RARA-AVIS: Re: hardboiled settings (Liver Eatin' Johnson)

Kevin Smith (kvnsmith@colba.net)
Wed, 10 Feb 1999 12:15:14 -0500 >The movie "Jeremiah Johnson" and one of the books the movie was based on
>("Crow Killer: The Story of Liver Eatin' Johnson") were described by one
>fellow as "tame" and "politically correct" versions of the real-life
>John Johnson (Johnston), which accounts for its success. Truth sometimes
>comes boiled a little longer than is palatable to the average taste.
>Johnston, however, denied ever having taken an Indian squaw or eating
>human livers. Of course, he was sheriff of some Wyoming town at the time
>and might have feared retribution in the voting booth. The book is more
>interesting than the movie.

One fellow said that? The other book the film was based on was MOUNTAIN
MAN, a novel by Vardis Fisher, and I thought CROW KILLER was fiction, too.
Still, I always assumed the character was based loosely on a possibly real
person (or at least a legendary figure-something the film itself, in the
voice-over, both spoken and sung, hints at). But liver-eatin'? YIKES!

I'll have to look for Crow Killer. But I still think the film works well
for what it is, an adventure tale with some hardboiled touches. And the
idea, that after the film, which ends sorta ambiguously, Johnson continues
to wage war against the Crow, and eventually goes as nuts as the The
Screaming Woman, chomping livers throughout the Rockies, certainly adds
some weight. (It would certainly give those horses something to whisper

(For anyone who doesn't know the story, Robert Redford plays Johnson, a
mountain man who eventually becomes the target of the Crow, who have
declared a sort of fatwah against him. One by one, they come to pick him
off. I guess U2 wasn't around then to hide him out.)

As for the film or book being "politically correct", huh? Nature may come
off pretty well, if harsh, but people are presented in all their petty,
stupid, cowardly, viscious, cruel, violent (and just occasionally, brave
and noble and honourable) glory. It's the reason Johnson heads off into the
hills in the first place, because he's been disgusted by the endless wars
and squabbles he was involved in. Of course, there's no escape. The opening
narration that I quoted yesterday sets the tone. Unfortunately, the film
doesn't always remain true to that tone. Maybe Sam Peckinpaugh should have
directed it, instead of Sydney Pollack. But overall, I still liked it.

The books and film were all produced twenty-five or so years ago, long
before "politically correct" was generally used; certainly long before it
became commonly used, as an accusatory, albeit nebulous and essentially
meaningless buzzword that sounds like the speaker is saying something, but
isn't. Tell that fellow to get a life.

Kevin Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site

The February issue has the results of The 1998 Cheap Thrills Awards.
Plus thrilling detective fiction from Robert Iles and Leigh Brackett. And a
contest! Yippy!

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