Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Man from Snowy River

Go To

The Man from Snowy River is a 1982 film based on the Banjo Paterson poem of the same name, set in Australia in the late 1800s. It tells the story of the title character, Jim Craig, a stockman from the Snowy Mountains whose dreams of making his living breeding horses are put on hold when the death of his father and the loss of his broodmare to a herd of wild horses (called "brumbies") force him to descend to the lowlands to work as a hired hand on a cattle ranch owned by the wealthy Harrison.

In the process, Jim meets and falls for Harrison's rebellious daughter Jessica, and faces prejudice from both Harrison and the other hired hands over his mountain origins. When Harrison's prized colt is set loose to join the brumbies and Jim is blamed for it, he joins the group of stockmen organized by Harrison to chase the herd down, in order to prove his innocence and his worth.

The film stars Tom Burlinson as Jim Craig, Sigrid Thornton as Jessica Harrison, and Kirk Douglas in the dual roles of Harrison and Harrison's crippled brother Spur; it features a score by Bruce Rowland and a lot of impressive Australian scenery.

A sequel was released in 1988, titled The Man from Snowy River II in Australia and released as Return to Snowy River in the US. The sequel picks up Jim's story upon his return to the Snowy River region and deals with his efforts to get his horse-breeding business off the ground and resume his relationship with Jessica, who now has a competing suitor in the person of a banker's son, Alistair Patton. Kirk Douglas did not reprise his role as Spur and Harrison, and was replaced in the latter role by Brian Dennehy.

The films inspired a spinoff TV series, Banjo Paterson's The Man from Snowy River (Snowy River: The McGregor Saga in the US), which focuses on a different cast of characters in the same general setting.

The films provide examples of the following tropes:

  • '80s Hair: Jessica sports some obvious 80s curls in the sequel.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The original poem is about rounding up the Brumbies and recovering Harrison's lost colt; this takes place at the climax of the first film, with the rest of the screen-time being used to establish the characters and expand the story. A backstory for Harrison (only alluded to in the poem) was created, giving him a daughter and a brother, as well as a connection to the mysterious stallion who leads the mob of wild horses. Clancy makes an appearance in the poem but his presence was expanded on, making him a close friend of Harrison's, and giving him a connection to Spur and Jim. Most importantly, The Man from Snowy River himself became a real person with a reason and motivation to make the climatic ride.
  • Author Avatar: Harrison's guest, Mr. Paterson, is implied to be Banjo Paterson, author of the poem that the film is based on.
  • Badass Longcoat: Jim sports one part of the time.
  • Betty and Veronica: Spur and Harrison were this to Matilda.
  • Big Damn Kiss: While sitting on horseback at the top of a mountain, no less.
  • Big "NO!": Jim lets out a significant one after the death of his father. The second film features a similar scene, but the yell is more of a wordless shout of anguish.
  • Blatant Lies: Spur serves Jessica beef from a cow stolen from Harrison's ranch. When she asks about the "H" brand on the cowhide, he says it stands for "homeless."
  • Brick Joke: The Running Gag regarding Spur's gold mine gets a punch line in the second film: when Jim returns to the area he finds that the thriving town of Eureka Creek has spring up on the site, and learns that shortly after Spur's death, a motherlode of gold was discovered only a short distance from where his prospecting ended.
    • In the first film, Jim gets laughed out of the room when he tries to tell the other ranch hands that his father was mates with Clancy. When Clancy arrives at the ranch the next day, he greets Jim by name and tells him he was sorry to hear about his father's death. The other ranch hands are suitably embarrassed and refuse to meet Jim's gaze.
  • Call-Back: The second film has multiple call backs to the first one, most memorably the scene where Jim once again rides his horse down the side of a mountain. The musical cues are identical as well.
  • Character Development:
    • Jim goes from being a rather whiny and foolish lad to a confident, badass young man.
    • Harrison also undergoes some development during the second film, gaining enough perspective to finally reconcile with Jim and Jessica.
  • Character Overlap: Clancy and his "vision splendid" come from Paterson's poem "Clancy of the Overflow." The character is namedropped in the original poem "The Man From Snowy River," but is given a significant role in the movie.
    • Harrison as well,as in the poem and the film he's explicitly mentioned as having "made his pile when Pardon won the Cup", which is from Patterson's poem "Pardon, the Son of Reprieve."
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the sequel, Jim displays the talent of using the right stirrup of his saddle as a weapon. He uses this during the 'Skill At Arms' course near the beginning, and then uses it again at the climax to take out Patton's main crony.
  • Cool Horse: Both Jim's trusty mountain horse, Denny, and the stallion that leads the brumbies.
  • Cool Uncle: Spur to Jessica, after she finally gets a chance to meet him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several of the characters are this, but Spur takes the cake in the scene where he and his brother meet face-to-face for the first time in years.
    "My long-lost brother. Didn't recognize you without a gun."
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Jim. He is constantly seen as an inferior horseman to those on the ranch (especially Curly) even after displaying superior skills, and is prevented from helping to drive cattle through the mountains despite being from the mountains himself. The only reason he goes after the brumbies near the end is to finally gain the respect he deserves.
  • Falling-in-Love Montage: Takes place when Jim and Jessica are breaking in the colt.
  • Fear Is the Appropriate Response: Jessica when she wakes the morning after a heavy storm to find that she had rolled off a cliff and landed on a small, shallow ledge in the center of it, alone, in an uninhabited mountain range. You would scream bloody murder too.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: Jim, when he beats up Curly and his cronies in the first movie.
  • Jerkass: Curly in the first film, and Alistair Patton in the second.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Implied to be the case with Matilda and Rosemary. Matilda was described as young and carefree, while Rosemary is shown to be much more reserved and practical.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, Jim tells Spur that he's going to run down the mob of wild horses and retrieve his mare Bess. Three guesses what he does at the climax and the first two don't count.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Harrison's paranoid jealousy regarding his wife Matilda led him to shoot his own brother, costing Spur his leg. This horrified Matilda into a decision to leave Harrison (though she didn't follow through until her Death by Childbirth), and created a permanent rift between the brothers which is never mended.
  • Groin Attack: Jim kicks Curly in the crotch during the two-on-one brawl in the bunkhouse.
  • Heroic BSoD: Jim has one when his father dies in the first movie, and then when his horse is killed in the sequel. The two scenes are even shot in a similar way.
  • He's Back!: Jim going after Alistair Patton and his cronies after taming the wild stallion. The slow-motion hero shot of him riding directly toward the camera must be seen to be believed.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Harrison. He still suspects his now-deceased wife of cheating with his brother (prompting everyone who ever knew her to call him out on it), consistently believes the worst in Nice Guy Jim (from his work ethic to his honesty), and he trusts the thoroughly stupid, incompetent, and mean-spirited Curly with his horses.
    Jim: There's not a mean bone in [the colt's] body.
    Jessica: Curly'll find one. He does all the breaking around here.
    Jim: CURLY?!
    • He finally wises up late in the second film, but only after being severely and repeatedly burned by the Pattons junior and senior.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Jessica, regarding her family's wish to turn her into a lady.
  • It's All About Me: Harrison in spades. Believes that his daughter Jessica being so spirited is just to get back at him instead of a genuine desire to make her own decisions regarding her life, is enraged to learn that Jim nearly got killed trying to ride after the mob because it could have cost him a valuable colt, believes his own visions of grandeur are the only ones anyone can make, and of course believes he alone deserves sympathy for blowing off Spur's leg because it turned Matilda and Jessica against him.
  • Kick the Dog: Alistair Patton has several instances in the sequel, the worst of which is when he shoots Jim's horse.
  • Land Downunder
  • Lethal Chef: Spur's signature dish, "Wallaby Stew", is frequently mocked by the other characters. The trope is later averted though, as he apparently can cook a decent steak.
  • Living Legend:
    • Clancy in the first film. Harrison and all of his riders hold him in very high regard, enough so that when Clancy says he wants Jim allowed to ride with them, nobody's willing to argue.
    • Jim becomes one in the sequel, at least among the mountain ranchers and horsemen of the area.
  • The Lost Lenore: Matilda.
  • Love Triangle: Harrison, Matilda, and Spur in the backstory of the first movie; Jim, Jessica, and Alistair Patton (briefly) in the second.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Harrison questions Jessica's paternity, suspecting that she might be his brother's instead. Ultimately defied, when both Rosemary and Spur explain under no uncertain terms that Jessica is his, and that he misjudges Matilda for even suspecting otherwise.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Matilda is implied to have been this for Spur and Harrison in their youth. She's described as beautiful, innocent, and that life was a game to her. The brothers were apparently so in love with her that they turned their lives upside-down to win her hand; Harrison bet all his life's savings on a race to get rich, and Spur spent the next 20 years looking for gold. 20 years later, both brothers still love her, and neither have moved on. It seems she was the most exciting part of their lives.
  • Missing Mom: Jim's mother died several years before the start of the film and Jessica's mother died in childbirth. It's one of the first things they bond over and helps Jessica get past her initial dislike of Jim.
  • The Mourning After: 20 years after Matilda's death, neither Harrison nor Spur have moved on.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Implied to be Matilda's reaction regarding her marriage to Harrison, after he shot Spur. She had decided to marry the first brother to make his fortune, but only after the wedding did she realize just how violently jealous, possessive, and controlling her new husband was.
  • Never My Fault: Harrison has shades of this. While he is genuinely sorry for lashing out at Jessica, which causes her to run away and nearly die in the mountains, he isn't willing to accept that his own possessive, controlling behavior is what drove her and her now-late mother away.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Arguably Matilda to Harrison. When faced with two brothers vying for her hand, she decided to marry the first one to get rich instead of choosing based on, you know, personality, compatibility, etc. This came back to bite her when she learned just what her new husband was really like. Somewhat justified in that in those days, women were expected to marry the best provider, with their feelings rather secondary.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Jim absolutely wipes the floor with Alistair Patton at the end of the sequel; it's brutal. And then the stallion finishes the job.
    • Jim does the same to Curly and his cohorts in the first movie.
  • Noodle Incident: The first film makes it clear that Harrison's tracker, Frew, has definitely killed a man in the past, but gives no further details about the incident or the man himself beyond a Waking Non Sequitur which suggests it was self-defense.
  • No Sympathy: Harrison to anyone. Unless you're Jessica. Even then, his sympathy is limited, at least until Character Development sets in towards the end of the second film.
  • Papa Wolf: Harrison will not hesitate to risk his life searching through mountain storms to find his daughter.
  • Posthumous Character: Jessica's late mother Matilda plays a significant role in the backstory of the first movie.
  • Precision F-Strike: The swearing is fairly mild for the most part beyond the occasional 'damn', so the moment where an outraged Jim calls Harrison a bastard during their confrontation over his feelings for Jessica really stands out.
  • Prospector: Spur, whose stubborn insistence that his mine will pay out someday is a Running Gag in the first film.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Quite a few in the first film.
    • When Jim is not sufficiently grateful for Jessica's offer not to tell her father that he almost lost/injured the valuable colt, she retorts, "You are a foolish boy, Jim."
    • After Harrison strikes Jessica, Rosemary calls him out on caring more about the colt's well-being than his own daughter's, and calls him out on still suspecting (wrongly) that Jessica isn't his.
    • When Jim tells Harrison that he loves Jessica and Harrison rebukes him for wanting to drag a Proper Lady like Jessica into poverty, Jim retorts that Harrison isn't the only one who can make something out of nothing; he's got plans for his own place.
    • And finally, the crown jewel has to be Spur to Harrison:
    Harrison: Whose is she? Yours or mine?
    Spur: Poor Mr. Harrison.
    Harrison: You owe me the truth.
    Spur: If you really knew Matilda, you wouldn't even have to ask. Of course she's yours! But you don't deserve her!
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Kane, Harrison's foreman. He's fair to his men and is one of the few people who works for Harrison who doesn't treat Jim like dirt for being from the mountains. And while he does follow Harrison's orders, he makes it clear more than once that he disagrees with him.
  • Romantic False Lead: Alistair Patton in the sequel.
  • Scenery Porn: Both movies revel in it.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Jessica after Harrison strikes her.
    • Also pretty much Matilda's reaction after Harrison shot Spur. While she had resolved to leave, she did not follow through until her Death by Childbirth.
  • Shipper on Deck: Aunt Rosemary to Jessica and Jim. When Jim delivers tea one afternoon, she invites him to join them but leaves herself to "get another cup," giving Jim and Jess ample opportunity to talk. After he leaves, Rosemary is shown to have already returned with said extra cup but stayed out of the room so as to Leave The Two Love Birds Alone, and she smiles knowingly as he leaves.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Spur and Harrison. Also implied to be the case with sisters Matilda and Rosemary.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Henry Craig dies within the first five minutes of the film but his death makes a significant impact on Jim, who spends the rest of the film trying to live up to being the man his father raised him to be. Spur and Clancy invoke his memory to goad Jim into swallowing his pride and joining the hunt for Harrison's colt, an act which finally earns him the respect he's been searching for when he brings the mob of wild horses in by himself.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: What Harrison wants for Jessica.
  • The Stinger: There's a shot of galloping horses at the end of the first film's credits.
  • Straw Feminist: How Harrison sees his sister-in-law Rosemary. Refreshingly for the trope, everyone else seems to like her just fine.
  • Stupid Evil: You would think Curly would learn to stop goading Jim, considering how often the latter one-ups him in the brains and horsemanship skills department.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: In an odd use of this trope, Jessica sports one as she finishes playing the piano at the end of the Falling-in-Love Montage.
  • Title Drop: Clancy calls Jim "a man from Snowy River" at the end of the first movie.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Jim, when he successfully herds the Brumbies back to the ranch, as well as his mare, Bessie, and Harrison's colt.
    • To really ram this home: a young man tracked down and captured a sizable herd of wild horses by himself, after a large posse of skilled horsemen failed.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: It takes a while, but Harrison finally mellows a bit and develops past his worst character traits during the sequel, reconciling with Jessica and offering his support to her and Jim over the Pattons during the film's climactic ride.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance:
    • Harrison and Spur, brothers played by the same actor, although Spur's wild hair and bushy beard mitigate the effect considerably.
    • Also Jessica to her mother Matilda. Spur even mistakes the former for the latter when he first meets her.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Spur and Clancy, who frequently argue but always have each other's backs.
  • Waking Non Sequitur: In the first film, one of Harrison's ranch hands startles awake with a snarl of, "It was him or me!" It's not played for comedy.
  • The Western: Or the Australian equivalent thereof.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Curly gets left behind after he falls off his horse in the middle of a river and is never seen again.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Strangely inverted for Harrison. Not a few characters call him out on his disregard for the well-being of humans compared to animals.
    Mrs. Hume: You wouldn't dare break the spirit of that wretched colt the way you just crushed your own daughter.
    Harrison: I wanted to shoot the animal... but I couldn't.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: After striking Jessica, Harrison twists the knife by telling her, "You're as deceitful as your mother."