The Man from Snowy River is a classic, sure, but is it the Best Horse Movie Ever Made? Horse Nation film critic Amanda Ronan puts it to the test.
Due to a horrific thunderstorm that kept me out of the saddle today and a challenge from Horses in the Morning radio host Jamie Jennings, I sat down to find out whether The Man from Snowy River (1982), directed by George Miller and starring Tom Burlinson and Kirk Douglas, actually is the BEST HORSE MOVIE EVER MADE.
Our hero, 18-year-old Jim Craig, starts out in dire straits. His father’s farm is headed towards bankruptcy, while trying to capture a wild Brumby stallion his mare runs off, his dad
gets whacked with a giant felled tree and dies, and his gelding breaks its leg. If he had a dog, I’m sure it would have died within the first five minutes of the film.
An unnamed Mountain Man attempts to cheer him up with some fresh wallaby stew, to no avail.
So he gives him a horse, and that helps a little.
Unnamed Mountain Man: “A man without a horse is like a man without legs.”
Truer words have never been said Unnamed Mountain Man.
We then are introduced to the Harrison family, including the lovely Jessica and their “irreplaceable thousand pound” colt who have just arrived from the city by train. Daddy Harrison offers Jim a job on a trial basis.
Now at the Harrison Ranch, Jim and Jessica tie the knot.
Literally, they tied a knot. There was some serious flirtation happening over that knot tying lesson, though. Unfortunately, prickly old Daddy Harrison barges in and tells her she should be thinking about “marriage and children! Not horses!” I’m pretty sure she was thinking about all of the above.
Anyway, Jim is then forced to sit out the “muster” which I have to assume is a cattle drive. He’s told to feed the “bandicoot” and keep an eye on the place while all the other men are gone. I have a feeling he’s going to be keeping an eye on something… or someone… named Jessica.
While Daddy’s away, the rebellious daughter and handsome stable boy will play!
But then creepy Stalker Brumby shows up. He cases the joint by the light of a full moon.
The next morning the Brumby herd stampedes the ranch, giving Jim a chance to see his beloved Bess, the mare who ran away with the herd at the beginning of the movie. In a bold move, Jim jumps atop the Harrison colt and gives chase bareback… on a horse who has been trained for less than one week. Clearly, this doesn’t end well. Jim gets thrown at the gate, trampled by the herd, and then Psycho-Norman Bates-style attacked by Stalker Brumby.
Luckily, Jessica rescues him and the Harrison colt. Jim refuses “to hide behind the skirts of a bunch of women” though. Which is good because they are found out pretty quickly, due to the fact that they didn’t bother to clean out the colt’s hooves or wash the sweaty girth line. Daddy Harrison is not pleased.
He ends up slapping Jessica and threatening her with a Presbyterian All Girls School. Jessica’s reaction? She runs away in the middle of a thunderstorm, kills her horse, and somehow ends up on a rock ledge 20 feet down and 3 feet wide on the side of a giant cliff. Which gives Jim an excellent chance to save her.
And save her he does. Afterwards, Jessica tells him that she loves him and wants to be with him. To which he glumly replies, “I have to take you back. I have to finish this job.”
But then he apologizes and tells her he loves her too…
…and she forgives him.
And forgives him a little more…
Meanwhile, Unnamed Mountain Man, who we now know as Spur, has just struck gold after years of fruitless searching. Gold in which Jim has a half share.
After a romantic 24+ hour ride through the mountains, Jim arrives with Jessica at Spur’s house, where it is revealed that Spur is Daddy Harrison’s twin brother and possibly Jessica’s real father! Spur takes Jessica home while Jim goes to round up 20 lost cattle.
Everybody arrives at the homestead just in time for the family feud of all time. Daddy Harrison is not pleased that his daughter has just spent 48 hours in the arms of a stable boy, and even less pleased when his long lost brother walks in.
Family skeletons are dragged out of the closet one by one, including the fact that Stalker Brumby started out as a wedding present from Spur to Matilda, Jessica’s mother. Paranoid
about the relationship between Spur and his young wife, Daddy Harrison threatened to shoot the horse. Matilda set the horse free, where it eventually grew up to lead the Brumby herd and terrorize the countryside.
Jim, after calling Daddy Harrison a bastard, breaking Jessica’s heart and just trying to leave the ranch in peace, is then attacked by the other stable hands.
He sorts them out rather quickly, but afterward the two vigilantes turn the Harrison colt loose.
Daddy Harrison immediately blames Jim and sends out a search party for the colt.
Will Jim be charged for theft? Will they find the Harrison colt? Will Jessica and Jim end up together forever? Who is Jessica’s real dad? And what will happen to Stalker Brumby and his
Well… You’ll just have to watch and see!
This was a great movie. It had a love story. Our hero was an underdog, who was easy on the eyes, especially in those khaki pants and fedora. The scenery was breathtaking. The horse
riding was excellent. There were no special effects in this movie. Those were real horseman, riding real horses, really fast, over really rough terrain.
But is it the Best Horse Movie Ever Made? Ehhh… I’m not so sure. It failed on one respect.
You see, I’m a sentimentalist. So, for me, the greatest horse movies show the mystical bond between human and horse and I don’t know if this did that. In this film, the horses were mostly used as props to further the plot line or to terrorize the characters. Stalker Brumby was a central antagonist for both Jim and Daddy Harrison.
I also never found out what a “bandicoot” was.
I give it 3 ½ Golden Horseshoes… sorry Jamie.