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Legends of the Fall (1994) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • In the early 1900s, three brothers and their father living in the remote wilderness of Montana are affected by betrayal, history, love, nature, and war.

  • In early 20th-century Montana, Col. William Ludlow lives in the wilderness with his sons, Tristan, Alfred and Samuel. Eventually, the unconventional but close-knit family encounters tragedy when Samuel is killed in World War I. Tristan and Alfred survive their tours of duty, but, soon after they return home, both men fall for Samuel's gorgeous fiancée, Susannah, and their intense rivalry begins to destroy the family.

  • Set in the Rocky Mountains of Montana in the early 1900s, this is a tale of love, betrayal, and brotherhood. After being discharged, Colonel Ludlow decides to raise his three sons in the wilds of Montana, where they can grow up away from the government and society he has learned to despise. The three brothers mature and seem to have an unbreakable bond, until Susanna enters their lives. When Samuel, the youngest of the three, returns from college he brings with him his beautiful fiancée, Susanna. The eldest son, Alfred, soon finds himself in love with his brother's fiancée, and things get worse when he discovers a growing passion between Susanna and Tristan. Colonel Ludlow's favorite son, Tristan is willful and as wild as the mountains. As the brothers set out to fight a war in Europe, suspicion and jealousy threatens to tear apart their once indestructible bond.

  • Colonel Wlliam Ludlow and his three sons (Samuel, Tristan and Alfred) live in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, USA, at the beginning of the 20th century. When Samuel brings with him his fiancé Susanna, the fellowship of the 3 brothers is about to be broken. The eldest son, Alfred, falls in love with Susanna, and she falls in love with Tristan. Thing becomes worse when the three brothers decide to join the first World War in Europe in 1914, despite their father's objection. The bond of the brothers is about to be broken forever, and so is Colonel William's heart.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • This is a wonderful yet heartrending period piece, as told by an elderly Native American through a collection of family letters he accumulated and saved over time.

    The right and proper Colonel William Ludlow, (Anthony Hopkins), a veteran of the Native American wars that took place in the late 19th century, has grown tired of the carnage and futility of war. Moreover, he detests the governments and their greed that propagated the battles he has fought. In the opening sequence, the teepees have been struck, the fires, billowing white smoke as they symbolically die out, along with the hope and freedom of "the People."

    At first glance, the viewer might believe he is observing the remnants of the Colonel's last battle. Then a child is seen by his side, and the mood changes as the realization that the look in his eyes is not one of the victor, but that of sadness as he has come to know and respect the People, and forcing them from their home has brought him to his breaking point. He tosses his saber and sheath into the ground in disgust, viewing his humbled former enemy, and turns his back to the camera, and on his former life. The scene is similar to "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" in that the Native Americans, those who survived, are seen defeated and disheartened, abandoning what was once their home. The look on the "victorious" Colonel's face as he views his one time enemies says it all.

    Hopkins takes his wife, (Cristina Pickles) three sons, (Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn and Henry Thomas), and trusted Cree guide, One Stab, (excellent perfomance by Gordon Tootoosis, who also narrates), and his family on a quest to "lose the madness over the mountains and begin again." Although filmed almost entirely in British Columbia, the setting for the film is the mountains near Helena, Montana. The scenery alone is reason enough to let yourself become lost in this film; temporarily lost from the madness.

    The story unfolds as the boys are still in their teens, and the youngest of the three, Samuel, (Thomas), is constantly watched over "like a treasure" by Alfred, (Quinn), the oldest, "even old for his years," and the Colonel's favorite, the wild and fearless Tristan (Pitt). Their mother has decided to leave the ranch, citing the winters as too cruel, as well as being afraid of the bears. "She was always a strange woman anyway," Tootoosis growls in that keenly authentic accent, then goes on to say that "Alfred writes her often, but Tristan will not speak of her." This sets the tone for how even the strongest of family ties can be as fragile as glass. The Colonel is then seen writing one of the many letters One Stab has in his possession, dated April, 1913, a year before the beginning of "the Great War," (WWI).

    Corresponding with her husband, Mrs. Ludlow tells the Colonel their youngest son will be returning from Harvard the following Summer, and he will be accompanied by his new fiancée, the dazzling Julia Ormond as Susannah Fincannon. From the moment she and Samuel step from the train, the reaction to her beauty and grace by both the Colonel and Alfred, the viewer begins to sense discord on the horizon. Alfred is clearly taken by her, but the attention shifts quickly away to the absence of Tristan. After introductions, Samuel asks where his brother is, and Alfred scoffs "Ah, he's off somewhere, you know him." Hopkins' Colonel Ludlow chimes in with authority "Well, he'll be here tonight to welcome his brother home or I'll know the reason why."

    The following scenes find the brothers reacquainting themselves with one another, and, it is clear, the two older brothers are more than impressed with young Samuel's betrothed. Observing this, Hopkins, as only he can, delivers one of the few humorous lines in the film; embarrassing Alfred by catching him off-guard, standing out of sight, he admonishes him from the porch of the ranch: "Alfred! Stop mooning over Miss Fincannon and get in here."

    As the group seem to be settling in for what one thinks will be a love story set entirely at the ranch, shortly after a scene in which Samuel sings with a certain boyish quality, perhaps a hint of naiveté lingering in his voice, news of the British troops being cut off in Belgium arrives. Samuel is quick to point out to his father that with his fluent German, he could become an officer. Samuel goes on to say that they're "out here in the middle of nowhere while all this is going on!" Hopkins' Colonel Ludlow, becoming annoyed at the topic of war being discussed under his roof, replies "And thank God for that."

    To prove to his father, his brothers, his soon to be bride, and perhaps more than anyone, himself, that he no longer needs protecting and is indeed a man, Samuel announces he's going to Canada to enlist. Alfred immediately proclaims he will accompany his brother. The camera briefly focuses on Pitt, and the look on his face is one of quiet resignation; his future has just changed and he's not exactly pleased.

    Later the same evening, Susannah is being comforted by Tristan, holding her as she cries over the prospect of her beloved Samuel unnecessarily going off to war. As Tristan is whispering in her ear that he'll protect his younger brother, Alfred happens upon the scene, and gets the impression the embrace between the two was more than just for comfort. Thus begins the tear in the bond of brotherhood once so strong nothing could come between them.

    What follows is at times predicable, but the rest makes up for the few parts the viewer can see coming and then some. The story is an epic tale of right and wrong, family, love, and how life can be at once beautiful and unrelentingly cruel, especially where matters of the heart are concerned. This is an unjustly overlooked piece of celluloid, worthy of many more accolades it originally received. Frankly, while some may argue "Kalifornia" or "Thelma and Louise" had already accomplished this, I think "Legends" established Pitt as a more talented and serious actor than his previous work.

    The performances, (how can anyone go wrong with such brilliant casting?), the score, cinematography (Oscar winning), are all first rate, and the story will take you from wherever you are, to a time when the pace of life was slower, and things were easier... or were they?

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