February 07, 1983 12:00 PM

In the first few seconds of The Man From Snowy River, based on the 1898 poem by A.B. Paterson, silhouetted horses run wild across a shimmering sunset. Australian director George Miller and screenwriter John Dixon are telling us this is going to be a film of unabashed romanticism. Surprisingly, they get away with it. Newcomer Tom Burlinson plays a mountain lad who must seek work in the valley after his father dies. Dad’s old buddy, Kirk Douglas, a peg-legged free spirit, bids him farewell. Then Burlinson is hired as a ranch hand by a well-heeled cattle breeder, also played by Douglas. The two are, of course, long-estranged brothers, feuding for 20 years since a dispute over the woman they both loved. She married the cattle breeder, and their daughter is the spirited Sigrid Thornton. Before Burlinson can win her away from her father, however, he must capture a prize colt that has run away with the wild horses who stampede across the countryside. Burlinson effectively combines a Harrison Ford bravado with the bumbling innocence of Michael York in The Three Musketeers. Douglas is excellent in the dual roles; Thornton, Lorraine Bayly as her aunt, and Aussie star Jack Thompson offer strong support. Thanks to the actors’ conviction and the innocence of spirit maintained by Miller, a story that could have lapsed into schmaltz stays credible. (PG)

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