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Jeremiah Johnson
Alternate Title: The Mountain Man
Director: Sydney Pollack (Dir)
Release Date:   Dec 1972
Premiere Information:   World premiere at the Cannes Film Festival: 7 May 1972; Boise, ID opening: 2 Dec 1972; New York opening: 21 Dec 1972; Los Angeles opening: 22 Dec 1972
Production Date:   began Sep 1970
Duration (in mins):   107-108 or 110
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Cast:   Robert Redford (Jeremiah Johnson)  
    Will Geer (Bear Claw [Chris Lapp])  
  And introducing Delle Bolton (Swan)  
    Josh Albee (Caleb)  
    Joaquin Martinez (Paints His Shirt Red)  
    Allyn Ann McLerie (Crazy woman)  
    Stefan Gierasch (Del Gue)  
    Richard Angarola (Chief Two-Tongues Lebeaux)  
    Paul Benedict (Reverend [Lundquist])  
    Charles Tyner (Robidoux)  
    Jack Colvin (Lieutenant Mulvey)  
    Matt Clark (Qualen)  

Summary: In the early 1800s, young, adventurous Jeremiah Johnson desires to live in the mountains of Utah. Hoping to live by trapping big game, Jeremiah struggles to master mountain life, battling freezing temperatures and a challenging terrain. One day, as he attempts to catch fish with his bare hands, Jeremiah turns to see an Indian watching him contemptuously. Although Jeremiah fears for his life, the Indian leaves silently. Soon after, he comes across the frozen corpse of Hatchet Jack, who has left a will pinned to his jacket bequeathing his first-class rifle to its next finder. Despite the rifle’s superior aim and accuracy, Jeremiah still labors to survive. One day, a man approaches him with his gun drawn. Introducing himself as Chris “Bear Claw” Lapp, the grizzled older man complains that Jeremiah is ruining his bear hunt by moving through the woods too loudly. Inviting Jeremiah to his cabin for food, Bear Claw traps him inside with a grizzly to test the younger man’s mettle. Impressed with his abilities, Bear Claw allows him to share his food and shelter, and over the next weeks teaches Jeremiah invaluable survival skills. One day, Jeremiah uses Bear Claw’s coaching to kill an elk. While they are returning home through Crow Indian territory, they are stopped by tribe members led by Paints His Shirt Red, whom Bear Claw identifies as a mighty warrior. Despite the fact that Bear Claw speaks the Crow language, the Indians are threatening until Jeremiah offers the freshly killed elk, earning Paints His Shirt Red’s grudging respect. Soon after, Jeremiah prepares to go out on his own, bidding goodbye to an unsentimental Bear Claw. Over the next months, he trades with Paints His Shirt Red and other tribes. Along his wanderings, he comes across a homestead where three sons lay dead in the field, recently killed by Indians. The mother, driven insane by grief, draws her rifle upon spotting him, but he calms her and helps to bury the boys. Returning to the cabin hours later, Jeremiah finds another young son alive, struck mute from the horrors he has witnessed. That night, as the mother screams in agony by the graves, Jeremiah tends to the boy and cooks them dinner. The next morning when he offers to take the pair to the ferry, the mother refuses to leave but insists that he take the boy with him. Although Jeremiah is loath to take him, he cannot leave the child behind, and so travels on with him, naming him Caleb. One day soon after, they spot a man buried up to his neck in the sandy dunes. The voluble man introduces himself as trapper Del Gue, who has shaved his head to save himself from scalping. Eager to retrieve his stolen horse and gun from the Blackfoot Indians who attacked him, Del Gue asks Jeremiah to help him, and they soon track the Indians to their camp. Unwilling to fight them, Jeremiah insists they wait until the men are asleep. They creep into the camp at night, but upon waking one man, Del Gue shoots all three and steals their collection of scalps. Furious, Jeremiah returns to Caleb, who is silently weeping in fear for Jeremiah’s life. The next day, another band of Indians surround them, but although Jeremiah and Caleb are fearful, they are peaceful Flatheads who have heard of the murder of the Blackfeet and assume Jeremiah is a powerful warrior. They are welcomed to the tribe by the chief, Two-Tongues Lebeaux, who is Christian and French-speaking. During their conference, Jeremiah misguidedly offers the Blackfeet horses and scalps, not realizing that now the chief is honor-bound to offer an ever better gift in return. When the chief gives Jeremiah his daughter, Swan, Del Gue informs the trapper that he must marry the girl or insult the tribe. Now saddled with a wife and child, neither of whom can communicate with him, Jeremiah is annoyed, but cares for the pair as they travel on together uneasily. It takes many days for Jeremiah and Swan, a devout Christian, to trust each other, but she is impressed by his ability to provide for them. While hunting, he spots an ideal site to build a house, and as they work together to erect a log cabin, the three grow into a close and loving family. Months later, a cavalry patrol appears, led by Lt. Mulvey and Reverend Lundquist, who are trying to rescue a homesteading wagon train that has broken down in the mountains, stranding the families. Mulvey asks Jeremiah to lead them through the mountains, and although Jeremiah is reluctant to leave Swan and Caleb, the reverend sanctimoniously induces him to help save the settlers. When the group comes upon a Crow burial ground at the pass, Jeremiah informs them they must bypass the burial ground and head east to the next pass, despite the time this will add to their trip. While the reverend sneers that Jeremiah cares more about the “savages” than the settlers, the lieutenant, knowing that the delay will imperil the settlers, determines to go on without Jeremiah’s help, forcing Jeremiah, who realizes Mulvey cannot survive without his leadership, to go along. As soon as they spot the wagons, however, Jeremiah turns back. Returning through the burial ground, he senses a disturbance and races home to find Swan and Caleb brutally murdered by vengeful Crow. Sick with grief, Jeremiah covers the bodies and burns the cabin down. For months he wanders aimlessly, killing any Crow he catches sight of, and in response the Crow determine to kill him, attacking continuously, one at a time. One day, he meets up with Del Gue, and that night when Jeremiah is once again attacked, the other trapper suggests that he leave the mountain. Now a true mountain man, Jeremiah refuses. Later, he once again comes upon Caleb’s mother’s house, and finds her dead and settlers inhabiting the cabin. They show him a monument the Crow have erected to Jeremiah on the property, and although Jeremiah assumes it is a grave, the father informs him it is more of a testament to his might. He spends years alone, scrabbling for existence and moving farther and farther up the mountain to escape the Crow. One day, Bear Claw finds him and greets him as if no time has passed. Realizing Jeremiah is lost and lonely, Bear Claw speaks to him gently and wishes him well. Soon after, Jeremiah meets Paints His Shirt Red. The two foes face each other, but soon the Indian raises his hand in a gesture of peace and respect. Jeremiah silently returns the salute. 

Production Company: Joe Wizan-Sanford Productions  
Production Text: A Sydney Pollack Film
Distribution Company: Warner Bros., Inc. (Warner Communications, Inc.)
Director: Sydney Pollack (Dir)
  Mike Moder (2d unit dir)
  Mike Moder (Asst dir)
Producer: Joe Wizan (Prod)
  John R. Coonan (Assoc prod)
  Mike Moder (Assoc prod)
Writer: John Milius (Scr)
  Edward Anhalt (Scr)
Photography: Duke Callaghan (Dir of photog)
  Joe Edesa (Gaffer)
Art Direction: Ted Haworth (Art dir)
Film Editor: Thomas Stanford (Film ed)
  Don Guidice (Asst ed)
  Carol Jackson (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Raymond Molyneaux (Set dec)
  Allan Levine (Prop master)
Music: John Rubinstein (Mus)
  Tim McIntire (Mus)
Sound: Charles Wilborn (Sd)
  Josef Von Stroheim (Sd eff)
  Mike Colgan (Sd eff)
Special Effects: Opticals West--N.S.S. (Opticals by)
  Phill Norman (Titles by)
Make Up: Gary Liddiard (Makeup)
  Ken Chase (Makeup)
  Lynn Del Kail (Hairstyling)
Production Misc: Lynn Stalmaster (Casting)
  Cinemobile Systems (Locs by)
  John R. Coonan (Prod mgr)
  Kenneth Lee (Livestock supv)
  John Arlee (Tech adv)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Theme from Jeremiah Johnson ," words and music by Tim McIntire and John Rubinstein; “Shall We Gather at the River," traditional.
Composer: Tim McIntire
  John Rubinstein
Source Text: Based on the novel Mountain Man: A Novel of Male and Female in the Early American West by Vardis Fisher (New York, 1965) and the book Crow Killer; The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker (Bloomington, IN, 1958).
Authors: Vardis Fisher
  Raymond W. Thorp
  Robert Bunker

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros., Inc. and Sanford Productions 4/9/1972 dd/mm/yyyy LP42584

PCA NO: 23082
Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: Panavision

Genre: Western
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): Indians of North America
  Mountain life
  Mountain men
Subjects (Minor): Bears
  French language
  Mental illness
  Mothers and sons
  Neglected children
  Survival skills
  Tribal chiefs
  United States. Army. Cavalry

Note: The working titles for the film were Crow Killer , The Mountain Man , The Saga of Jeremiah Johnson and The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson . The closing credits acknowledge the governor of Utah, the United States Department of the Interior, The National Park Service and The Bureau of Land Management for granting the filmmakers access to the Uinta National Forest, Wasatch National Forest, Ashley National Forest, Zion National Park and Snow Canyon State Park. Mike Moder’s credit reads: “Asst. director & 2nd unit director.” The film begins with a voice-over narrator describing "Jeremiah Johnson" as a young, adventurous mountain man.
       The character of Jeremiah Johnson was based largely on the man born John Garrison, who later changed his named John Johnston. Garrison (1824—1900) lived in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and Wyoming after deserting from the Navy. During the Civil War, he joined the Army but then returned to the West, working as a trader and trapper and finally attempting to start a Wild West show with Calamity Jane. After some months in the Old Soldiers Home in Sawtelle, now part of Los Angeles, he died penniless. Johnston spawned and perpetuated myriad myths about his life. Although he later denied it, historical sources state that he married a Flathead Indian woman, and after her murder at the hands of Crow Indians, spent years fighting and killing more than three hundred Crow warriors before eventually reconciling with the tribe. Accounts of his murderous ways and propensity for eating his victims’ livers abound and earned him the nicknames “Crow Killer” and “Liver-Eatin’ Johnston.”
       Jeremiah Johnson combines many details of Johnston’s legend with general facts about the life of mountain men in the early 19th century. The filmmakers gleaned information from two sources: Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker’s biographical book Crow Killer; The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson , and Vardis Fisher’s novel Mountain Man: A Novel of Male and Female in the Early American West , which relates the fictional story of fur trapper Sam Minard, who marries an Indian woman, and Kate Bowden, who is driven insane after witnessing Indians murdering her husband and children.
       In Apr 1968, DV announced that producer Sidney Beckerman had acquired the film rights to Thorp and Bunker’s book. By May 1970, as noted in HR , the book was acquired by Warner Bros., where John Milius was assigned to write the screen adaptation. At that time, DV noted that Francis Ford Coppola was set to direct the film.
       The following information was taken from modern sources: Redford first became interested in the project and, along with Sydney Pollack, bought Milius’ script. Pollack and Redford had met when both acted in the 1962 film War Hunt , Redford’s feature film debut (see below), and Pollack previously had directed Redford in This Property Is Condemned (1966, see below). Redford later went on to star in several more Pollack films, including 1973’s The Way We Were (see below) and 1985’s Out of Africa . Both men lived in Utah and were attracted to the mountain man mythology as well as the story’s Utah location. Concerned about the expense of shooting on location, however, Warner Bros. restricted the film’s budget to the cost of shooting on the studio lot, forcing Pollack to put up his own money to finance the production in Utah. The director stated in a Jun 1979 letter to the editor of LAT that the film cost $3.1 million. In addition to problems caused by inclement weather, Pollack and Redford struggled with the story and began filming with an unfinished script. Although legend stated that the Indian attack on Johnston’s family was arbitrary, Pollack and co-writer Edward Anhalt posed the attack in the film as revenge for Johnson desecrating the Crow burial ground, hence providing Johnson with a motivation for becoming the “Crow killer.”
       In Aug 1970, as noted in DV , the American Indian Movement charged that the film, then in pre-production, possibly was exploiting Indians and withdrew its cooperation in helping to find an actress to play “Swan.” That article named Otoe Indian Francine Scott as a technical advisor, but she is not listed in any other source. The technical advisor listed onscreen, John Arlee, was a Flathead Indian from Montana. The film marked the first motion picture score for actor-composer John Rubinstein, son of the famed pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Modern sources state that future country music singer Tanya Tucker made her debut in Jeremiah Johnson playing “Qualen’s daughter.”
       Filmfacts stated that, despite the fact that Jeremiah Johnson was shot before Redford’s 1972 film The Candidate (see above), Warner Bros. distributed The Candidate first to coincide with the 1972 elections. As noted in an Apr 1972 DV article, before its release, Jeremiah Johnson was labeled unacceptable by the American Humane Society because three animals were killed during production. When the film was shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival on 7 May 1972, Pollack was nominated for a Golden Palm award. The American premiere in Boise, ID on 2 Dec 1972 benefited the Vardis Fisher Memorial Fund, which presented young authors with cash awards and scholarships.
       The financially successful film received mostly positive reviews. However, as part of a scathing critique, New Yorker reviewer Pauline Kael stated that at the end of the film Redford’s character greeted the character of “Paints His Shirt Red” with an obscene gesture with his middle finger. No such gesture was seen in the print viewed. Redford remarked in a modern source that the gesture was completely misinterpreted and that Kael's comments seemed to him to be “farfetched and personal beyond the limits of responsible criticism.” Redford has described Jeremiah Johnson as his favorite of his own films.
       As noted in an Aug 2005 LAT feature, in 1974 Johnston’s remains were moved from Los Angeles to Cody, WY at the behest of a class of seventh-grade students in Lancaster, CA, who petitioned legislators and Veterans Affairs Administration officials for permission. Contemporary sources reported that Redford and Pollack attended the reburial ceremony.


Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   1 Jan 1973   Section A, p. 2.
Daily Variety   17 Apr 1968.   
Daily Variety   19 May 1970.   
Daily Variety   24 Aug 1970.   
Daily Variety   17 Apr 1972.   
Daily Variety   10 May 1972.   
Filmfacts   1972   pp. 561-64.
Hollywood Reporter   19 May 1970.   
Hollywood Reporter   27 Nov 1970.   
Hollywood Reporter   5 Dec 1972.   
Hollywood Reporter   13 Dec 1972   pp. 3-4.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   20 Dec 1972.   
Los Angeles Times   10 Dec 1972   Calendar, p. 1, 54.
Los Angeles Times   22 Dec 1972.   
Los Angeles Times   24 Jun 1979.   
Los Angeles Times   21 Aug 2005   Section B, p. 2.
New York Times   9 May 1972   p. 34.
New York Times   22 Dec 1972   p. 23.
New Yorker   30 Dec 1972.   
Newsweek   1 Jan 1973.   
Publishers Weekly   21 Sep 1970.   
The Saturday Evening Post   Winter 1972   pp. 78-79, 128, 131.
Variety   10 May 1972   p. 21.

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