Robert Redford and Will Geer in Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Vardis Fisher’s Mountain Man

Jeremiah Johnson is based on two works of literature: the 1965 Vardis Fisher novel Mountain Man and the story “Crow Killer” by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. A native of Idaho, Vardis Fisher (1895-1968) had based his novel’s main character, Sam Minard, on the real-life 19th century mountain man, John “Liver-Eatin'” Johnston.

John Milius, Edward Anhalt and David Rayfiel wrote the screenplay for Sanford Productions and Warner Bros. Pictures. Sydney Pollack (1934-2008) – an Oscar winner for 1985’s majestic Out of Africa – directed. Tim McIntire and John Rubinstein created the movie’s decidedly rustic music score, with McIntire singing the title song, “The Ballad of Jeremiah Johnson.”

Robert Redford Heads Jeremiah Johnson Cast

Robert Redford stars as Jeremiah Johnson. Other players include Will Geer (Bear Claw Chris Lapp), Stefan Gierasch (Del Gue), Delle Bolton (Swan), Joaquin Martinez (Paints His Shirt Red), Josh Albee (Caleb), Allyn Ann McLerie (Crazy Woman), Richard Angarola (Chief Two-Tongues Lebeaux), Paul Benedict (Reverend Lindquist), Charles Tyner (Robidoux), Jack Colvin (Lieutenant Mulvey), Matt Clark (Qualen) and Tanya Tucker (Qualen’s Daughter).

Jeremiah Johnson Filmed in Utah

Jeremiah Johnson, which features some of the most spectacular scenery every to appear on film, was shot on location in Utah. Among the locations used were Wasatch-Cache National Forest (Salt Lake City), Zion National Park (Springdale), Ashley National Forest (Vernal), Snow Canyon State Park (Ivins), Uinta National Forest (Provo) and Sundance Ski Resort.

Filming at altitudes of 12,000 feet proved difficult, as both cast and crew struggled to breathe in the thin, oxygen-deprived air. Director Sydney Pollack made good use of the trolley-mounted camera, especially during the movie’s many action sequences.

Jeremiah Johnson: Mountain Man Movie

Jeremiah Johnson opens in a river town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the 1840s. Jeremiah Johnson, an ex-soldier still partially clad in his blue uniform, prepares for a new life as a hunter, trapper and mountain man.

The neophyte Jeremiah, who pries a coveted .50 caliber Hawken rifle from the frozen body of one Hatchet Jack, barely survives his first few days in the mountains. Taking pity on him is Bear Claw, a veteran mountain man with a penchant for hunting grizzly bear, who teaches the “dumb Pilgrim” the ways of the wilderness.

Jeremiah happens on the scene of a grisly Indian massacre at a settler’s cabin. After burying the dead, the crazed woman whose family was slaughtered presents Jeremiah with her young son, who is unable to speak because of the horrors he witnessed.

Jeremiah and the boy, now called Caleb, meet up with Del Gue, a bald-headed mountain man who collects scalps from his slain enemies, most notably Blackfeet warriors. A Flathead Indian chief named Two-Tongues Lebeaux later gifts Jeremiah with his daughter, Swan, believing that Jeremiah was the great killer of the Blackfeet.

Following a mission of mercy to rescue a stranded wagon train in the snowy mountains, Jeremiah returns to his cabin to find his Indian wife and adopted son murdered by a Crow raiding party. Consumed with rage, Jeremiah embarks on a personal vendetta, resulting in a series of bloody confrontations where he becomes both the hunter and the hunted.

Jeremiah Johnson Premieres at Cannes Film Festival

Originally titled The Crow Killer, Jeremiah Johnson debuted at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May 1972. The picture later opened at New York City’s Loew’s Tower East Theater on December 21, 1972. Warner Bros. had delayed the general release of Jeremiah Johnson until late 1972 and early 1973. The studio’s other Robert Redford film, The Candidate, was given priority in order to capitalize on the 1972 U.S. presidential election.

“Fable, legend, pastoral, Jeremiah Johnson is about the time-tested story favorite, the making of a hero,” reported Foster Hirsch of The Village Voice (1/18/73).

“Watching Robert Redford learn the ways of the forest for 90 minutes and then slaughter Indians for the concluding 20 is not my idea of a good, enlightening, or novel time at the movies,” observed Gary Arnold of The Washington Post (12/27/72).

Jeremiah Johnson graced several prominent critics’ best ten movie lists for 1972, including Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic, Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times and Paine Knickerbocker of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jeremiah Johnson Box Office, Movie Memorabilia, DVD

  • Jeremiah Johnson grossed $21.9 million at the American box office, good for the #5 position on the list of the top moneymaking films of 1972.
  • Auction results for Jeremiah Johnson movie posters and memorabilia, courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries: one sheet poster style A ($33), one sheet poster style C ($27), half sheet poster ($40), Polish one sheet poster ($39), insert poster ($31), set of eight lobby cards ($65.73).
  • On DVD: Jeremiah Johnson (Warner, 1997).

“Great hunter. Yes? Fine figure of a man. Yes?” Jeremiah humorously queries, referring to himself as he teaches his Indian wife English.

Jeremiah Johnson. Fine motion picture? Yes!