This story takes place in 1910 on a ranch near Burntfork, Wyoming, a small town in southwestern Wyoming. Elinore Pruitt (Conchata Ferrell), a strong, adventurous young woman traveled from Colorado with her daughter to Burntfork to be the housekeeper of one Clyde Stewart. Clyde was a tough, taciturn rancher who was not without personal appeal. He is played here by Rip Torn in a role that he inhabits--an outstanding performance. There are also strong performances by minor characters: a hired hand, Jack (Barry Primus); a hardened old German homesteader, Mrs. Landauer (Lilia Skala); Pruitt's daughter, Jerrine (Megan Folsom).
The movie details the events from Pruitt's arrival in the spring to the following spring. The events are so realistically presented that I came away feeling that I knew these people and what it was like to live in that place at that time. It was not a place for the weak willed or those averse to hard work. A large part of the movie concentrates on what a triumph it was to just survive a harsh Wyoming winter. Any homesteader meeting the requirements for land ownership (completing five years of continuous residence, for example) deserved their land.
I was impressed with the apparent authenticity of the story and later I was not surprised to find that this is based on Elinore's book (still in print), "Letters of a Woman Homesteader."
The open landscapes (this was filmed in Montana) played a significant role. I had to wonder what, beyond the will to live, fueled these people to persist in spite of hardship and I think an appreciation of the land had to be a part of it. The reserved filming and score are an appropriate match for the material. The final freeze-frame in the barn provided a particularly satisfying ending to the story of Elinore and Clyde. The background scenes under the end credits should not be missed. The people who made this movie were fully engaged and functioning at the peak of their talents.
I came away from this movie with admiration for the characters portrayed-- for their mental and physical toughness and their ability to meet life head on.
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