Customer Review

157 of 165 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only rarely the t'wain shall meet...., August 1, 2003
This review is from: The Big Country (DVD)
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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 20, 2009 6:48:25 PM PST
I totally agree with Mr. R. Morris. I keep on waiting and hoping that one day I may see this picture on TV.
This movie had good actors, good story and great music.
Still, The Big Country continues waiting in some dark shelf..Why?? BIG MISTERY!!
Ricardo Ojeda

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2009 5:05:40 AM PST
Thank you for your comments. With the DVD priced by Amazon at only $11.99, most people can afford to own a copy and see it whenever and as frequently as they wish. Every year when I vote for the ten best films in each of several categories, during a survey sponsored by the American Film Institute, I always include The Big Country but it has not -- as yet -- received enough votes to become one of the "Ten Best Westerns" Perhaps in 2010?

Posted on Dec 26, 2009 11:59:09 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 26, 2009 12:04:35 PM PST
Ever notice how good reviews (for classic stuff at Amazon) tend to elicit good comments? Look. I admit I'm a "fan" of Robert Morris ever since reading his Top 100 list of great films. (He can manage to make even books about business interesting for this reader!) But he hides his light under a bushel (to coin a phrase) and only inadvertently do I ever get to learn interesting things about him, like:

"Every year when I vote for the ten best films in each of several categories, during a survey sponsored by the American Film Institute, I always include The Big Country but it has not -- as yet -- received enough votes to become one of the 'Ten Best Westerns' Perhaps in 2010?"

My Dad, WWII author George G. Blackburn who admired Robert Morris greatly, never got to meet him "face-to-face" (only through Christmas cards, letters and phone calls. But if I ever get down to the great state of Texas, I will! (You've been warned, Bob!) Happy New Year, 2010 and . . . keep writing!

Posted on Mar 12, 2010 7:46:11 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jul 28, 2011 7:54:56 AM PDT]

Posted on Sep 2, 2013 5:59:01 PM PDT
I saw this movie at the Carolina Theater in Spartanburg, SC in the fall of 1958 as a Senior in High School. I thought it was wonderful then and still do. The characters were magnificent and the story was classic. i just purchased it on DVD and can't wait to see it again!

Posted on Dec 3, 2013 8:32:41 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 4, 2013 7:40:06 PM PST
R. Scott says:
Some of my favorite Westerns were done by directors who where not known for producing Westerns. The Big Country and The Cowboys are my favorites. The Big Country made smart use of the wide screen picture and it ended up being a head of its time in artistic cinematography. I always love watching it. I did not get to see it on the big screen but now that it's available on Blu-ray, I look foreword to watching it on a large TV, in 1080p, some day. Perhaps The Big Country and The Cowboys have the best Western Film Music Scores in the history of cinema.

Posted on Sep 1, 2014 6:53:22 PM PDT
WarGar says:
I was 14 when The Big Country opened. I was a cowboy fan, probably true of many kids of that time. We were living with my grandparents because my father had died earlier that year. Whether that had anything to do with my reaction to the film or not, I don't know. I saw it at a neighborhood theater (literally across the street from my grandparents' house). After this very long movie ended I ran home, begged my mom and grandmom to let me go see it again - the same day. Basically they responded "It's your quarter" (or whatever movies cost back then!). And so I did. I have never done that again. It's still one of my all-time favorites. The are moments I can call to memory as clearly as though I were watching the movie. All involve acting. I love the music, the cinematography, the directing, and the epic story, but it's the acting I always come back to. Robert Morris's review is right on the money.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2014 2:02:49 AM PDT
"Thank you" to both you and R. Scott for the comments. They are much-appreciated. Recently, in a discussion with a fellow film fanatic, we compared and contrasted The Big Country (1958) with Giant (1956) and agreed that the former is much better in most (if not all) respects. It is interesting to note that Peck and Heston really did hit each other during their fight at sunrise whereas Hudson and Mickey Simpson ("Sarge") did not. In fact, the sound was adjusted to suggest that Hudson's punches hit harder. I like both films but, as indicated, think The Big Country is the greater achievement.
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Robert Morris
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