The Legend Of
Cast: Patrick Dray,
Sometimes truth is stranger
- or more horrific - than fiction. Both
of these apply to this true story, which happened in the American West
in 1873. That winter, people were waiting for the spring, in order to
gold claims in Colorado. A group of amateur prospectors hired tracker
Packer to get them to the prospecting area before the spring thaw.
lead them to be lost and starving in the wilderness. Only Alfred Packer
made it out alive. The reason for his survival might be summed up in
movie's tag line: "How far would you go to stay alive?" Subsequently,
was imprisoned for 17 years. To his dying day, he would swear his
This was an American National Enterprises
movie; all of the movies I've
seen released by them all qualify to be reviewed at this site. All are
painfully low-budget, sentenced to late-night TV on independent
(with a few long-deleted exceptions on video). With this in mind, maybe
that's why they chose to imitate Republic by using an eagle for the
credit at the beginning.
The movie opens after the events, where
reporters are attempting to
get a pardon for him, under protest from the general public. In a very
contrived scene, a Chicago reporter talks with one of the Colorado
about the events. Not only is this introduction not needed, the people
in this introduction are never seen again.
The rest of the movie is about the events
in question. Not knowing much
about the incident myself (even after doing some research), it was hard
to determine what the filmmakers made up for dramatic purposes, and
was actually true. Since there was only one living witness to the
I can understand why the filmmakers felt they were short of facts. But
I doubt very much the exhibition met up with two crazy mountain men
out of Deliverance (and try to recreate one of the
scenes from that movie). But aside from those scenes, everything else
is portrayed in the movie might very well have happened. (In fact, the
remarks by the judge at the end of the movie are indeed what were said
by the actual judge.)
Technically, the movie is poor. The
indoor scenes seem to be only lit
by the prop lights on the set. The outdoor scenes aren't much better -
with some shots, one half of the screen is acceptable, while the other
half is poor. Acting is acceptable.
After a slow first half, most of the
second half of the movie - the
long, painful walk home - is surprisingly effective. Using the natural
environment and weather, the director manages to convey the pain the
are facing. One disturbing scene has the starving men find a calf stuck
on a log. The men pounce on the calf and start to tear it apart, and as
the camera turns away from them, we hear frantic eating noises. Once
movie returns to civilization, it returns to mediocrity, unfortunately.
For an independent low budget movie, TLOAP
For movies in general, it is only average.
FOOTNOTE: (Read no further if you
don't want to know what Alfred
Packer did) A few years ago, the creators of South Park (Matt
Stone & Trey Parker) made a feature-length musical about the events
called Cannibal! The Musical. And in 1977, the US
Agriculture named their staff canteen after Alfred Packer! Not knowing
what he did, they said "Alfred Packer exemplifies the spirit and fare
this agriculture department cafeteria will provide." A few months
they found out what Alfred Packer did, and they renamed the cafeteria.
UPDATE: Reader Al Sirois informs
me that the spelling of the name
of the real-life "hero" of this movie is Alferd, not "Alfred".
since writing this review, I've come across several articles on Al, and
I've seen his name spelled both ways! Looking up the title of
movie in two of my reference books, I found it spelled "Alfred". So
how it will remain in my review, unless I come across the movie again
I see it spelled the other way.
UPDATE 2: Scott Andrew Hutchins
sent me this information:
"I just watched it tonight. It is
Alfred. Alfred was his legal name, but he spelled it Alferd, since
that's how he said it. They don't say it or spell it "Alferd" in the
film, though. I have a biography of Packer by Paul H. Gantt and it
might have info about the trapper scene, which seems similar to the
Frenchy scenes of Cannibal! The Musical."
UPDATE 3: Scott Andrew Hutchins
contacted me again with this:
"I finished reading Gantt's The
Case of Alfred Packer the Man Eater. It consistently spells his name
Alfred, except when quoting written documents, in which his name was
frequently signed "Alferd." "Alferd" was also tattooed on his arm. The
book also explains the opening sequence with the gunman. He was W.W.
Anderson, who was promised a reward if he helped Packer pay his legal
fees. The Denver Post accused him of stealing Packer's
money,--allegedly Polly Pry jumped in front and her skirts slowed the
bullets enough that the newspaper executives, whose names were Bonfils
and Tammens, survived after long hospital stay. The Trapper &
Weasel scene was definitely made up, as the Cyclops scene was in Trey
Parker's version. In case you were wondering, Polly Pry is a pseudonym.
The Post was a very progressive paper, and she was known as their
beautiful blonde reporter, always known as "Miss Pry," despite being
Mrs. Leonel Ross O'Bryan. I sent the IMDb updated character names,
providing the full names of all the historical people that were
portrayed in the film. Lauter, Alan David Gelman's character, made up
the account that Dashiell Hammett repeated that formed the basis of the
recent film, Ravenous.
The reporter, McMurphy, however, was also made up--a reporter from
Harper's Weekly named James Randolph (sometimes erroneously reported as
Reynolds) found the body, but he doesn't seem to have anything to do
with this character. I frankly believe that the end of the film ended
up on the cutting room floor, leading to Nessin's voiceover at the end.
Presumably, this would have explained what was going on in the opening,
since it has a basis in historical fact, in addition to being an
intriguing moment that holds your interest so that you expect such an
implication. The fact that it falls at exactly ninety minutes seems to
reinforce this hypothesis.
UPDATE 4: Karen Maley sent this
"I thought you might be interested to
know that the student cafeteria at the University of Colorado Boulder
campus has been called the "Alferd Packer Grill" since 1968. From
1968 to 1995 the school also held an annual festival called "Alferd
Packer Day" in honor of our local cannibal. The unfortunate
cancellation of this tradition was apparently caused by a wave of
political correctness. Trey Parker and the other film students
who created Cannibal: The Musical
were attending CU at the time they made the film.
Incidentally, Alferd Packer's grave is in Littleton, Colorado, Trey
"My guess is that the US Dept of Agriculture cafeteria that you mention
was surreptitiously named by someone who knew exactly what Packer did,
and quite possibly by someone who attended CU or had dined at the
Alferd Packer Grill in Boulder.
"Locally, a well-known and much-beloved part of the Packer legend is
that he spelled his first name "Alferd." For some reason this has
become controversial and people will argue until they are blue in the
face, even if they don't give a hoot about more substantive aspects of
the case, such as whether Packer was innocent of murder.
"Perhaps the most infamous part of the legend holds that the men he ate
were all Democrats. Could this have anything to do with the fact
that a bust of Packer was reportedly (I have not seen it myself) placed
in the Colorado state capitol building in 1982? The Republican
Party has always been strong in Colorado, but I think if you consider
the enduring celebration of Packer by university students in liberal
Boulder, it's clear that Packer's legend transcends politics.
"I'm not aware of how much of a celebrity Alferd Packer is outside of
Colorado, but apparently author Dashiell Hammett was quite fascinated
by the Packer case, which is discussed in great detail in the 1934
novel "The Thin Man." I suspect that Packer was a very thin man
prior to committing his crimes.
"Just thought you might like to know. Hope this email is
non-frivolous enough to meet your standard. Thanks for keeping
track of bad movies. You're doing a great job. And someone's got
to do it."
UPDATE 5: I got this from
"I was there when the Alferd Packer
plaque was affixed to the USDA lunchroom wall. We certainly knew what
Alf did. We were all members of the D.C. chapter of the Alferd Packer
Society. The plaque was taken down because an anal General Services
Administration bureaucrat complained to Secretary of Agriculture Bob
Bergland that we had defaced government property. Bob said he didn't
need any trouble and asked that we take it down. Today, the plaque is
in the member's bar of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It
is there as a memorial to the late Stanley Weston, an extraordinary and
gentle soul who left his home in Colorado to work at the USDA. The
whole episode was a joke and remains funny today, at least among those
few news reporters who were on hand for the ceremony."
for availability on Amazon (VHS)
See also: Bad Company, Duel At Diablo, Cheyenne