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    Big Country, The [22] -1958-

    Movie Reviews
    Eastern dude James McKay (Gregory Peck) rolls into town to meet up with his fiancée, Pat Terrill (played by Carroll Baker). Pat is the daughter of a rich cattle rancher, Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford), who had met James in Baltimore. There they became engaged to be married.

    We learn that James is not just any dude fresh off the stage, he is a former sea captain and college graduate. He was keelhauled on board ship and hazed in college as pranks, which seems to have made him strong enough to face any adversity the Wild West has to offer. He also considers himself above all the political pettiness occurring around him. Major Terrill is feuding about the rights to the “Big Muddy” river with Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives), another rancher whose cows also get water from the Big Muddy. The key to the whole feud is the Big Muddy property itself, which is owned by Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons).

    Both Terrill and Hannassey have extreme bigoted disdain for each other. Maj. Terrill feels disgust about the conditions in which the Hannasseys live in Blanco Canyon, a “Sodom and Gomorrah”. Rufus Hannessey similarly feels all of the rich trappings about the Terrill home really disguise a gangster and a thug. With no higher authority around, it really is like a small-scale war. Apparently there is a county courthouse, where deeds are recorded, but the sheriff or marshal does not seem to involve himself in the activities of the Hannasseys or Terrills.

    The manager of the Terrill ranch is Steve Leech, played by Charlton Heston. Charlton already was known for playing Moses in the Ten Commandments in 1956, and would soon be playing Judah Ben Hur in one of the greatest movies of all time: Ben Hur. In this movie, he does not come across as strongly as Gregory Peck. Peck was still several movies away from his all time best known character of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. Peck’s character of McKay seems to have many similarities to the Finch character. They are both strong and not easily influenced by bigotry.

    Leech has it in for McKay right from the start. In fact it is quite clear that Leech is in love with Pat Terrill too. Leech challenges McKay to a fight, but McKay won’t fight on Leech’s terms. Instead, McKay moves to leave the ranch and breaks off his engagement with Pat. He goes to say goodbye to Leech in the bunkhouse and settle the argument. Their fight outside is framed inside a giant nighttime vista of the rolling big country hills. To say that the two fighting men occupy 1% of the whole screen would probably be overstating it. The camera is in a panoramic shot, with what amounts to two ants swinging at each other in the twilight. The effect was probably to show the insignificance of the purpose of the fight, although it takes several minutes of running time. As the two fighters wear down and are panting on the ground, we get an excellent set of quotes:

    Steve Leech (on his stomach looking up at McKay) : “All I can say, McKay, is you take a helluva long time to say good-bye.”
    James McKay (kneeling and looking down at Leech): “I was just about finished if it's okay with you.”

    Burl Ives’ character of Rufus Hannassey actually ends up coming across as the most noble. The setup is that the Hannasseys are Irish (we guess) and are white trash (we see). Buck Hannassey, played by Rifleman Chuck Connors, is an excellent white trash cowboy son. You really want to see him get what he deserves as part of the payoff for this movie. Rufus actually is a sound businessman who doesn’t care for showing off a fancy house or dancing at fancy balls. In the end, McKay only facilitates, Rufus does what needs doing. The whole Irish-as-second-class-citizens is something that is lost on my generation. And I have never in my life heard the word “mick” used as a derogatory insult except on TV. Even then it sounds corny. But at the time of this movie release, there were still those living who could sympathize with the Irish Hannasseys struggle for mere existence against the English/Yankee rulers. Burl Ives won both the Academy award and the Golden Globe in 1959 for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rufus in The Big Country. These were Burl's only acting awards in his 42-movie, 45-year career, and they were well deserved.

    This was the last movie for Alfonso Bedoya (playing ranch hand Ramon Guiteras.) He is best known for his role as “Gold Hat” in Treasure of The Sierra Madra. He delivered the famous line “Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges”. Ramon ends up being the third rider with Julie Maragon and James McKay at the end of the movie, and is really the only comic relief. He follows the sidekick-funny-hat rule, of course.

    The way to watch this movie is with the sound cranked way up, for two reasons: One, Jerome Moross’ musical score and Big Country theme are excellent and help show the vastness of the big country. Two, the actual sound and dialog are quite low against the music. Incidental background sounds were minimal, once again I guess to keep focus on the sweeping panoramic vistas. Excellent rental, and possible DVD purchase for Peck/Heston/Ives Fans. {BB}

    Added: September 28th 2004
    Reviewer: BB
    29 Point Scale Score: 22    [22]

    Related Link (IMDB): IMDB
    Hits: 2450
    Language: english


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