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Small drops in a big ocean
The Big Country (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
The Big Country (DVD)
Advantages: Beautifully filmed, great story and acting
Disadvantages: It's loooooong
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
Summary: A classic Western