Legends of the Fall

  • Directors: Edward Zwick
  • Producers: Marshall Herskovitz, William D Wittliff, Edward Zwick
  • Writers: Jim Harrison, Susan Shilliday, William D Wittliff
  • Genres: Drama, Romance, War, Western
  • Actors: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Henry Thomas

Colonel William Ludlow, sick of the betrayals the United States government has perpetrated on the Native Americans, retires with One Stab, a Native American friend and narrator of the film, along with his hired hand Decker, Decker’s Cree wife, Pet, and their young daughter, Isabel Two, to a remote part of Montana, where he builds a ranch. His wife, Isabel, does not adapt well to the harsh winters and leaves for the East Coast. Colonel Ludlow has three sons: Alfred, the eldest, is responsible and cautious; Tristan is wild and well versed in American Indian traditions; Samuel, the youngest, is educated but naive and is constantly watched over by his brothers.

At age 12, Tristan tries to sneak up and touch a sleeping grizzly bear. The bear awakes and slashes at him, injuring him, but he stabs at the bear’s paw and manages to cut off a claw. The bear limps away.

As the boys grow up, Samuel returns from Harvard with his fiancée, Susannah Fincannon. She finds Tristan’s wild charisma captivating, and she is conflicted over this because she loves Samuel. Before the two can marry, Samuel abruptly tells his family he is leaving for Calgary to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and serve The British Empire in the fight against Imperial Germany. Much to their father’s displeasure, Alfred and Tristan go off to war with him.

Tristan finally returns from his world travels during Prohibition, bringing life back to the ranch and his father. He accepts Susannah’s marriage to Alfred, falls in love with and marries Isabel Two, and they have two children. Life seems to settle into an air of normality as Tristan finds solace in his young wife and children. During Prohibition, Tristan becomes involved in small-scale smuggling bootleg liquor and finds himself at odds with the O’Banion brothers, who are also bootleggers. Tristan’s wife is accidentally killed by a corrupt police officer working for the O’Banions and in a fit of agonized grief, Tristan beats the officer to near death and has to plead guilty and serve 30 days in jail. Susannah visits, but Tristan refuses her advances and insists she “go home to Alfred,” her rightful husband. After his release from jail, Tristan and his father-in-law Decker kill those responsible for Isabel Two’s death, including one of the O’Banion brothers. Susannah then commits suicide out of guilt and inner conflicts. When the remaining O’Banion brother comes for Tristan, he and the corrupt Sheriff are shot and killed by Colonel Ludlow and Alfred as Tristan attempts to protect his father. Alfred is finally forgiven by, and reunited with, his father and brother. Tristan, knowing he will be blamed for the men’s disappearance, leaves for the mountain country after asking Alfred to watch over his children. The film skips ahead, showing a rundown cemetery with the gravestones of everyone in Tristan’s life, all who died before him. The movie ends with Tristan as an old man fighting a grizzly bear which is missing a claw. As One Stab says, ‘It was a good death.”

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