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The story, told in eight episodes, covers different facets of the American Spirit, from racial and religious tolerance to the dangers of self-centeredness and myopic reasoning. The parables represent a broad cross-section of the American experience: the elderly woman whose pride is injured when she's forgotten in the latest census; the novice minister more pleased with the sound of his own voice than with the needs of his congregation; the mother who confronts the illogic of racial intolerance when she meets the best friend of the son she lost to war; and the enigma that is Texas. Episode titles are: 1) Interruptions, Interruptions; 2) Census Taker; 3) Negro Story; 4) Rosika, the Rose; 5) Letter from Korea; 6) Lone Star; (7) Minister in Washington; 8) Four Eyes; a further episode, titled Load, directed by Anthony Mann, with 'Jean Hersholt' (q.v.) and 'Ann Harding' (q.v.), was filmed but deleted. Written by
Chris Stone <firstname.lastname@example.org>
WARNING: These comments may reveal portions of the film's plot.
I had thought that the "episodic" film format was an invention of the 1980's art film. "It's a Big Country" killed that myth by presenting a film about the USA that is built on eight different episodes. The episodes are drawn together by a common narration, their focus on different ways of looking at the USA, and the introductory episode which lays out the concept for the film.
In the opening segment, James Whitmore rides a commuter train and tells another rider, "I love this country?" The other rider's response catches Whitmore off guard. "Which country?" He then points out that the USA is many countries -- political, military, religious, industrious, urban, rural, and many others. Each of the following seven segments of the film then focus on various ways of looking at the USA.
The actors in those seven segments are a "Who's Who" of 1950's film. The already mentioned Whitmore, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, Gary Cooper, Janet Leigh and Keenan Wynn share the screen along with many others, including legends Ethel Barrymore and Fredric March. If you are a classic film lover, check out the list of credits and you'll find at least one favorite among the actors.
The film overall only comes across as average however -- it seems rather "preachy" on the concept of acceptance, and the happy endings of the segments come across too sugary. Fortunately the great acting in some of the segments pull them to the top of the heap. Gary Cooper's deadpan delivery combined with his Texas drawl in the one true comedy segment work's well. And the final segment in which a young immigrant boy finds he must wear glasses at the risk of ridicule of his father as well as his friends at school is equally appealing.
There is one glaring inconsistency in the film. The overall point seems to be that we must drop our racial stereotypes. To that end virtually every racial stereotype is presented and cut down. Each of the episodes of the film is presented as independent stories within the film -- little stories within the story. But when they presented the segment focusing on African American's, no story is given, only a narrated segment with stock shots of black America are presented. Not one known American actor of African descent is included. In this respect, Hollywood seems to have been unable to overcome it's own prejudice and exclusionary practices of that time.
You might enjoy portions of this film, but most persons will either stop part way through or fall asleep during this average film.
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