Legends of the Fall is a 1994 drama film based on the 1979 novella of the same title by Jim Harrison. It was directed by Edward Zwick and stars Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn. The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The movie's timeframe spans the decade before World War I through the Prohibition era, and into the 1930s, ending with a brief scene set in 1963. The film centers on the Ludlow family of Montana, including veteran of the Indian Wars, Colonel Ludlow, his sons, Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel, and object of the brothers' love, Susannah. This movie was shot in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.
Sick of the betrayals the United States government has perpetrated on the Native Americans, Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) retires to a remote part of Montana with One Stab, a Native American friend and narrator of the film, where they build a ranch. Accompanying them are hired hand Decker, Decker's Cree wife, Pet and their daughter, Isabel II. The Colonel's wife, Isabel, does not adapt to the harsh winters and soon leaves to live on the East Coast. Colonel Ludlow has three sons: Alfred, the eldest, is responsible and cautious; Tristan is wild and well versed in American Indian traditions; Samuel, the youngest, is educated but naive and is constantly watched over by his brothers. At age 12, Tristan tries to sneak up on and touch a sleeping grizzly bear. The bear awakens and slashes at Tristan, injuring him, but he stabs at the bear's paw and manages to cut off a claw. The bear limps away. As the boys grow up, Samuel returns from Harvard with his fiancée, Susannah Fincannon. She finds Tristan's wild charisma captivating, and she is conflicted over this because she loves Samuel. Before they can marry, Samuel tells his family that he is leaving for Calgary to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and aid Britain in the fight against Germany. Much to their father's displeasure, Alfred and Tristan go with him. During World War I, the brothers find themselves in the 10th Battalion, CEF. Alfred, commissioned as an officer, leads a mass charge into no man's land, possibly an offensive during the 2nd Battle of Ypres (see below), although the date in the narration is given as February 1915, rather than the real date of April-May. Tristan abandons his own unit to be at Samuel's side. The attack is repulsed with heavy casualties, and Alfred is wounded. While visiting Alfred in the field hospital, Tristan learns that Samuel has volunteered for a dangerous reconnaissance mission. He rushes off frantically to protect his younger brother but arrives too late to save him from being gassed and fatally machine gunned. Devastated, Tristan holds Samuel until he dies. Then, in tears, Tristan cuts out Samuel's heart, which he sends home to be buried on his father's ranch. Seething with hatred, Tristan single-handedly raids behind German lines, killing two gunners,though they are not the one's responsible for Samuel's death. To the horror of his fellow soldiers, he returns to camp the following morning with the scalps of German soldiers hanging around his neck. He is discharged from army service but doesn't go home. (A deleted scene on the DVD shows him in a psychiatric hospital.) In the meantime, Alfred returns to Montana and proposes marriage to Susannah, but she declines. Tristan returns home, where Susannah finds him weeping over Samuel's grave. Trying to comfort him, they become lovers. A jealous Alfred confronts Tristan and later leaves to make his name in Helena. Tristan's relationship with Susannah is doomed by his guilt and pain for failing to protect Samuel, as well as feeling responsible for driving Alfred away. These demons force him to go travelling again, chasing him all over the globe. Back at the ranch, Susannah waits for him but eventually receives a letter: "All we had is dead. As I am dead. Marry another." Alfred finds her weeping on the porch and tries to comfort her. Colonel Ludlow finds them together, leading to a huge row and they fall out. Colonel Ludlow has a stroke later. He doesn't speak for years and the ranch deteriorates. Eventually, Susannah agrees to marry Alfred, who is now a congressman. Alfred's business and politics cause him to get involved with the O'Banion brothers, Irish bootleggers and gangsters. Tristan finally returns during Prohibition, bringing life back to the ranch and his father. He accepts Susannah's marriage to Alfred, once again meets and falls in love and later marries Isabel II, and they have two children. Life seems to become more normal as Tristan finds solace in his young family. During Prohibition, Tristan becomes involved in small-scale smuggling bootleg liquor, finding himself at odds with the O'Banion brothers. Tristan's wife is accidentally killed by a corrupt police officer working for the O'Banions and in a fit of agonized grief, Tristan beats the officer to near death and has to plead guilty and serve 30 days in jail. Susannah visits, but Tristan refuses her advances and insists she "go home to Alfred," her rightful husband. After his release from jail, Tristan and his father-in-law Decker kill those responsible for Isabel II's death, including one of the O'Banion brothers. Susannah, gazing at herself in a mirror, then hacks off her hair, and commits suicide after finally realizing that she can't live without Tristan, and will never get over their love. When the remaining O'Banion brother comes for Tristan, he and the corrupt Sheriff are shot and killed by Colonel Ludlow and Alfred as Tristan attempts to protect his father. Alfred is finally forgiven by, and reunited with, his father and brother. Tristan, knowing he will be blamed for the men's disappearance, leaves for the mountain country after asking Alfred to take care of his children. The film skips ahead, showing a rundown cemetery with the gravestones of everyone in Tristan's life, all who died before him. The movie ends with Tristan as an old man in the woods. He enters a clearing to investigate an animal carcass when he's set upon by a grizzly bear. He draws his knife and fights it. They struggle and as Tristan once again raises his knife to attack once more, the image freezeframes as One Stab narrates: "It was a good death."