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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"The Big Country" (1958)

What's in a name? Everything if you're talking about this quality western. Big story. Big cast. Big music. Big widescreen vistas. And most importantly, Big Theme. Gregory Peck, doing his stoic and taciturn best, is an educated gentleman from back East who comes out West to marry his fiancé (Carroll Baker), the bratty scion of a wealthy cattleman with a big ranch (Charles Pickford). How big? BIG. You know that because every character in the movie tells him. But trouble starts when Peck realizes he's caught in the bickering crossfire between his future father-in-law and another rival rancher (Burl Ives). These two old coots go at it tooth and nail, threatening and insulting each other 'til things get really dicey. Each has a son figure by his side, Charlton Heston and Chuck Connors, to further goad pacifist Peck into manning up and takin' sides. Now, given the era it was filmed, the whole movie can be read as a Cold War allegory (Will these two warring factions fight to the death and kill everybody along with them?), but it's just more fun to sit back and watch all these great actors play out the story against director William Wyler's wide screen panoramas. Lovely schoolteacher Jean Simmons is around to vie for Peck's heart, and Ives steals the picture--and took home the Oscar--for his blustery patriarch turn. Major points for some great Saul Bass titles and the justifiably iconic score by Jerome Moross. Just try and get the recognizable title theme out of your head. You will lose.

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