Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Big Country (1958)

Director: William Wyler

Writers: James R. Webb, Sy Bartlett, Robert Wilder, Jessamyn West, Donald Hamilton

Composer: Jerome Moross

Starring: Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, Alfonso Bedoya, Chuck Connors, Chuck Hayward, Buff Brady

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  Big they fought! Big they loved! Big their story!

Plot: A New Englander arrives in the Old West, where he becomes embroiled in a feud between two families over a valuable patch of land.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

I just watched this for the very first time.  I didn't know anything about it.  It looked like it might have a sugary love story mixed in with some pretty scenery.  The gorgeous location shooting is abundant but the lovey stuff is very minimal, VERY minimal.  It's like the genre grew up a little and took the male/female relationship (within a Western) to the next level.  So often a romance in a film hurts it or at least too much of one can bring a film down.  Not this picture.  The performances are very good (Burl Ives OWNS it in every scene he's in.  His entrance at the big party is top drawer stuff.  In every scene he tells more about himself that reveals a multi-layered character and not some pissed off rancher who wants revenge.  He's fantastic.  Jerome Moross's score is big, lush and a perfect compliment to the great outdoors on display.  Jim (Peck) does some unexpected things that got me to giving up what I think he's going to do next and just roll with it.  Early on you might have a good idea how the rest of the near-3-hour picture is going to play out but you'd only be partially correct.  The ending is outstanding and the absence of dialogue adds to its effectiveness.  Speaking of absence, the fist fight between Jim and Steve (Heston) goes on for a couple of minutes with no music and when the music does come in, it's just a quiet instrument or two.  It was very effective and I was impressed the film makers played it out like that.  Usually you'd get a busy, violent music cue.  As for being two hours and forty-five minutes long, it doesn't feel like it.  Looking back, there isn't a wasted scene in the film.  Everything that's there needs to be there.  Great flick.  The MGM DVD features the film in anamorphic widescreen with only the theatrical trailer (non-anamorphic widescreen) for an extra.  

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