"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Big Country (United Artists, 1958)


Now where were we, after these diversions, on the Westerns of Gregory Peck?

Oh yes, we did The Stalking Moon.  Well, the next one in the series (working in reverse chronological order) was 1962's How The West Was Won. We already watched that gigantic turkey  and were dismissive of it. So next in the series comes The Big Country.

In this one, Peck is an ex-sea captain who comes out West and falls into a big range war and it's all rather fun. Peck is a bit dudish but excellent as usual. He is here to marry Jean Simmons.

The great thing about this movie is that 'big' is in the title and very appropriately so because everything about it is on the grand scale. It has big sweeping, Red Rock Canyon and Mojave Desert locations photographed in wide-screen color by Franz Planer. It has a big, swirling score by Jerome Moross. And it has big stars: with Peck and Simmons come Charlton Heston and Burl Ives (the latter won an Academy award). There are loads of mini-Pecks in the cast, by the way. These Pecklets were billed rather unimaginatively as 'Boy'.

The plot came from the original novel by Matt Helm author Donald Hamilton and was worked up into a screenplay by some big-name writers including Robert Wilder and James R Webb.

So you see it is indeed the Big country. Actually Westerns quite liked big things in their titles, not surprisingly, because I guess the West is on the big side. There was The Big Land and The Big Cat as well as Big Jake and Big Jack. There were The Big Trail and The Big Trees. The Big Stampede. And The Big Sky, of course. Yes, Westerns 'did' Big. Decidedly.

William Wyler directed and Peck strutted his stuff. It's an eminently watchable Western.

According to Peck, Wyler intended the film to be a left-wing allegory for the Cold War. Can't see it, myself.

It's big, though.

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