Blogs, Book vs. Movie, Crow Killer, Jeremiah Johnson, Liver-Eating Johnson, Robert Redford, Static in the Airwaves, Stefan Gierasch, Sydney Pollack, Tim L O'Brien
“Some say he’s dead…some say he never will be”
Welcome to Come Monday where on my blog where we celebrate the joys of reading. Today marks the third week of Book vs. Movie. Today my choice is a little more obscure and off the beaten path. Far off the beaten path, and high up into the mountains. A trip back in time to the days of fur trappers, mountain men and the old west.
In the first two weeks of this series, we discussed books and movies by the same name, which were extremely successful and popular during the time of release. To Kill a Mockingbird and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are works that transformed from book to movie with overwhelming success. I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s guest blogger Samantha Warren.
Today’s pick was a popular movie in its time, but the book went relatively unknown.
From the moment I saw Jeremiah Johnson in the movie theater as a young boy I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up – a mountain man! The great outdoors, the mountains, hunting, fur trapping, log cabins and danger behind every mountain pass. Bear claw necklaces, winter coats made of different animal hides, leather fringed pants and knee-high moccasins. What was there for a young lad not to like? If there were a heaven to be found it was somewhere high up in the Rocky Mountains.
The book Crow Killer The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker was first published by the Indiana University Press in 1958. The story is a biography of a relatively unknown Rocky Mountain trapper and Indian fighter in the mid-nineteenth century told and retold by word-of-mouth sources. It’s part folklore, part mythology.
The story of John Johnson, the eater of Crow Indian livers, begins with the scalping of his Flathead wife by Crow Indians in 1847. The story follows his revenge and the Crows attempted retaliation in the ensuing decades. It is the personal history of Liver-Eating Johnson from 1847 until his death in 1900 told to the author from oral legend. The oral accounts came from “Del” Gue who trapped with Johnson and another mountain man White-Eye Anderson. I imagine Gue and Anderson had a ‘good time’ with the author, telling tall tales and pulling the writers leg where ever possible. They claimed Johnson killed close to 300 Crows and ate their livers. I have no doubt the feud between Johnson and the Crows is historically accurate. Killing 300 Crows and eating every liver? Sounds like a tall tale from the old west. At least, I hope so.
Many years after seeing the movie, and realizing I would never become a mountain man, I read the book. I enjoyed revisiting the accounts from my childhood hero, fictional or not, did not matter too much to me. The book is an engaging look back into our history, of the westward movement through the frontier, and of a rugged, individual who took survival of the fittest to the extreme.
The movie starring Robert Redford as “Jeremiah” Johnson was released in May, 1972. The movie was filmed in Utah and directed by Sydney Pollack, who also directed famed movies such as The Way We Were, Absence of Malice, Tootsie and The Firm.
The most immediate and notable difference with the book is the renaming of John “Liver-Eating” Johnson to simply Jeremiah Johnson. In the movie version Redford is never referred to as John or Liver-Eating Johnson. Many of Johnson’s exploits in the movie follow the book closely, whereas many other scenes are sensationalized by Hollywood. Hard to argue against following a book, based on oral histories.
As “Del” Gue is credited by the author for his part in the oral telling of the story, actor Stefan Gierasch does an excellent and colorful job of playing Gue in the movie. Will Geer portrays “Bear Claw” an experienced mountain man and ‘grizz’ hunter who occasionally shows up and shares a campfire and his wisdom with Jeremiah.
Pollack does a terrific job of capturing the beauty and ruggedness of the mountains in Utah. The casting of Redford as Johnson was a wise choice (it was rumored that Clint Eastwood was originally offered the part). Redford has always listed this movie as one of his favorites and most influential to him. Parts of the movie were filmed near his ranch in Utah.
The movie remains an all-time favorite for me. Whenever the weather takes a turn for the worse, on those cold and snowy days, I find myself popping the dvd in and reliving my dreams to become a mountain man. For those interested in the history of the frontier, and of more infamous mountain men like Jim Bridger, this is a powerful retelling of that time in our history when the west had yet to be civilized.
I loved that movie! Great review~
You should check out the book as well. Much more information and character details about the real John Johnson. They could remake the movie and base it closer to the book (like the True Grit remake) but I have no idea who could replace Redford.
Fabio Bueno said:
I didn’t know it was based on a book. I watched it when I was a teen (a city kid), and those snowy landscapes were as alien to me as the Hoth planet in Star Wars. And the slow pace actually drew me in. Very good movie.
There was something about man vs wild that really made an impression on me when I saw this at the theater. Growing up in Houston, we had no winters and obviously no mountains. The mountains are still a favorite family destination for us.
Karen McFarland said:
I had no idea that the movie Jeremiah Johnson came from that book. Good thing they didn’t follow everthing from the book or I wouldn’t have been able to watch it except for Robert Redford of course. Yuck. Don’t think I could get through the book Tim unless they have a Reader’s Digest version. LOL. 🙂
The book wasn’t quite as graphic as you would imagine. Plus, I think a great deal of the tales told to the author were slightly exaggerated!
Sheila Seabrook said:
I’ve seen the movie but never read the book. Thanks for the wonderful comparison, Tim. 🙂
Thank you Sheila!
August McLaughlin said:
Love the series and themes you have going, Tim. This post is another goodie! Adding the film to my instant queue shortly. It’s cold and rainy in L.A. (well, L.A.-style cold… ;)) so a cozy show sounds perfect.
This is the perfect movie for a grey yucky weather day…
Louise Behiel said:
I’ve seen the movie (it’s a Redford, after all) and loved it. thanks for the comparison to the book.
I take it you’re a big Redford fan Louise. I love all the Clint Eastwood westerns put I can’t see Eastwood playing Jeremiah Johnson. I thought Redford was perfect, although he had to lobby hard to get the part.
This is one of my hubby’s favorite movies. I don’t know if he’s ever read the book I’ll have to check.
Dorman Nelson said:
Funny how the tall tales follow a person and seem to live on. The real Johnston was very interesting and has been noted in newspapers since 1876. What’s funnier still is Clint Eastwood is actually related to Johnston on the Garrison side of Johnston’s father’s. The movie is great with great and most interesting individuals. The book Crow Killer is really tall tales with some of the episodes performed by other historical figures such as Boone Helm and the frozen leg journey. I wrote a review of the book on
Amazon. See my site. http://Www.johnlivereatingjohnston.com
Dennis McLelland said:
Anyone wanting the true story of the life of Johnston is invited to visit my website which features 3 books I’ve written about Johnston, as well as several interesting photographs. http://www.liver-eating-johnston.com