by Miss Elliot
“And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride…”
~ The Man From Snowy River (the poem), by A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Where do I begin? This movie is one of the best ever made. The music, the horses, the riding, the characters, everything. So, I am going to try to do justice to it by being clear and un-squealy. (But really, since when do you do justice to a movie by not squealing?) There will be spoilers. This is the kind of movie that cannot be described without spoilers.
This review is kind of in honor of any Aussie blog readers who stumble across this post. Hope you have a good time reading it, mates. And say hello to the brumbies for me. Cheers!
Sorry about the millions of pictures. I kinda didn’t know where to stop…
All right, to start with the characters (by the way, all these great pictures except the one above come from Cap-That.com, which has been really helpful):
Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) Jim is a young man trying to prove himself to be just that: a man. He’s impetuous. Naive, at times. He’s got determination and
wears the best hats anyone ever saw knows how to tie knots like nobody’s business. But more than that, he has a sense of right and wrong given to him by his father-and he’s a good horseman.
Spur (Kirk Douglas) Spur lives in a shanty on a hill, where he’s been looking for gold for at least twenty years. He’s rugged, tough, and has only one leg. He certainly is a character – yelling at the walls of his mine one minute, flirting with cooks the next. But beneath his crusty exterior, he’s got a heart of gold – and he delivers some of the funniest lines in the movie: “Sure, and on foot, too!” “Don’t throw effort after foolishness.” “Well, I don’t always eat wallaby, son!” “I’ll kill the fatted calf! Come to think of it, I already have!”
Jessica Harrison (Sigrid Thornton) Jessica would rather be out foaling mares and riding her horse than playing the piano inside. She’s beautiful; she’s feisty. She’s rather touchy. She has a fierce, passionate spirit. I would almost go as far as to say that this movie, while obviously centered around Jim’s proving himself a man (as you might have guessed from the title), is about Jessica’s stormy nature contending against others’ stormy natures as well.
Harrison (Kirk Douglas) Harrison is like his brother Spur, but not as kind. He’s gruff, he’s touchy like his daughter, and he’s rich – he made a fortune in beef cattle. He and Jessica are like fire and water. And as for his brother – in his own words, he has no brother. If you try to cross him, you’ll dig your own grave. (Note: Kirk Douglas plays both Spur and Harrison. You notice that Spur and Harrison are never on-screen together, at least if you’re watching a VHS tape that probably came from the 1980’s. We are.)
Aunt Rosemary Hume (Lorraine Bayly) Aunt Rosemary lives with the Harrisons and teaches Jessica how to be a lady. She has Jessica’s feisty spirit, but she’s less haughty and treats everyone equally (she introduces herself to the rather dusty Jim at the dinner table one night. And she makes witty remarks to him when he brings in the tea-tray). She spouts off rather interesting remarks about women having the right to do whatever they want, but also says (in the same conversation) that it’s lucky she came; otherwise Jessica would’ve been brought up with the kangaroos, and they’d be dining in a bark hut. And she’s got an answer for her brother-in-law’s accusation, “My own daughter, infected with your nonsense!”: “Your own daughter, as you know, has a good mind, a way with horses and an eye for stockbreeding. Now would you have these talents developed, or would you condemn her to domestic dullness?” I don’t agree with the ‘domestic dullness‘ part (and that’s one of my beefs with this movie – more on that later) but I do agree that Jessica’s talents should have been developed, and that you can be both a lady and have a way with horses. All that to say, I really, really like Aunt Rosemary.
Henry Craig (Terence Donovan) Henry Craig is Jim’s father. He dies early on in the movie, but from what we see/hear of him, it is clear that he was a man of integrity. He teaches Jim to be a man – and he teaches him that you work with a horse, not against it.
Andrew Paterson (David Bradshaw) I just realized, while looking at the cast/crew list on IMDB, that this guy is actually supposed to be A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson, who wrote the poem that inspired this movie! (So, let’s play the “Degrees of Separation” game…) Somehow, we missed that from watching the movie. In the movie, he seems like just some random guy that’s a lawyer, Harrison’s friend, and gives Jim recommendations. But in reality, he’s one of the most important characters: without him, there would be no ‘Man From Snowy River’ story. He’s rather quiet, kind, and he brings Harrison the colt that’s worth a thousand pounds.
Clancy (Jack Thompson) Clancy is first and foremost a horseman. He’s the best tracker in Australia. That man’s part bloodhound. He’s calm, steady, and a jokester who loves to sneak up on Spur in the middle of one of Spur’s long soliloquies to his mine: “I heard noise. I heard voices… Still searching for El Dorado, then?”
Curly (Chris Haywood) Curly is mean. He jeers at Jim, cheats at cards, smokes in the stables, and eventually *SPOILER ALERT* sets free the colt that was worth a thousand pounds, so that Harrison will think Jim did it. (This is after a fight in the bunkhouse when Curly is joshing Jim about Jessica.) *End of Spoiler Alert* To be brief, he has the mind of a gutter rat.
Mrs. Bailey (June Jago) Mrs. Bailey cooks for the Harrisons. She is not above whacking Spur with a spoon upon occasion of his trying to flirt with her. She’s a lot of fun.
Kane (Tony Bonner) Kane is Harrison’s foreman. He’s in charge of all the men in the bunkhouse, and he is kind to Jim. He puts up very well with Harrison’s sometimes unreasonable demands and moods, and keeps a cool head. He’s very straightforward and honest.
So, here’s the (not so) basic storyline (warning, spoilers are rife):
After Jim Craig’s father dies during a brumby stampede (in which a mare named Bess runs off), Jim has to leave the high country to get a job on the flatlands. Meanwhile, a colt worth one thousand pounds is brought to Harrison, a Yankee who’s made a fortune in beef cattle. While coming off the train, the colt spooks and Jim grabs its lead rope before it can get away. As a result, Jim gets a job on Harrison’s homestead.
Jessica Harrison comes out to the barn one day to ride her horse, but when she finds that its bridle is broken, she attempts to make a new one out of rope. But she can’t, so Jim makes on for her. Sorry about your luck, Jess.
Jessica’s father leaves with the rest of the men to bring home a herd of beef cattle, and Jim is left behind, to his great annoyance. Jessica and Jim come to know each other better, and the relationship blossoms into love.
When Jessica tells Jim that the cruel Curly is the one who will break in the colt, Jim cannot believe it. So when Jessica suggests that Jim break in the colt while Harrison is gone, Jim agrees.
All would have gone well if a herd of brumbies hadn’t gone by, and if Jim hadn’t seen Bess in the midst of them. He goes after Bess, and takes a terrible fall.
When Jessica’s father returns, he sends Jim out to gather the stray cattle. It’s only after Jim is gone that Harrison realizes that his prize colt has been ridden. He forces Jessica to tell him who rode the colt, and when she tells him it was Jim, he immediately fires Jim and tells Jessica that she is going to a ladies’ boarding school. When she protests, he slaps her.
Jessica leaves the house and heads for the mountains, but it begins to storm and….
…I’ll leave you there.
There are only a few reservations (or warnings) I have about this movie, mostly having to do with the language. Most of it is quiet and not conspicuous, but some of it is pretty plain. You can read the script here to see exactly where that is. There is some crude talk among the men in the bunkhouse, but nothing too bad. The language in this one, though, can’t hold a candle to the stuff in Return to Snowy River. More on that here (it’s my rant on all things awful in RTSR). Also, when Spur is in the kitchen with Mrs. Bailey, he makes some rather crude comments to her, but, as I said, nothing too bad. Also, I don’t like the feministic worldview that this movie exhibits: Jessica’s aunt gives speeches that would do Elizabeth Cady Stanton credit. It’s more 1980’s than 1880’s – the worldview, I mean.
But there are a lot of things I like about this movie than the characters and the story –
…and this. Really, really cute.
I feel like I haven’t done justice to this movie (in spite of this terribly long review. So much for conciseness.). So, you’ll just have to watch it yourself. It’s sad. It’s exhilarating. It’s heart-pumping (so much so that the last time we watched it, I was on the edge of my seat and my little sister said something like “why are you nervous? We’ve watched this before and we know what happens.”). It’s a true classic.
You can bid the mob good day now.
“You’ve got a long way to go yet, lad.”
“He’s not a lad… brother. He’s a man.”
“The Man from Snowy River.”