Directed by George Miller. USA. 1982.

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George Miller's The Man From Snowy River is an old-fashioned Western that features strong acting, stunning mountain vistas, a wonderful score by Bruce Rowland, and an involving coming-of-age-story with characters you can believe in and root for. Being a lover of horses and films about horses, this one had me at Whoa!  The film is based on an 1890 poem by "Banjo" Paterson about the pursuit of a prizewinning racehorse that has escaped from its paddock and is living with the "brumbies" (wild horses) of the mountain ranges, although the issues it raises about feminism, ecology, and animal liberation seem more contemporary than historical. 

Young Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) lives with his father near the Snowy River, a real river that flows along the eastern border between New South Wales and Victoria. After his father is killed trying to corral a herd of wild horses, Jim takes a job in the low country with a rancher named Harrison (Kirk Douglas) to prove himself worthy of living in Snowy River and earn the money to return to the mountains. When Harrison's men go off on a job to round up some cattle, Jim begins to develop a relationship with Harrison's daughter Jessica (Sigrid Thornton), a down-to-earth young woman who is more interested in horses and ranching than in becoming a "proper" lady. 

Miller shows the mountains as the most desirable place to be. Jim struggles to be worthy of them and Jessica wants to enter that world with him. Their relationship is innocent yet engenders Harrison's strong opposition because Jim is just a "mountain boy" and he lashes out at his daughter for not wanting to go to a French boarding school. At this point Harrison's twin brother Spur (also played by Kirk Douglas) reappears, a man who has been living in the mountains hunting gold for years, and nurturing a dark family secret. When Harrison's prime colt is let loose by some disgruntled workers and Jim is blamed, his honesty and courage plus his growing love for Jessica are put to the supreme test in a heart-pounding chase of wild stallions through mountainous terrain. 

The Man From Snowy River was the first Australian film to occupy the number one position in box office revenues in the Australian market and has not lost any popularity or commercial value since, having spawned a brand name of Western gear and numerous yearly bush festivals celebrating the heritage of the high country. Like the romanticizing of the cowboy of the American West, the film has an appeal to those seeking freedom, closeness to nature, and love of adventure, the life many city people dream about but cannot have. The mythologies that make the bush, horses, and western gear alluring to a large cross section of the population have been fully brought to life and given renewed support in a spectacle that is both entertaining and deeply moving. 


Howard Schumann
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