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The Man From Snowy River Movie Essays

The Man from Snowy River is a 1982 Australian drama film based on the Banjo Paterson poem "The Man from Snowy River". Released by 20th Century Fox, the film had a cast including Kirk Douglas in a dual role as the brothers Harrison (a character who appeared frequently in Paterson's poems) and Spur, Jack Thompson as Clancy, Tom Burlinson as Jim Craig, Sigrid Thornton as Harrison's daughter Jessica, Terence Donovan as Jim's father Henry Craig, and Chris Haywood as Curly. Both Burlinson and Thornton later reprised their roles in the 1988 sequel, The Man from Snowy River II, which was released by Walt Disney Pictures.


When Jim Craig and his father Henry are discussing their finances, a herd of wild horses called the Brumby mob passes by, and Henry wants to shoot the black stallion leader, but Jim convinces his father to capture and sell them. The next morning the mob reappears and Henry is accidentally killed. Before Jim can inherit the station, a group of mountain men tell him that he must first earn the right – and to do so he must go to the lowlands and work. Jim meets an old friend called Spur, a one-legged miner. Jim then gets a job on a station owned by Harrison, Spur's brother, on a recommendation by Harrison's friend. Meanwhile, Clancy appears at Spur's mine and the two discuss their pasts and futures. Clancy goes to Harrison's station to lead a cattle muster. At dinner, Harrison tells Clancy that "he has no brother" when referring to Spur.

Harrison organizes a round-up of his cattle, but Jim is not allowed to go. While the others are gone, Harrison's daughter Jessica asks Jim to help her break in a prize colt. The mob appears again, and Jim unsuccessfully gives chase to the valuable horse. When Harrison returns, he sends Jim to bring back 20 strays. Later, Harrison learns of Jim's actions and tells Jessica that Jim will be fired and that she will be sent to a women's college. Impulsively, she rides off into the mountains where she is caught in a storm.

Spur, meanwhile, finally strikes a large gold deposit. Jim finds Jessica's horse and rescues her. She tells him that he's going to be fired, but he still leaves to return the cattle. Jessica is surprised at meeting Spur, her uncle, whom she had never been told about. She is also confused when Spur mistakes her for her dead mother and refuses to tell her anything about his past. After returning, Jessica learns that Spur and Harrison both fell in love with her mother, Matilda. Matilda declared that the first to make his fortune would be her husband. Spur went looking for gold, while Harrison bet his life savings on a horse race. Harrison became rich overnight when the horse he bet on won. Having made his fortune, Harrison wed Matilda, but she died while delivering Jessica. Harrison is grateful to Jim for returning his daughter, but he becomes angry when Jim says he loves her. As Jim leaves, a prized colt is let loose by a farmhand in the hope that Jim will be blamed.

Later, while camping out, Spur tells Jim that he will inherit his father's share of the mine. Clancy joins them and informs them of the colt, but Jim refuses to retrieve the animal. Meanwhile, Harrison offers a reward of ₤100, attracting riders and fortune-hunters from every station in the area. Clancy does eventually show, accompanied by Jim, whom Harrison finally allows to join the hunt. Several riders have accidents in pursuit and even Clancy is unable to contain the Brumby mob. The riders give up when the mob descends a seemingly impassable grade. However, Jim goes forward and returns the horses to Harrison's farm. Harrison offers him the reward but he refuses. Having cleared his name, Jim would like to return some day for the horses and, looking at Jessica, "anything else that's mine." He rides back up to the mountain country, knowing that he has earned his right to live there.



According to Geoff Burrowes, the idea to make the film came at a dinner party when someone suggested the poem would make a good movie. Burrowes developed a treatment with George Miller then hired John Dixon to write a screenplay. All three men had worked together in television; another former TV colleague, Simon Wincer, became involved as executive producer with Michael Edgley and succeeded in raising the budget.[1][3][4]

The screenplay contains numerous references to Banjo Paterson, aside from using his poem "The Man from Snowy River" as the source material and his inclusion as a character in the film. For example, the numerous references to the late Matilda are likely a reference to the song "Waltzing Matilda", which was written by Paterson. In addition, the melody for "Waltzing Matilda" can be heard near the end of the film. A Bible Passage from Genesis 30:27, which talks about cattle, goats, and sheep is read aloud in a scene in the middle of the film.

The movie was not shot in the actual Snowy Mountains but in the Victorian High Country near Mansfield, Victoria, where Burrowes' wife's family had lived for several generations, which was logistically easier.[1][5]Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum were considered for the dual role of Harrison and Spur before Kirk Douglas was cast in the roles.

Tom Burlinson has confirmed that it was definitely him who rode the horse over the side of the mountain for the "terrible descent" during the dangerous ride—commenting that he had been asked about this numerous times, and that he became known as "The Man from Snowy River" because of his ride.[6] Remarkably, Burlinson had never ridden a horse before being cast in the film and the "terrible descent" was a one-take shot at full gallop down the cliff face. Burlinson performed all of his own stunts in the film.


The film "was released to a fair degree of critical acclaim" and "moviegoers found it to be a likable and highly entertaining piece of filmmaking that made no effort to hide its Australian roots, despite the presence of American star Kirk Douglas in one of the principal roles."[7] The film has a rating of 80% on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[8] One review of the movie comments[9] stated, "The Australian film industry has been responsible for many decent films for decades (and some utter crap, of course), but the percentage with international appeal is quite small. That is changing, and it is films such as The Man From Snowy River that have ensured ongoing interest. The film was inspired by the ‘Banjo’ Paterson poem of the same name, and stars numerous respected local talents and a Hollywood big name star in Kirk Douglas, playing two roles.'' The two standouts of this film are the majestic mountain scenery, and the final chase scenes with that awe-inspiring horse ride down the mountainside. The film stars many big names and familiar faces including Gus Mercurio (Paul's father), Lorraine Bayley (The Sullivans), Tony Bonner (Skippy) and Chris Haywood. The sets and costumes are also great, the script is strong, and the various threads that run through the film are well handled."


Main article: The Man from Snowy River (soundtrack)

Bruce Rowland composed the music for both the film and the sequel.

Box office[edit]

The Man from Snowy River grossed $17,228,160 at the box office in Australia.[10] Kirk Douglas later sued Burrowes for a share of the profits.[11]

Awards and nominations[edit]


As indicated by its box office takings, The Man from Snowy River gained a very large audience, popularising the story and Banjo Paterson's poem. Since 1995 the story has been re-enacted at The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival in Corryong, Victoria.[12]Jack Thompson who played Clancy in the film has released recordings of a number of Banjo Paterson poems including Clancy of the Overflow and The Man from Snowy River on the album The Bush Poems of A.B. (Banjo) Paterson.[13]

The Craigs' Hut building was a permanent fixture created for the film. Located in Clear Hills, east of Mount Stirling, Victoria, the popular 4WD and hikinglandmark was destroyed on 11 December 2006 in bushfires.[14] The hut has since been rebuilt. The film was selected for preservation as part of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia's Kodak/Atlab Cinema Collection Restoration Project.

For the 2000 Summer Olympics Rowland composed a special Olympics version of The Man from Snowy River "Main Title" for the Olympic Games, which were held in Sydney. The CD of the music for the Sydney Olympics includes the Bruce Rowland's special Olympic version of the main title. Rowland composed special arrangements of some of the film soundtrack music for the 2002 musical version of The Man from Snowy River, The Man from Snowy River: Arena Spectacular.


External links[edit]

Craig's Hut undergoing reconstruction in 2007
  1. ^ abcDavid Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990, pp. 64–66
  2. ^"LIFE STYLE Man From Snowy River — 'a remarkable movie'". The Canberra Times. 26 January 1983. p. 20. Retrieved 24 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  3. ^"Young actors tipped for plum roles". The Australian Women's Weekly. 19 November 1980. p. 32 Supplement: FREE Your TV Magazine. Retrieved 24 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  4. ^"RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY". Filmnews. Sydney. 1 September 1982. p. 8. Retrieved 24 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  5. ^"ON THE SET OF 'THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER [?]". The Australian Women's Weekly. 6 May 1981. p. 16. Retrieved 24 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  6. ^How The Hell Did We Get Here?—The Baby Boomers Guide to the Movies
  7. ^http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/manfromsnowyriver.php
  8. ^The Man from Snowy River, retrieved 2017-09-29 
  9. ^Design, Steve Koukoulas – RED5 Web. "DVD.net : The Man From Snowy River (1982) - DVD Review". www.dvd.net.au. Retrieved 2017-09-29. 
  10. ^Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office
  11. ^"Douglas has been paid, says producer". The Canberra Times. 30 August 1983. p. 15. Retrieved 24 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  12. ^The Man from Snowy River Bush Festival
  13. ^"The Bush Poems of A.B. (Banjo) Paterson at Fine Poets"
  14. ^Sydney Morning Herald, 11 December 2006, Bushfires ravage iconic Craig's Hut

Those unfamiliar with his story – a romantic kangaroo western set in Victoria’s sunbaked Snowy mountains – will recognise the legendary title by which he is known.

A creation of celebrated bush poet Banjo Paterson, The Man from Snowy River occupies an iconic residence in Australian pop culture. The protagonist's name is synonymous with stirrups, horses, bare chests, sunsets, mountain ranges and a hit 1982 film from director George Miller, which tapped into a deep vein of national pride and parochialism and became a critical and box office success.

Jim (Tom Burlinson) – otherwise known as the Man from You-Know-Where – is a kind-hearted cowboy who loses his father to a horse stampede in the film’s opening reels then travels to the lowlands to earn a keep.

He must "earn the right to live up here, just like your father did”. That’s the advice of one of the film’s many atavistic, dyed-in-the-wool men, who look down upon our eponymous Snowy River resident before eventually eating their words.

Jim pursues Jessica (Sigrid Thornton), the daughter of an obnoxious farm owner named Harrison (Kirk Douglas) who opposes the blossoming romance between them in the recalcitrant way of a father/old codger who thinks he knows best.

The Man from Snowy River is visually and atmospherically in line with what audiences expect of the characters and locations: hard people in rough but beautiful terrain, riding horseback between sunrise and sunset, throwing their weight around and playing who gets to be the alpha male.

The film also offers plenty of more subtle surprises. First, there’s the film's technical sassiness. If The Man from Snowy River’s plot is old-fashioned, the manner with which it is cut together (particularly in the opening act) is modern and pacey.

Editor Adrian Carr (who also cut the criminally underwatched 1987 creature feature Dark Age) tunes the film’s rhythm and tempo to the pace of the story. There's a fast-moving first act, then the film slows down in its middle stretch as interpersonal relationships are fleshed out.

There is a terrific dual performance from Kirk Douglas, who plays two characters: Harrison, the tetchy farm owner, and his peg-legged brother Spur. Spur is a sage who hovers on the peripheries of the story, lobbing in words of wisdom and wooing women with lines like “Tell me, by what magic do you transform this humble farmyard chicken into such delicate ambrosia?” Reminiscent of Lee Marvin’s devilishly good split performance as a gangster and a gunfighter in Elliot Silverstein’s Cat Ballou (1965), Douglas is an utter delight.

Most surprisingly, given the streams of testosterone running through The Man from Snowy River, it also has a strong feminist element.

“I didn’t raise you to be a midwife to herd horses. Men can handle that,” says Harrison, attempting to convince Jessica to follow the conventional path. “I can do better,” she replies. “It’s not an occupation for a lady,” he shoots back. “A lady?” “Yes, a lady. The word's become old fashioned?” “It’s become an excuse to keep women under control.”

George Miller (not to be confused with Oz cinema's other George Miller, the director of Mad Max) invests thought and empathy in depicting another kind of quintessential Australian character: determined women who, in many ways, are far stronger than the men around them.

The Man from Snowy River is perhaps best remembered for its sense of adventure. Although the film takes a long time to arrive at an uplifting conclusion (Miller reserves the physical and personal triumph until the very end), it doesn't disappoint.

“He’ll dig his own grave,” scoffs Harrison, when Jim embarks on a dangerous hunt to retrieve a prized colt. What follows is the fist-pumping moment the entire film has been building towards. Set to a rousing score, majestic green landscapes are trampled by beautiful horses and, unsurprisingly, our homespun hero returns victorious.

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