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

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Big Sky (RKO, 1952)


OK if you like long black & white movies about trappers

Set too early to be a true Western (in the 1830s), this is more of a historical yarn about trappers and pioneers. At 122 minutes, it is long (the original cut came in at a hefty 140 minutes) and Howard Hawks's rather lethargic direction makes the black & white movie a bit on the ponderous side.

Still, Kirk Douglas is quite fun as Jim Deakins, the hero, doing that cheery-chappy act he patented, and Arthur Hunnicutt, especially, is great in support as Zeb Calloway, the narrator (he was nominated for an Academy award for it). Jim Davis also does a good job as the badmen's leader Streak. Kirk's eye falls on an Indian maid, Teal Eye (Elizabeth Threatt - her only film) but Kirk's pal and Zeb's nephew, Boone (Dewey Martin, rather good) does too and strains develop... Standard stuff, really, but done with gusto.

The photography and Grand Tetons locations are sometimes fine (though there is a lot of studio work too): Russell Harlan was behind the lens (as he was for Hawks on Red River).

The screenplay is by Dudley Nichols (again, from an AB Guthrie Jr. novel) and the story carries us along fine. The music by Dimitri Tiomkin is suitably grandiose.

So there is much that is enjoyable and high-quality about this movie. It was Howard Hawks's fault and that of his editor Christian Nyby that it wasn't better than it turned out to be. It needed sharper direction and cutting.


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