is only obeying that injunction. Killers have for­feited their right to life.

(Gen. 9:18-19) “And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.” After the Flood there was an incident, Gen. 9:20-22, where Noah got drunk on wine and was exposed in all his glory to his son Ham who brazenly viewed him so. Noah's other two sons, Shem and Japheth, covered him up, Gen. 9:23. Ham had violated him in some way, Gen. 9:24. Noah's curse puts Ham's youngest son Canaan in a position of servitude, Gen. 9:25. Noah's other two sons Shem, Gen. 9:26, and Japheth, Gen. 9:27, were blessed by Noah. Writer Bodie Hodge (134) quotes “Bible Questions and Answers,” The Golden Age (July 24, 1929): p. 702.

Question: Is there anything in the Bible that reveals the origin of the Negro?

Answer: It is generally believed that the curse which Noah pronounced upon Canaan was the origin of the Black race. Certain it is that when Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren,” he pictured the future of the Colored race.

William P. Pickett, discussing Abraham Lincoln's solution to the negro problem (30), quotes from Thomas Dixon, Jr.:
The negro has held the continent of Africa since the dawn of history, crunching acres of diamonds beneath his feet. Yet he never picked one up from the dust until the white man showed him its light. His land swarmed with powerful and docile animals, yet he never built a harness, cart or sled. A hunter by necessity, he never made an axe, spear or arrow­head worth preserving beyond the moment of its use. In a land of stone and timber, he never carved a block, sawed a foot of lumber or built a house save of broken sticks and mud, and for four thousand years he gazed upon the sea, yet never dreamed of a sail.

Pickett (570) quotes John Ambrose Price on the Negro's state: “The negro being a descendent of Ham, can be made subservient to human use, for his manifest destiny is that of a servant, and the ordinance of God requires that he should be placed in a sub­or­din­ate position to a superior race” (275).

In our movie freedom-loving Tristan goes to sea in a barque, visits the primitives in New Guinea, then sails up African rivers never before seen by a White man. He becomes a hunter carrying a modern carbine among patently primitive people who were once ripe for the plucking by other hunters. Later—in deleted scenes—he will visit his grand­father in Jamaica where docile Negro field hands toil beneath the manor of Bwana Ludlow. In a vague way the movie references the limited liberty of some people, although, to be sure, the Indians' equality is hotly defended being a matter of integration of Shem and Japheth, not of Ham who got a different deal.

Continuing our ancient history, (Gen. 11:1-4)
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
This is the infamous Tower of Babel. (Gen. 11:5-9)
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. There­fore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

You see, pursuing happiness entails imagining a desired goal and going after it. But the human condition is such that language enters into the picture; we can't properly imagine some­thing unless we can define it with words. Having so many different languages makes it hard to get a broad support for what­ever goal one may set, and if we speak an incompatible language, we might not be able to imagine it in the first place.

Liberty Day paradeSusannah supports her husband's political aspirations, she saying: “I gave a speech the other day. My first public engagement. It was on the responsibilities of women in—” The movie leaves us hanging, although we're given a time reference of 1921. What might she have been speechifying about? San Francisco Chronicle journalist Charles McCabe writes on Dame Power: (53)

The masculinization of women … springs heavily from passage of woman's suffrage legislation in 1920.

British anthropologist Ashley Montagu … [i]n a new book called “The American Way of Life” … argues that the ladies, though still marvelous, are rightly mixed up about their roles in life because they went a bit too far when they battled for the vote and equal rights in this country. Dr. Montagu says that women in this country have undoubtedly made good in areas they would never have thought of entering a half-century ago. The price, though, has been what he calls “psychic mas­culini­zation—the tendency to identify them­selves with males, to think and act as males, and to aspire to masculine roles with resulting turmoil and confusion.

We have to use our imagination to fill in the gap in the speech concerning women's responsibilities. American political correctness may not carry with the same force to Europe where their genders and pronouns are set up differently obviating getting our knickers in a twist over it, and there are other language differences.

Things are better for women in Europe, Dr. Montagu says. “Her life is focused principally on the happiness of her husband and children and this is likely to be satisfying to every­one concerned” (McCabe 54).

Production Values

” (1994) was directed by Edward Zwick. Its screenplay was written by Susan Shilliday and William D. Wittliff based on a novella by Jim Harrison. It stars Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Aidan Quinn. The two particularly outstanding performances are from Anthony Hopkins as the ageing Colonel and from Brad Pitt as middle son Tristan. All the actors did a good job. The director seemed sympathetic to the Indians and wore a hat on set that was popular on the reservation.

MPAA rated it R for violence, and for some sexuality and language. There's an instance of cursing God, for which the culprit later repents. Television broadcast versions exclude some of the graphic violence and blood, profanity, and nudity. It was filmed mostly in British Columbia, Canada. The landscape shots include majestic vistas. The music is a steady presence. It doesn't stint on emotional content. We're hit with keen betrayals; the losses are stag­gering. The journeys are geographical.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Legends” reminds me of a line from a Linwood Barclay novel: (77)

“I had bad dreams,” Josh said, going back to his cereal. “We shouldn't have watched that movie.”

“Sorry. I should have picked something else, but the thing is, almost any movie can remind us of some­thing bad that's happened to us.”

“Legends of the Fall” has so many woeful moments it's like a country music song with too many verses. It's wall-to-wall tragedies, dis­ap­point­ments, and the occasional Pyrrhic victory. There's some­thing in it to bum out every­one. Even the words to its one piano piece are tragic. View it with friends to commiserate together.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Don't watch this movie alone. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Barclay, Linwood. A Noise Downstairs. Copyright © 2018 by NJSB Entertainment Inc. New York: William Morrow, 2018. Print.

Hodge, Bodie. Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Pub., 2013. Print.

McCabe, Charles. Tall Girls Are Grateful. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1973. Print.

Pickett, William P. The Negro Problem: Abraham Lincoln's Solution. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1909. Print.

Price, John Ambrose. The Negro, Past, Present, and Future. Neale Publishing Co., 1907. As quoted in Pickett.