The Big Country
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160 of 169 people found the following review helpful
What we have here is a blood feud over water rights between two ranching families headed by Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford) and Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives), with school teacher Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons) caught in the middle. Directed by William Wyler with stunning cinematography by Franz Planer, we follow a narrative which involves the engagement of Easterner James McKay (Gregory Peck) to Terrill's beloved daughter Pat (Carroll Baker). Frankly, what he sees in her continues to elude my understanding.

Some reviewers have dismissed this as a "B" movie but I do not. The quality of the acting (notably Ives's which earned him an Academy Award for best supporting actor) is outstanding. Although in what I guess could be considered a minor role as Steve Leech, Terrill's ramrod, Charlton Heston delivers a remarkably nuanced and controlled performance as does Chuck Connors as Buck Hannassey. This is much less a western than a study of two patriarchs (Terrill and Hannassey) who play a zero sum game to gain control of access to water on which they and their herds obviously depend. But there is something else at work in this great but (for whatever reasons) under appreciated film. Julie Maragon is quite willing to allow both patriarchs access to the water. That is not the core issue: rather, it is the conflict between the inflated egos of two proud and stubborn men who detest each other.

For me, one of the most memorable scenes occurs when, just before dawn, McKay and Leech finally have it out. It is an awkward but inevitable and immensely effective fist fight, with much of it filmed as if we were observing it at a distance. Of course, the fist fight achieves nothing other than demonstrating that McKay is more of a "man" than Leech once thought. Before they begin throwing punches, McKay insists that no one know about their fight. Leech totally misunderstands McKay's reasons. Another memorable sequence of events focuses on Terrill and Hannassey as they slowly and carefully work their way through a canyon to their final confrontation. To repeat, theirs is a zero sum game except that neither wins. In these and other scenes, Planer's cinematography and Jerome Moross' music score blend effectively with the cast's superb performances under Wyler's direction.

Why has The Big Country been under appreciated, if not totally ignored among western films? I have no idea. I really don't.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2002
MGM's Western Legends Series presents William Wylers (Director of BEN-Hur) 1958 epic western classic "The Big Country". Now on DVD presented in WideScreen and enhanced for WideScreen HDTV's (16:9) format. This DVD is beautifully presented with the huge panoramtic display of "The Big Country".
This western was overshadowed in the late 1950's by the new "Rebel Without A Cause" youth gendre films.
Now we can recapture this 165 minute WideScreen western epic in the home on this fabulous DVD. Perfect script, magnificent photography, superb musical score, masterful direction of William Wyler & a brilliant ensemble cast providing all the elements for a great story. Lead by Gregory Peck - at his best, Jean Simmons - beautiful & intelligent, Charleton Heston - excellent Peck nemesis, Carrol Baker - rich & spoiled, Burl Ives - strong & rough (Oscar Winner - Best Supporting Actor), Chuck Connors - outstanding villian & Charles Bickford - arrogant & vane.
Summary: An Eastern Sea Captain / Dude (Peck) with a high moral code arrives in "The Big Country" to marry spoiled rich girl (Baker). Immediately he discovers he is in the middle of a range & water rights war against two feuding families, the Terrills (Bickford, Baker & hired foreman Heston) vs the Hannasseys (Ives & Connors). A local school teacher (Simmons) holds the deed & control of the water rights in "The Big Country". Who will get control of the water & will Peck be able to maintain his high morale ethical code? We journey throughout this epic western captured in the plot complexity & magnificent scenes discovering these answers & lots more.
A great family film. This is when Hollywood provided us with all the key ingredients for a great story, including the classical happy ending. An epic western you'll enjoy over & over. This DVD has an excellent transfer of sight & sound. The only extra is a trailer. Enjoy.
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93 of 105 people found the following review helpful
THE BIG COUNTRY, the rocky collaboration of co-producers William Wyler and Gregory Peck, is a big, expensive deconstruction of the 'classic' western genre and values, placing an Eastern intellectual (Peck) in the midst of them, questioning their validity. The film's sheer size ultimately defeats director Wyler's goal, but what emerges is still a rip-roaring drama, with terrific performances by Oscar-winner Burl Ives, Chuck Connors, Charlton Heston, and Charles Bickford.

Eastern ship captain James McKay (Peck) arrives in a GIANT-like Western town to marry Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker), whose father (Bickford) is a major landowner in the area. He immediately draws the ire of top hand Steve Leech (Heston) when he refuses to discard an Eastern-style hat (Leech obviously is Patricia's jilted lover, as well, setting the stage for an eventual physical confrontation between the two men). Patricia is beautiful, but shallow and temperamental, unlike her more mature, sensitive friend, schoolteacher Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons), and one wonders what McKay saw in her to make him propose!

En route to the Terrill ranch, McKay and Patricia are intercepted by a wild, acrobatic gang of cowboys, led by Buck Hannassey (Connors), son of the Terrill's mortal enemy and biggest rival, Rufus Hannassey (Ives). After a long chase/trick riding demonstration (punctuated by one of the film's many great musical themes, by composer Jerome Moross), Patricia's venomous reaction to Buck's escapades leads to McKay's being manhandled, roped, and roughed up, a bit. While McKay is forgiving, Col. Terrill (Bickford) uses the incident to invade the Hannassey ranch in force, and then ride into town, pistol-whipping Hannassey men (Buck hides to protect himself).

Thus begins McKay's education of 'The Way of the West', and his rebellion against it's traditions. He refuses to ride a wild old mustang in front of all the ranch hands and humiliate himself (the 'initiation' of the ranch), later breaking the stallion on his own. He navigates the huge Terrill estate with a compass, then refuses to publicly fight the disbelieving Leech, who'd led a search party to find him (McKay later takes Leech on, before dawn, when there would be no audience, then questions what purpose the fistfight served...an act that forces Leech to consider how trivial and out-of-kilter his way of life is). He refuses to endorse the Terrill/Hannassey feud, but buys the 'Big Muddy', a water-rich property, owned by Julie, which both sides covet, offering the water to everyone (which costs him Patricia's hand).

McKay's intellect and compassion reveals just how petty and bigoted both Col. Terrill and Rufus Hannassey are, but like two aging bulls, the pair inevitably march towards a deadly showdown by the film's climax, as futile and meaningless as McKay and Leech's earlier brawl. A 'Blood Feud' must be settled in blood, even when common sense proves it ridiculous.

Epic in scope, with the Wyler 'style' clearly evident in pacing and characterization, THE BIG COUNTRY may have misfired as an 'Anti-Western', but is still an entertaining, engaging production, and certainly deserves a place in any film fan's collection.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 13, 2003
I think Peck's best performance was in 1958s THE BIG COUNTRY. THE BIG COUNTRY is based on Donald Hamilton's novel of the same name. Gregory Peck plays the central character named James McKay. McKay was a sea captain who looked and acted like something of a dandy as he relocated out west from back east to marry his fiancée. McKay was a man who had nothing to prove to anyone but himself. I read the novel. Gregory Peck is James McKay. Peck chose this project and co-produced it because I think he recognized that particular character in the novel that mirrored his approach to many of the roles he chose. There are wooden people in everyday life. What is behind the wooden veneer? I think that a good actor takes the roles that work best for them. Look at Peck's performance as Lewt in DUEL IN THE SUN. That is not one of Peck's typical performances. I wonder after all these years what Peck's critique would be to his performance in that film. If you do watch THE BIG COUNTRY I think that Peck actually makes very subtle references to his performance in DUEL IN THE SUN with his awkward attempt at humor, which is consistent with the character of James McKay. THE BIG COUNTRY is one of America's greatest films. It is blessed with one of the finest scores ever written for an American film. What composer Jerome Moross gave us was true Americana as well as music in the Western genre. This score captures the spirit of what made America great. America is made up of different people and different ideals. Charlton Heston as Steve Leech, in what I think was also his best role and performance, showed us an overly assertive male quality. When he finally confronts McKay he comes away with a self-realization about his own motivations and what being a man really means. Later when put to the test he is truly torn for the first time between good sense and loyalty to the selfish and tyrannical Maj. Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford). Only the viewer can draw a conclusion on his actions. The pivotal music by Jerome Moross in this scene will tear your emotions apart. Burl Ives as Rufus Hannassey won an Academy Award for his role. For me he was the most enigmatic character in this film. Is he as tyrannical as his nemesis Henry Terrill is or not? I am still perplexed. Another good performance in this film was by Chuck Connors as the tragic Buck Hannassey. Chuck Connors as an actor deserved infinitely more recognition than he ever got and this film proves it. This was not a film of black and white characterizations. There was a lot of gray. I saw this film in the theatre when I was a little kid when it first got released. It is very strong on imagery. My heart went out to Chuck Connors as Buck Hannassey in the finale and it still does when I watch it today. This is one of my ten or so favorite films. It is slow and deliberate. It is not flashy. The critics at the time were very wrong. It is a long movie yet there is not a wasted shot in it. It packs a greater emotional punch every time I watch it. The older you get, the more you can identify with it. I was lucky enough to see it the first time when I was very young. This is one of those rare films that offers something knew each time you watch it.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 1999
You may be surprised that I consider this film to be one of the best ever made. The true value of the film is the unique story. At first blush it certainly doesn't seem unique, but as the story unfolds it becomes obvious that this is not just another western. This movie deals with elements that most movies won't dare touch, such as morality, honor, and "What makes a real man?" This is one of those rare movies that makes an important point, inspiring the audience and making you think.
Add to that dead-on acting, a terrific cast, and you have a true gem of a film. And unlike so many films today that obvious is never stated. The characters convey their feelings through a look as often as they do in words. One last thing. Do yourself a favor and get the widescreen version, since without it you often can't see characters while they are talking.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2005
The main character in this movie is played by Gregory Peck, and he does a great job as usual. He doesn't really fit in with most of the West's standards, but in reality he does belong. His character is similar to John Wayne's in "The Quiet Man"--everyone expects him to go guns blazing at the slightest offense, but he is so confident in his own character, that he refuses. And that's what makes him sooo cool. Charlton Heston plays the typical cowboy full of the expected bravado, but you can see right through his shallowness.

Hooray for a different western. A HUGE production (the name kind of indicates that), this is a very enjoyable film with lots of recognizable stars and some good action. I've always thought Jean Simmons was beautiful too, so there's a great heroine to go along with the great hero.

If you like westerns, Gregory Peck, or sprawling epics you will like this film!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2000
I loved this movie as a kid when I saw it in the theatre back in 1958 or 1959 and I still love it. The movie score by Jerome Morass is absolutely magnificent. Gregory Peck plays a pacifist Easterner who's trying to avoid getting caught up in the land dispute his fiance's (Carol Baker) family is having with a local clan. His shallow fiance and her father (Charles Bickford) interpret his unwillingness to fight as a sign of weakness. Charlton Heston and the beautiful Jean Simmons are fine in their roles. Burl Ives won an Oscar for his portrayal of Rufus Hennesey, the leader of a very large extended family. Last, but not least, Chuck Connors (of the Rifleman TV series) turns in his finest film performance. A big movie with big stars made by a big-time director (William Wyler who won best director Oscars for Ben-Hur and The Best Years of Our Lives). A fine film with a good message about the futility of fighting in order to resolve conflicts.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 1999
This movie is almost a one-of-a-kind. The only film which I feel even comes close is the classic western "Shane" which if my memory serves me correct was made around 1955. "The Big Country" boasts an all star cast: Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, Jean Simmons, Carol Baker, and Chuck Connors. One of the things which makes this one of my favorite movies is the acting. This cast is nothing less than superb. The basic story is a tale of conflict between two radically different frontier families over rights to the use of a river for watering cattle and the destruction this conflict causes. The prominent theme is: we are a lot better off if we all just try to get along. It's a refreshing break from the shoot-em-up, let's get even theme in so many films. I would recommend getting this in the wide-screen version. The cinematography is awesome and it's really lost in the pan and scan version, which I currently have.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2002
I would recommend this movie to people who don't even like Westerns. Charlton Heston plays a bad guy. Gregory Peck's character has a personality that's constant throughout the movie, and one that you can't help but admire and wish you'd be more like. The women are great in the movie, and how their stories play out as the movie goes on is terrific. Chuck Connors is hilarious as the bad guy. And Burl Ives. He REALLY deserved the Oscar he won. When I watched this movie, I stayed up way later than I should've. But I couldn't turn it off, just because Burl Ives kept stealing scenes. As the country hick father who's battling for water rights and against the snob on the hill, he doesn't compromise his integrity and he's not too old to learn new things.
The fight between Peck and Heston is fantastic. Actually, everything about this movie was fantastic. There are some movies that are simply impossible to dislike or be bored with. Some movies that come along that are just plain Good.
The Big Country is one of those movies. The plot is great, the characters are great, the acting is great, the scenery is great, the dialogue is great, and the action is great. It's a long movie, and I wish it were even longer.
I bought this movie based on how great the other reviews were. Never even viewed the movie prior to buying it. I'm kinda daring in that way once in a while (On the flip side, I bought the Englishman who went up a hill and came down a mountain, and thought it was a total Bore). I recommend this movie as one you could buy without even renting it first. If you like Peck, it's reason enough to own it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2006
When Jim McKay (Gregory Peck) stepped off the stagecoach in the open range of the West, Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) was already his excellent rival and adversary...

Steve - Major Terrill's strong right arm - was in love with the beautiful Pat (Carroll Baker) daughter of his boss, who intends to marry the innocent handsome Captain...

Soon than expected, McKay discovered a bitter blood feud between the Terrills, owner of a huge ranch, and the Hannasseys, simple mountain men..

Extreme hatred united the two families, the two cattlemen Major Terrill (Charles Bickford) and Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives).

Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons) was a strategic factor in the conflict... She was the key to supply water... Both, Terrill and Hannassey wanted her part of land to have their cattle watered, but she always said 'no' to either... Why not to say 'yes' now to Jim McKay! Julie was touched by his honesty, a quality she admired in a man...

Jim, a perfect gentleman - suffering humiliation since his arrival to the big country - grew to unlike Pat's ideas and manners which were in a primitive set of values... He became aware of Julie as a sensitive woman, an understanding human being with great heart...

When Julie is kidnapped by the Hannassey, McKay goes to meet Rifus... He wins esteem and consideration from the old man but fails to refrain a hostile confrontation between the two selfish, inflexible old barons...

"The Big Country" is distinguished by its magnificent landscapes... The high, wide and impressive buggy ride spread out a lavish, sumptuous scale of the State of Texas as never has been carried to the silver screen..

The film is about land and its influence and power over people... A story that can occur everyday in every country, zone and family... The love, the hatred, the war for land, for power, for water rights... always for an asset!

Gregory Peck is outstanding as the calm anti-traditional hero, balancing a deed of bravery, strength and endurance...

Jean Simmons was a big leading lady at that time, big enough to the 'Big Country.'

Carroll Baker, famous as the thumb-sucking child-wife in "Baby Doll," is Charles Bickford's willful daughter, acting according to his law and dictate...

Charlton Heston confirms a favorable impression by giving an excellent account as the grinning, menacing rival in love with the land and with McKay's attractive fiancée...

Burl Ives - Winner of the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor in the film - is impeccably cast as the gray-haired patriarch of a shameful, indecent, discourteous clan...

Charles Bickford (1891-1967) could play as easily the sincere man of virtue ("Duel in the Sun") as the dishonest villain... His generous character and his stubborn face fitted him perfectly to such roles as the proud misguided patriarch led by false and mistaken ideas in the range against Burl Ives...

Chuck Connors (1921-92) is always remembered for his success on T.V. notably in "The Rifleman" series (58-63). Here he plays the heavy coward, the rude and vulgar, the hypocrite impolite noisy disorderly son...

Directed by William Wyler, and filmed with an outstanding Oscar-Nominated Musical Score by Jerome Moross - that has become a classic - "The Big Country" is a spectacular Western featuring a brilliant cast at top shape.

If you like big action, big fights, big love, don't miss it!
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