“ Genre: War & Western - Western / Theatrical Release: 1958 / Parental Guidance / Director: William Wyler / Actors: Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives ... / DVD released 2001-06-11 at MGM Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Dubbed, PAL, Widescreen „
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Land. It's always about land. Watch cinema through the ages, and there's always a struggle for land. Even today, the more land you own, the wealthier you are and seemingly the more 'friends' you can acquire. This Oscar winning film takes the age old dispute and characterises it beautifully, from the cast to the cinematography, and deserves all the praise it can get.
Gregory Peck tops the billing as retired sea captain James McKay, travelling from the city to the desolate West, cowboy land where you can look as far as the eye can see and often see nothing but the plains and the occasional hill. Arid and dusty, and land for a man, when he arrives to meet his love, Patricia, the daughter of wealthy land owner Major Terrill, he is greeted by some and shunned by others. Director William Wyler immediately gets down to business with McKay showing he's not afraid of who he is and doesn't feel the need to prove himself to anybody. This includes the ranch manager Leech (played moodily by Charlton Heston) and the family of nearby land who want to take Patricia's father's land by hook or by crook. Sparks fly as the mind games and politics enter into the fray, with local schoolteacher and Patricia's best friend Julie also owning some key land in between the two plots.
It's hard to fathom that people with miles and miles of land aren't happy with their lot, but greed will continue to shine through and show its ugly face, and cinema will always be there to grab it and thrust it in our faces. Here, Wyler does a wonderful job of placing the characters at the front of the dispute, and Peck takes the lead like he was born to do. Charisma in abundance and showing a straight frame and a deep authoritative voice, he more than matches the gruff exteriors of all he comes up against, each time being the better man and choosing to walk away as opposed to proving himself like they want him to.
But this all hides the will of the man, someone with a successful navy career, and deep down he needs to impress to get everyone on side on the ranch, so he indulges in bare horseback practice when everyone else is out working for the day. Meanwhile the local villains, headed by their pa Rufus Hannassey (an Oscar winning Burt Ives) are out to get him and the ranch, the Major and his daughter, as well as Leech as the manager. People's true colours are shown on more than one occasion, and it seems as if McKay and the two ladies are the only ones who don't agree that violence solves everything.
Wyler is very quick to ensure that every time the need for land is mentioned, he uses deep and wide shots of the cavernous plains they all live on, as if poking fun at how ridiculous it is to need quite so much land. Much emphasis is placed on farming and cattle, and on how to win a woman's affections, and he is also very quick to make the clear defined difference between the town mouse and the country mouse, here with McKay and Leech. The acting is superb all round, timing excellent, and any number of them could have won any number of awards.
The film takes a worthy and deserving place in Empire's top 500 films of all time publication, and President Eisenhower is know to have had it as a firm favourite. The score will get you going, the acting reassure and impress you, and the action and cinematography should wow you. I was extremely impressed with this little gem of a film, and it's certainly a film I would watch again. Recommended.
Former sea captain, James McKay, moves to the wild wild west to marry and settle down with his fiancee, Patricia Terrill. Unfortunately, although the Terrill family are doing well in the new country, they are at constant odds with another family, the Hannasseys, over a piece of land that belongs to a friend of Patricia's, Julie Maragon. McKay, a gentleman, struggles to fit in, because his values are very different to those of both the Terrills and the Hannasseys. He is seen as an oddity by the locals because of this, with the ranch foreman, Steve Leech takes a particular dislike to him. McKay tries to resolve the problem, but in the process upsets a lot of people, including Patricia. Will he be able to find a solution that will suit everyone? Or is his new life doomed from the outset?
Gregory Peck (who also co-produced the film) is not someone I associate with Westerns, although this isn't the only Western he has appeared in, so I wasn't sure how he would manage to pull off the role of James McKay. Nevertheless, he does, largely because he does look out of place and is supposed to. He dresses in a smart suit and hat and obviously cares about his appearance, while everyone else is in cowboy leathers and look like they've bathed in sand. Peck plays the role just right - he doesn't appear to mind making himself look incredibly daft at times as the locals tease McKay, sometimes violently, for his clothes and mannerisms. However, when the shots are down, McKay comes through and then Gregory Peck looks like the man I am familiar with. He is perhaps a little overly suave at times, but it's a good performance neverthless - although perhaps not his best.
The two main female roles of the film, Patricia Terrill and Julie Maragon, are played by Caroll Baker and Jean Simmons. Patricia is a spoiled madam who is deeply attached to her father, and is determined to bring McKay round to the Terrill way of thinking. Baker plays the role well, taking the sensible line of not being too annoying. There are a few flounces, but generally, her real nature doesn't come through until later in the film. Jean Simmons as Julie doesn't really come into her own until the last half of the film. I am perhaps being unfair because I had high expectations of such a famous actress, but I didn't think she was brilliant. It's undoubtedly a good performance, I was just expecting her to stand out more than she did. Nevertheless, her character did grow on me during the course of the film, particularly as it becomes clear that Pat is a pain in the neck.
The stand-out role for me was Burl Ives as Rufus Hannassey. I know him as a singer - my dad was a big fan - but he has also had a major movie career, and is probably most famous for his role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and this one, for which he won an Academy Aware and a Golden Globe. I didn't realise this when I saw the film, so the power of his performance took me completely by surprise. At one point, he delivers a speech to the Terrills and their guests that is so fluent and yet so in keeping with his character (the father of a group of gangsters) that I was amazed. The awards were well deserved. Charlton Heston plays Steve Leech, a character I couldn't warm to, but that is exactly how he is supposed to be, so I can't fault his acting. He spends much of the film looking brooding and menacing.
William Wyler is a giant in the world of film direction, and this is one of his classics, along with Funny Girl, Ben-Hur and Mrs Miniver. Made in 1958, it is testament to his talent. The film is called Big Country - and this film is big in every way, from the wide, panoramic views to the length of the story, which at nearly three hours is an epic. The scenery isn't the most attractive in the world - it's the wild west of course - but it nevertheless fits in perfectly with the atmosphere, which for much of the film is intimidating. Against this background, the characters seem tiny and unimportant, which to me symbolizes the fact that, although the arguments are violent and agressive, in the long run when everyone is dead, it is the earth which will remain. That's quite a powerful expression and helps to make the film as memorable as it is.
The story, although basicially about a pointless quarrel between two families who should just have sucked it up and worked together, is still an memorable one. Wyler and the writers have done a really good job of keeping it relatively simple - there aren't any unnecessary side plots, it just focuses on the rivalry. However, because of the far-reaching consequences of the quarrel (probable death to those who lose), the story isn't diluted by the sheer length of the piece. I am not a fan of overly long films. 90 minutes is my perfect length - I just don't have the concentration span for anything much longer. Nevertheless, I understood why this film was as long as it is and was happy to watch it - although I did have to have a couple of breaks. There is no doubt that the film would look amazing in the cinema, but there's no way I could sit for three hours.
I am not a big fan of soundtracks - I think if the viewer is concentrating on the background music, then it's usually a sign that the film isn't very good. As a result, I rarely pay much attention. However, in this case, the music score, by Jerome Moross, is really rather special. Played by the Philharmonia Orchestra (a British-based orchestra, not the same as the Philharmonic in case you were wondering), almost everyone will know the theme tune, called 'The Big Country'. If you're not sure whether you've heard it or not, go to http://www.amazon.com/Big-Country-Jerome-Moross/dp/B000004BQ0 and listen to the sample (it's the first tune). The rest of the score is as good and fits in beautifully with the film, especially the scenes of galloping horses.
There is unfortunately only one extra with the film - the theatrical trailer.
This film isn't going to be for everyone, no film is. However, I would recommend it to people who think that they don't like Westerns, because there is a lot more to it than gunfights, lawlessness and one-upmanship. The love story is very understated, which is just how I like it, the acting is great and the cinematography is impressive - so don't write it off just because you think Westerns are rubbish. You will, however, need to be prepared for a long watch, so don't put it on for a quick watch before you go to bed. I'm not a massive Western fan myself, but I think this is a quality film that has stood the test of time and one that I'm very proud to have in my DVD collection. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99. I bought my version from Poundland.
Running time: 165 minutes
My mam reckons that you should never rush into a marriage type decision until you have had a chance to look at the intended in their home environment. Sound advice from a wise woman, and, offered up gratis.
To support this theory I have to point to the outstanding western "Big Country". Gregory Peck plays a sophisticated and cultured easterner who heads west to meet the family of his new fiance Carroll Baker.
What he finds out on the prairie is unlikely to impress him too much. His father in law, Major Terrill, is a wretched little man intent on dominating the prairies. His big rival is the rather more earthy Rufus Hennessy and their mutual hatred powers the films narrative.
Even worse for Peck is the fact that the sexy Ms Baker is actually in full agreement with her fathers sentiments and dreams of ridding the country of the oafish Hennessy clan.
All of this grates on the urbane easterner who starts to look for a solution to the problem.
This involves him buying some land from the luminous Jean Simmons, who, to our tired eyes, looks a better bet for Greg than the spoilt brat he is engaged to.
Inevitably his plans fall foul due to the attitiude of the Neanderthals he is dealing with. Words are spoken, views exchanged and the whole boils up very nicely for the traditional shoot up at the end.
Peck plays Peck, a decent and principled character, he is his own man and refuses to conform for the sake of appearances.
The rest of the casting is spot on. Heston glowers, Simmons simmers and Connors sleazes. Special mention must go to Burl Ives whose Rufus Hennessy has a rough hewn decency that is lacking in his nemesis Major Terrill. (Charles Bickford)
This is a great western, music, photography, casting in fact every aspect is top notch.
You can pick this up for a couple of shekels but it may be worth looking out for the american version which is an extended one.
This is a review of the MGM DVD.
As a big fan of Westerns, this film was high on my list of ones to check out and I was attracted by the cast and director.'The Big Country' is an epic Western made in 1958 by director William Wyler who is probably most famous for his huge cinematic epic 'Ben-Hur' which was made the year after this film. In many respects 'The Big Country' is a sort of dry run for that. Everything about this film screams 'Epic!' from the huge sprawling vistas, to the rousing soundtrack and the big name cast.
The story concerns James McKay [Gregory Peck] a wealthy former sea Captain who has left his life in the 'sophisticated' east to move west with his fiancee Patricia [Carroll Baker] a feisty girl from the big country and daughter of rich ranch owner Major Terrill [Charles Bickford]. Throw into this mix a beautiful schoolteacher [Jean Simmons, nothing to do with KISS] and a brooding foreman [Charlton Heston] and you've got the makings of one of the best Westerns ever committed to film.
As McKay struggles to assert his pacifism on a group of people to whom violence is the only way to prove yourself, the film throws up some interesting points about male pride/macho behaviour and the futility of violence. McKay's father was killed in a Duel and it angers him that no-one even remembers what it was over.
In the hands of another actor, McKay could have come across as preachy and unsympathetic, but Peck has such a presence [and the character reflected his real life abhorrence to violence] that he was totally believable and convincing in the role.
The thrust of the story revolves around two warring families; The Terrills [The Major, his daughter Patricia and his foreman Steve] and The Hannassey's [led by patriarch Rufus, played by Burl Ives]. It's often the case in Westerns that you have two warring families battling over land who are enlightened by a stranger who comes into their lives and shows them the error of their ways. So is the case with 'The Big Country', but the performances take this a notch above your standard Western fayre.
As the two families fight over 'Big Muddy' an area of land with a vital water source for animals, McKay slowly develops an admiration for the land's owner, schoolteacher Julie Maragon who's principals are more in keeping with his than the impetuous Patricia.
If this all sounds a bit cliched, don't be put off. 'The Big Country' is an excellent film and has been parodied/ripped off quite a bit down the years. I have heard it's famous soundtrack used in adverts and other films [I think it cropped up in 'City Slickers'] which all goes to lessen the impact of the original. It's not the fault of the filmmakers that others have copied the blueprint to death!.
The film was awarded a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Burl Ives, who gives a great performance as the frustrated leader of the Hannassey clan; a man who knows right from wrong but struggles in the face of his powerful and more wealthy rivals the Terrills.
I thought Peck was brilliant, his performance stood out above the others. This really was the sort of role that he could get his teeth into, the 'distinguished/dignified gentleman'. I suppose you could argue that his acting is a bit wooden, but this is not a theatre production its a huge sprawling Technicolour motion picture and his style fits what is required here perfectly.
Charlton Heston is also good as the Foreman of the Major's ranch who is suspicious of McKay and his motives, and is in love with the Major's daughter. The way in which his character develops a grudging respect for McKay is nicely done.
As is often the case in movies of this vintage, the female performers are required to do little except look beautiful. Jean Simmons and Carroll Baker are well cast in their roles and do a good job with the material they have to work with.
There were some impressive stunts executed on horseback throughout the film, none of which were performed by the cast from what I could make out, but that is understandable. None of your Burt Lancaster 'I'll roll down a massive hill and see what happens' malarkey in this one, if you don't know what you're doing with horses you're gonna get yourself killed doing this sort of stuff.
The MGM DVD [probably my favourite DVD range, if you hadn't noticed!], has no extras to speak of, just the original trailer and language options, but it's been nicely transferred and the picture and sound quality are mostly of a high standard. Franz F. Planer's beautiful Cinematography would look good even on the most modest of colour TV's. I rented it online, but last time I looked it was going for 87p [!!] on Amazon UK marketplace and seems to be generally available at a low price, under £5. Its well worth a punt at those sort of prices and comes with my highest recommendation.