Sydney Pollack's 1972 western "Jeremiah Johnson" boasts a screenplay by John Milius and Edward Anhalt. The two based their screenplay on the story "Crow Killer" by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker, as well as the novel "Mountain Man" by Vardis Fisher. The film stars Robert Redford as the title character, who's based on the real-life frontiersman Liver-Eating Johnson.
"Jeremiah Johnson" opens with Johnson (Robert Redford) venturing out into the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains, hunting animals and living off the land. As winter comes around, Johnson experiences great difficulty building fires and catching fish, then finds the frozen corpse of another explorer, whose last written words bequeath a powerful rifle to Johnson. Soon he meets a living mountain man named Bear Claw (Will Geer), who chastises him for ruining his hunt for grizzly bears, then welcomes him into his home and teaches him how to properly live off the land. During his training, they meet the Crow Indian named Paints His Shirt Red (Joaquín Martínez).
Johnson embarks on his own, coming across a woman (Allyn Ann McLerie) and her son (Josh Albee) whose companions have been murdered by Blackfoot Indians. The woman forces Johnson to take her traumatized son, whom Johnson names Caleb. Soon they come across someone else whom the Blackfoot have wronged: Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch), whom the Indians robbed and buried in the ground all the way to his neck. Del Gue and Johnson sneak into a Blackfoot camp, kill several Indians and steal their horses as well as their scalps.
After leaving the Blackfoot, Johnson, Caleb and Del Gue run into Flathead Indians. Johnson offers them the horses and scalps as a gift. Flathead culture involves responding by offering a better gift, so Flathead Chief Two-Tongues Lebeaux (Richard Angarola) offers his own daughter, Swan (Delle Bolton), to Johnson. The two get married, Del Gue leaves and the newlyweds live with Caleb in a house that Johnson built. Life is quiet until a group of U.S. soldiers persuade Johnson to lead them to a lost wagon. Because their path takes them through a Crow burial ground, the Crow Indians attack Johnson's family, killing them.
Johnson kills the Crows that murdered his family, leaving a single survivor to tell the tale. Word travels around and the Crow continually send out forces to kill Johnson to little avail. Soon, Johnson meets Del Gue once again, who tells him of his infamy, and visits Caleb's mother, only to find out that she's died and other people are living in that house. Johnson then reunites with Bear Claw, who remarks at how much Johnson has advanced.
Paints His Shirt Red
After leaving Bear Claw, Johnson runs into Paints His Shirt Red a final time. Johnson means to shoot him, but the Indian raises an empty hand as a peaceful sign. Rather than gun down his foe, Johnson responds in kind.
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