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Legends of the Fall (1994)

by on 2010/11/07

“You guys look like a bunch of ice-cream cones!”

* * *

Long, long ago, a co-worker and friend of mine dragged me to see Legends of the Fall at the Fairview Mall in Toronto. He had already seen the 1994 romantic epic starring Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Brad Pitt and Julia Ormond. And he spent countless grey office moments railing on from his adjoining cubicle about how positively transcedent the movie was.

This office pal, with his overdeveloped romanticism, asked me to join him on his second screening to spread the misty, water-coloured joy. Unfortunately, my own romantical bone had been severely sprained during a childhood accident so I dreaded the outing.

I shouldn’t have dreaded the decision to see Legends of the Fall. Not for a moment. Despite my defect, I found I thoroughly enjoyed every syrupy drop of it.

In the hush that fell over the hanky-clutching audience, the sound of my laughter was painfully audible. My friend, who was also my ride, drove his vehicle slowly and purposefully away after the film was over while I ran after him in the parking lot, doubled over laughing. He forgave me, somewhat, (and gave me a drive home) but my opinion about Legends hasn’t changed. Not a whit.

Funniest. Movie. Ever.

Ok, maybe not the funniest. But definitely very, very, extremely funny.

Legends of the Fall tells the story of three brothers raised by a disenchanted, government-fearing U.S. colonel in the early 1900s. Colonel William Ludlow, sickened by the genocidal Indian Wars, settles down on an isolated Montana cattle ranch to live his life Unabomber style.

Unfortunately, the Colonel’s high-toned wife leaves Ludlow for the big city, with its heated rooms and predictable bathing. This leaves the Ludlow sons to be raised the crusty, paranoid Colonel and his good pal One-Stab (the brilliant Gordon Tootoosis), a Native elder and fellow Indian Wars veteran (with a bag of scalps under his bed to prove it).

Naturally, the boys grow up wild as mange-ridden wolf pups but none wilder than Tristan (Brad Pitt). Tristan’s bear-baiting crazy ways are explained away by One-Stab as Tristan’s “strong inner voice” guiding him, a force that apparently tells Tristan to stab things a lot. Under One-Stab’s tutelage, Tristan is schooled in the art of hacking his prey’s still-beating hearts out from beneath their sternums.

The youngest and palest of the boys, Samuel is watched over like a wee babe by his elder brothers Tristan and Alfred (Aidan Quinn), and goes on to become “the best of them,” receiving more book smarts and city airs than his punchy siblings.

But when Samuel brings home the refined, orphan beauty Susannah Fincannon (Julia Ormond) from the city, trouble starts at the Ludlow ranch. I guess the math is reasonably easy: one pretty lady + three socially-isolated, heterosexual farm boys = epic shooty, stabby drama.

As these things so often go, Susannah quickly falls for the blazing, blonde god Tristan who reeks of deer blood and man sweat. Quivering under her bodice for the wild man of the woods, Susannah prettily conceals it and remains true to her pasty altarboy, Samuel.

One day, after a ripping good game of lawn tennis, Samuel confides in Tristan that Susannah’s “passionate” and doesn’t want to wait until marriage for the marital act. Samuel rebuffs the advances, spending most of his time staying away from his girlfriend, ranting about the “Kaiser”  and German aggression in Europe. Knee-knocking virgin Samuel ups the ante by announcing that he’s crossing the Canadian border to enlist as a solider in WWI, leaving his lady love behind.

His brothers-keepers join Samuel in his quest for heroism in WWI, and to prevent him from getting hisself killed. Samuel shows his over-protective siblings however and becomes gatling gun fodder nonetheless, tangled up on a barbed wire fence in the killing fields of Europe. Tristan, in his wailing grief, hacks out Samuel’s still-warm heart and cradles it in his pup tent, screaming. Then Tristan goes all Comanche on some German asses, sporting full war-paint and scalping his Kaiser-following foes.

This is all rather overwhelming for the British soldiers, sputtering tea, mouths agape. They politely ask the blood-smeared, scalp-wearing Yank to leave.

Alfred is discharged with a wounded leg, and Tristan’s given honourable discharge due to the whole heart-hacking, scalp-taking crazy thing. Both return after a fashion to the lovely Susannah. Susannah promptly shoots down the uptight Alfred and turns her passionate attention to Tristan.

Tristan, for his part, grows a nervous breakdown beard and enjoys staring into the middle distance. Undeterred by Tristan’s tendency to pull knives on her in bed and ride around on his horse screaming like a maniac all day, Susannah stays by Tristan’s side until one day Tristan leaves her.

Thereafter Brad Pitt is showcased in many manly, romance-novel-cover settings,  including aboard a fine sailing ship, his white shirt open in the breeze, on a tropical island with exotic tribes at his feet, a Gauguin painting come to life.

Susannah remains at the ranch like a fluttering, ghostly Ophelia waiting for Tristan to return. Colonel Ludlow, similarly afflicted by Tristan’s abandonment, has a stroke, leaving Anthony Hopkins to finish the movie drooling, gesturing spastically and barking like a seal.

Hopkins, dressed constantly in a giant bear-skin coat, chalk board (with the words “am happy”) strung around his neck, looks every inch the howling bear of his later film The Edge (1997). You know, if the howling bear had been previously brain damaged by .22 calibre bullet.

I expect Hopkins received angry letters from several heart and stroke foundations after this Senor Dribblecup performance, particularly for the moment he spittles out “Screw them” with his lop-sided face, middle finger quivering in the air. Oh how I wished this wasn’t so hilarious.

This Oscar-winning, beautifully-filmed movie about unhealthy, overwrought (hilarious) passions is lung-collapsingly funny. To me. I did feel somewhat alone in my perspective, perhaps this is a film for the vast majority of people out there who also like movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan playing developmentally-challenged people in love (apologies to Janeane Garofolo for this bad paraphrase).

* * *

135 minutes

14A for bloody scenes of heart hacking and Brad Pitt’s bum

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