Tag Archives: Robert Redford

In Memory of Stefan Gierasch

13 Jan

The latest edition of Cowboys & Indians magazine has arrived with sad news. September saw the death of Stefan Gierasch, who played Del Gue in Jeremiah Johnson.Stefan

Gierasch created a great representation of mountain men as he showed Robert Redford the ways of survival in the mountains. At the end of the movie, Del and Jeremiah were saying their goodbyes, and Gierasch spoke the lines that epitomize the thinking of mountain men – both real and imagined. He said:

Ain’t this somethin’? I told my pap and mam I was comin’ to the mountains to trap and be a mountain man; acted like they was gut-shot. Says, “Son, make your life go here, son. Here’s where the peoples is. Them mountains is for animals and savages.” I says, “Mother Gue, the Rocky Mountains is the marrow of the world,” and by God, I was right.

As the two men parted ways, he continued:

I ain’t never seen ’em, but my common sense tells me the Andes is foothills, and the Alps is for children to climb! Keep good care of your hair! These here is God’s finest scupturings! And there ain’t no laws for the brave ones! And there ain’t no asylums for the crazy ones! And there ain’t no churches, except for this right here! And there ain’t no priests excepting the birds. By God, I are a mountain man, and I’ll live ’til an arrow or a bullet finds me. And then I’ll leave my bones on this great map of the magnificent…

Geirasch appeared in several productions that I have watched – The Hustler, High Plains Drifter, Carrie, Silver Streak, and The Champ. However, he will live in my mind as the crusty mountain man, Del Gue.

Rest in Peace, Stefan Gierasch. As Del Gue, you said, “I decided that when I depart from this life I’d like to leave something.” You left a great performance in one of the great movies.

They Say He Wanted to Be a Mountain Man

17 Mar

Jeremiah Johnson is one of my all-time favorite movies. I have watched it so many times that I know what the characters are going to say before they say it. The movie is great on many levels. It has a great story, great scenery and great music. It is the music part that inspired this post.

I have wanted to soundtrack for a long time, but everything I have found is lacking. The music is there but not the words. To me, the narration of Jeremiah Johnson is one of the vital aspects of the movie. The music without the words is missing something.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a copy of the original soundtrack on the Internet and ordered it immediately. Honestly, I paid too much, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made. A few days ago, the CD arrived.image

It is more awesome than I thought it would be. It has music, narration and dialogue. Now, I can turn on the old iPod and hear Jeremiah and Bear Claw talking over the spit. Never fear, all of this great stuff has already been uploaded onto the iPod.

The liner notes are also cool and contain details about the people who were involved in the making of the film. There is one part of it that I found very interesting. Some of the people involved felt that Robert Redford played the character in too spiritual of a fashion, and that is something that I have also felt.

A mountain man had a job to do, and that job was to kill animals for large fur companies. They were not there to become one with nature. In Jeremiah Johnson, the main character does a lot of soul-searching and little trapping. He was also a loner, and, from what I have read, mountain men worked in groups.

I have also read that the character of Jeremiah Johnson was based on John “Liver-Eating” Johnson, a mountain man who killed Native Americans to avenge the murder of his wife. As the story goes, he cut out and ate the liver of everyone he killed.

The real Johnson is buried in Cody, Wyoming, and, when I was a kid, we visited his gravesite.

Jeremiah Johnson misses out on a lot of historical accuracy, but it is still a great movie. It may not be accurate, but it is entertaining. That is what I expect from a movie. Oh, there is one final thing. As Del Gue says, “Keep your nose in the wind and your eye along the skyline.”

Listeria – Western Actors Edition

24 Oct

I know that this edition of Listeria is coming along soon after the last edition of Listeria, but I went overboard on my last trip to the magazine stand. Besides, this one covers one of my favorite subjects – Western movies. I grew up watching them with my dad, and that experience played a role in my interest in the history of the West.

American Cowboy published a special issue called “Legends of Western Cinema” and listed the 20 greatest Western actors. However, there is one problem that needs to be addressed before I begin. When people think about Westerns, or the history of the West, they think about cowboys first. Some of the greatest Westerns don’t involve cowboys at all. They involve mountain men, Native Americans, cavalry and all sorts of characters. In the real West, not everyone were cowboys. A good way to see this? If there are no cows around, then there are probably no cowboys around.

The rant is over, so here we go with the list. These are the 20 greatest Western actors according to American Cowboy in the order that they have listed. I will list my favorite movie of each and add the actors that I believe should be included.

John Wayne – The Searchers

Gary Cooper – High Noon

James Stewart – The Far Country

Henry Fonda – Once Upon a Time in the West

Clint Eastwood – The Outlaw Josey Wales

Steve McQueen – The Magnificent Seven

Kirk Douglas – There Was a Crooked Man

Robert Duvall – Open Range

Ben Johnson – She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Lee Marvin – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Sam Elliott – Tombstone

Tom Selleck – Quigley Down Under

Charles Bronson – Once Upon a Time in the West

Woody Strode – Sergeant Rutledge

Gregory Peck – The Gunfighter

Paul Newman – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Tom Mix – Riders of the Purple Sage

Glenn Ford – 3:10 to Yuma

Tommy Lee Jones – No Country For Old Men

James Garner – Duel at Diablo

That’s the Top 20. I could name a bunch that belong on the list, but I will limit myself to five.

Randolph Scott – Ride the High Country

Kevin Costner – Silverado

Robert Mitchum – Five Card Stud

Robert Redford – Jeremiah Johnson

Richard Widmark – Broken Lance

There is the list. Who else should be included? Who should be omitted? What are your favorite movies? Let me know.

Your Assignment…Should You Choose to Accept

27 Jan

This semester I have the good fortune of teaching my favorite class, a history of the American West. This is my major area of study, and I get a kick out of talking about all of the things I have researched and written about. However, it needs to be fun for the students as well. I believe that many historians do a wonderful job of making an interesting topic as boring as possible, and I attempt the opposite. History is fun for me, and I want the students to have the same experience.

Several years ago, I developed something that the students call the “Movie Assignment”. They watch a movie based within the time period we are discussing and compare it to actual events. The scenery and action of the films provide them with a visual clue of what may have been like, and the story often gives them an idea of life itself. Obviously, not all movies are appropriate for this type of activity. Pearl Harbor may have been the dumbest plot ever written. Therefore, World War II class did not get the option to watch it. They got movies with deeper meanings and more of a foundation in reality.

In the American West, students have the pleasure of watching films from my favorite genre. Except, there is a different aspect to the assignment. Western settings have long been used to offer more contemporary lessons. Think of it as the Mt. Olympus of the United States. It is the place with myths are made, and flawed heroes face decisions with no correct answers. To get the students on the right path, I recently assigned each of them a movie to watch. We haven’t discussed what they should look for because I want them to watch the movies for enjoyment first. This post lists the movies and why I chose them. If you get the chance to watch them, then perhaps these are things you can look for.

1. Rango– I know, it’s a cartoon. However, it pays homage to westerns throughout the decades. Watching closely, you can pick up small details that bring to mind the great western movies and western actors. Besides, how can a movie be bad when “The Man With No Name” shows up as the Spirit of the West. I only that the original “Man With No Name” could have been used to voice the character.

2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – “This is the West, sir. When legend becomes fact, print the legend.” One of the great lines in western history and an statement that describes how difficult it is for historians to dig through the legend to get to the fact. This film is filled with symbolism, as each character represents an aspect of the “taming of the frontier” experience.

3. Fort Apache – The second John Ford/John Wayne movie on the list (TMWSLV was the first), this is one of the first movies to show Native Americans in a positive light. It takes real battles of the Indian Wars and combines them into a fictional one. In the process, it shows the misguided policies of the United States toward native peoples. This could be relavent for a lot of times in history – Indian Wars, Vietnam War, Gulf War.

4. The Searchers – The third John Ford/ John Wayne installment (I promise that they don’t make up the entire list) is an epic about a man searching for his niece, who was kidnapped by Indians. It shows his maniacal racism toward these people and how it increases throughout the film. Most of the underlying currents were missed by the audiences of the time, but they come to light as the years pass.

5. The Magnificent Seven – A remake of the Japanese film, The Seven Samurai, this movie was had a compliation cast of stars in an action packed adventure. However, many don’t realize that the original Japanese film was a western placed in a different time and place. So, a western copied a foreign film that copied a western storyline. This shows that the themes of the western genre are actually universal.

6. Dances With Wolves – The Kevin Costner movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture. did you know it’s more popular “remake” lost the same award? Avatar has made more money than any movie in history, but it should be renamed to Dances With Aliens. It’s the same storyline. Watch them back to back and see what I mean. This shows that the western never disappeared. It simply got better graphics and tuend into Sci-Fi. For example, Gene Roddenberry was a writer for Wagon Train when he pitched Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the stars”. And , can’t you picture the black-hatted darth vader as a cattle baron building his empire on the backs of settlers (before the later movies became some convuluted political statement)? Also, when Luke returns to find his uncle’s homestead burning, it reflects Ethan Edwards returning to find his brother’s homestead burning in The Searchers.

7. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid – Sam Peckipah uses this movie to depict his idea of the destruction of the American west. Look at all of the western character actors that are killed or shown in stages of degeneration. Peckinpah’s version of western history is inaccurate, but his portrayal of the disappearing frontier is poignant. Plus, Slim Pickens dies with Bob Dylan singing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. The best dying scene ever.

8. The Outlaw Josey Wales – There should be a law that says everyone has to watch this movie once a year. Josey sees his life ripped apart by the ravages of war. In response, he becomes a gunfighter to reap revenge on those who killed his family. Along the way, he picks up a surrogate family of people who have seen their lives destroyed by violence and hardship. It turns out that the “loner” isn’t alone after all. Filmed in the mid-1970s, the Civil War and its aftermath can easily be seen as the Vietnam War.

9. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – An attempt to depict the plight of Native Americans as they saw their lifestyle and land taken away. It is a noble attempt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of inaccuracies. The Native American story needs to be told and can be told in an accurate and informative way. This movie, in an attempt to tell the other side of the story, goes to far the other direction. As in all conflicts and clashes of cultures, there are good and bad people on both sides. Portraying that inaccurately takes the meaning away from all of them. On top of that, the portrayal of the Battle of Little Big Horn is shameful.

10. High Noon – This movie is not exciting at all. And, I cringed each time I see the sheriff ask for help. However, there is a reason he does. This movie places real life events in another setting as the sheriff represents those victimized by the House on Un-American Activities Committee that was led by Joseph McCarthy. Audiences of the time would never watcha movie about a supposed communist, but they would watch a movie about a sheriff in trouble.

11. Jeremiah Johnson – Based on an actual mountain man, Robert Redford shows the harshness of life as a Rocky Mountains trapper. There are accuracies and inaccuracies, but the overall story is true to the experience. The scenery is fantastic and the dialogue is witty and appropriate. Under the current, you find the story of a man who tries to run away from civilization only to find that it is never far away.

12. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – A western about the Civil War in New Mexico that was filmed in Europe. What else can I say? When it came out, many movie critics panned it because everyone knows that the Civil War took place in the east. Wrong. It is based on a reall mission to capture what is now New Mexico. This movie shows how westerns influenced film makers in other countries and how they, in turn, influenced the genre and the view on the region’s history. Also, the musical score is the best of any western ever. And, an American didn’t compose it. Weird for those people who believe the west is all about independence and the American ideal. It wasn’t about that at all.

So, there is the list for my students. Can you think of any other movies I should have used instead? Do you think my students will stumble upon this in their research. If they ever get away from Wikipedia that is.