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Story Notes for Jeremiah Johnson

Monday through Thursday, at 8PM | 7C, AMC presents Story Notes — real-time on-air trivia about your favorite movies. Tonight’s movie was Jeremiah Johnson.

Awards Note
Director Sydney Pollack was nominated for a Golden Palm after this movie screened at Cannes, in 1972.

Biography Notes
In 1972, when he made Jeremiah Johnson, Robert Redford was one of the biggest stars in the world. In just two years (1972-1973), he made The Candidate, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, and The Sting.

Redford is known for his active role as a wilderness conservationist. He says this mythic tale about a mountain man is exactly the movie he wanted to do.

Character actor Joaquín Martínez is actually Mexican, not Native American.

Redford is a horse lover and went on to make 1998’s Horse Whisperer.

Actor Will Geer is credited with discovering songwriter Woody Guthrie in a club in Tijuana.

Actress Allyn Ann McLerie is a Broadway singer and dancer. She also appeared in Pollack’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Josh Albee voiced the title character in the animated Oliver Twist.

At the time of filming, Redford had a son — Jaime — around the same age as Caleb.

This wasn’t Pollack’s first gritty Western. He also directed 1968’s Scalphunters, which proved to be a breakout success.

It may not seem like it, but Redford actually loves wolves. He even recorded a conservation album about them: The Language and Music of the Wolves.

Pollack and Redford have worked together on seven movies. They include Three Days of the Condor and another nature epic, Out of Africa.

Casting Notes
Character actor Stefan Gierasch has racked up over 100 screen appearances.

Actress Delle Bolton was the last of 200 Native American women to audition for the role of Swan.

Actor Jack Colvin went on to play reporter Jack McGee on The Incredible Hulk.

Actor Matt Clark was cast in many Westerns during the sixties and seventies.

Health Note
A person will die long before his or her body literally freezes. The record for the lowest body temperature an adult has survived is 56.7 degrees.

History Notes
The movie was based on two books: Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson and Mountain Man: A Novel of Male and Female in the Early American West. Crow Killer was about the real Johnson, John Garrison, a mountain trapper in the mid-1800s.

Trapping beaver pelts as a way to make money was at its peak in the early 1800s. By this point — sometime in the 1840s — the trend had started to wane.

McLerie’s character, Crazy Woman, is based on a real mother whose children were scalped. The Crazy Mountains of central Montana were named by the Crows in honor of her.

The Judith is a river that runs through central Montana. The Crows originally named it Plum River.

The Blackfoot tribe got their name because they wore dark-colored moccasins on their feet.

Ironically, Native Americans most likely learned the practice of scalping from Europeans.

The Flatheads were so named because their sign was to press both hands against the head.

Lewis and Clark were greeted peaceably by the Flatheads in 1805 as they entered their land.

Mountain men spoke a combination of frontier English, Spanish, and St. Louis French.

The Flathead language is called Salish and was spoken by many Native Americans in the West. It wasn’t uncommon to find Blackfeet, Crows, and Cree who all spoke Salish.

Mountain men usually ate nothing but meat, so grain-based food would be foreign to Johnson.

Mountain men usually used oak, pine, chestnut, or cedar trees for log cabins.

Over the last 100 years, there have been only two fatal wolf attacks on humans in North America. They usually attack their prey from behind.

The United States went to war with Mexico in the spring of 1846. In 1848, Mexico surrendered large amounts of land that would eventually become California.

There were two main forms of burial for Crows: placing the dead in the fork of a tree or on a scaffold of four forked poles.

Despite their burial rituals, Crows weren’t particularly interested in the afterlife. Crows did believe in spirits and ghosts though.

Crows were buried with their feet pointed toward the East.

The Crows consider it a great honor to die in battle.

The real-life Jeremiah Johnson was known for eating his victims’ livers after killing them. That earned him the nickname “Liver-Eating” Johnson.

A man’s record as a warrior meant everything in Crow society.

A Crow would generally attack on foot instead of horseback. If victorious, he would ride away on his enemy’s horse.

The real Johnson was rumored to have killed over 300 Crows.

How-to Notes
With experience, an ax, and a few horses, a log cabin can be constructed in a single day.

To sew a buffalo-skin coat, Swan would have used slivers of bone as needles and sinew as thread.

To properly lay a beaver trap, it needs to be completely submerged in a body of water.

Location Notes
Redford fought to have the movie filmed in Utah, but the studio wanted an L.A. soundstage. Pollack put up his own money to make up the difference to film on location.

Art director Ted Haworth drove over 26,000 miles to find the movie’s locations.

The movie used over 100 locations throughout 600 miles of the Utah wilderness. Redford often acted as a tour guide, and some scenes were actually on his property.

Redford refused to do the movie if it wasn’t made in Utah. He later went on to form the Sundance Film Festival in the mountains of Park City.

Music Notes
This was the first movie score of John Rubinstein, son of famed pianist Arthur Rubinstein.

Plot Notes
Johnson learns everything he can from the Native Americans. Like them, he also depends completely on the land.

Starting with the word “yes” bodes well for Johnson and Swan’s relationship.

Notice how Johnson’s behavior changes as he grows closer to his family. Earlier in the story, his only focus was on survival.

Notice that Johnson never answers the question about the Crows.

Quotation Notes
Pollack: “There are all sorts of stories about these guys and the hardships they went through, guys that crawled for miles and miles with their backs torn open from grizzly-bear claws.”

Pollack: “I think Redford might have been a mountain man if he lived at that time. He spends hours alone just wandering into back areas and unexplored places.”

Pollack says Redford directed the pacing: “He became another kind of actor, far more internal.”

Robert Pirsig says Redford’s appeal as an actor is his “inscrutable silence.”

Pollack: in the original script, Johnson was a “Paul Bunyan type who ate trees.”

Redford says he moved to Utah because “there’s plenty of room to roam and be alone with nature.”

Redford: “We re-created a way of life that real people lived in these real mountains. You learn by immersing yourself in their reality.”

Pollack says this is one of the most “purely visual films” he’s ever made.

Redford: “You don’t act in a movie like Jeremiah Johnson. It becomes an experience into which you fit and flow.”

Redford said he liked the “tough stuff”: “Half the fun of making movies is doing the action scenes. Anyone can say the words.”

New Yorker critic Pauline Kael said that Johnson celebrates “tooth-and-claw revenge.”

Redford on playing Johnson: “It was grueling, and I was changed by it.” His work paid off though. The movie was a critical and commercial success.

Pollack on filming: “You’d watch dailies and everybody’d fall asleep. All you had were these big shots of a guy walking his horse through the snow.”

Script Note
Pollack spent his career dramatizing relationships between men and women. He says, “It’s a metaphor for everything else in life.”

Set Notes
Pollack says it took him over two weeks to photograph the sequence with an actual 600-pound grizzly bear.

Redford worked a lot behind the scenes. Pollock says he was always “riding snowmobiles and digging us out and laboring.”

Pollack hired actual Native Americans from northern Utah.

Bolton was coached by a Flathead on how to act as a chief’s daughter and a mountain man’s wife.

Redford often did his own stunts but still paid the stunt guild so he didn’t put anyone out of work.

During some of the winter filming, temperatures dropped to 25 degrees below zero. The crew used mobile mini-studios to film in the harsh conditions.

Symbolism Note
Bear Claw represents Johnson’s mentor and spiritual leader. That’s why he calls him “pilgrim.”

Tech Note
Pollack uses quick edits and then music to emphasize Johnson’s fear.

Trivia Notes
Grizzly-bear meat is considered gamy and greasy.

Johnson sleeps on a homemade bed warmer of hot coals covered in dirt.

Elk meat is considered venison. The official definition of “venison” is the “edible flesh of a game animal.”

The best beaver pelts are called “plew.” A high-quality plew could fetch up to $6 in the 1840s.

A topknot was a common haircut for Native Americans at the time. It’s a bun worn on the top of the head.

This is Redford’s first film role with a beard. He sports a mustache in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

A lodgepole is a type of pine tree that Native Americans used as the center pole in a tepee.

The movie was originally going to be made by Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah.

The average beard grows about half an inch every month.

Beaver scent is used to flavor a variety of foods, like vanilla ice cream and chewing gum. It’s usually listed as “natural flavoring.”

Redford has described Jeremiah Johnson as his favorite of all his movies. He likes that Johnson suffers but he continues on.

After this movie, Gierasch appeared in Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

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