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|Index||14 reviews in total|
I saw this movie when it originally came out and I took more people to see it in at least two successive trips to the old Crawford Theater. It is touching and worthwhile and depicts an America that all should see. Ethel Barrymore gives one of the best performances of her career. The preacher to the President is another vignette that stands out. There are memorable performances by Gary Cooper, Van Johnson, Gene Kelly, and Marjorie Main. Each vignette is a memorable one and all touch your heartstrings and provoke thought. It would be nice if it were available on DVD or even tape. What a delightful anthology this is. I recommend this to all. It is a movie you will enjoy.
I doubt if a film like It's A Big Country could be made in and about
the America of post Vietnam and Watergate. A whole lot of the clichés
presented here just aren't bought any more by large segments of the
population. For whatever it's worth the film is a presentation of what
we thought about ourselves in 1951.
It's a film with several different segments, some serious some pretty funny about every day Americans in all walks of life, in all parts of the then 48 states.
The two I liked best were those that ironically starred the two men who were not MGM contract players, Gary Cooper and Fredric March. Gary Cooper plays a Texas cowboy talking about his state and disillusioning us with a tongue in cheek delivery about the way Texans and Texas are perceived by the other 47 states. Of course Cooper's humor and the whole premise behind this segment was that Texas was our largest state in land mass. That ended in 1959 when Alaska became the 49th state, still it's the highlight of It's A Big Country.
Fredric March plays an Italian American father who's opposed to his son, Bobby Hyatt, getting needed glasses even after teacher Nancy Davis tells him it's necessary. He's got some old world ideas that need a bit of adjustment. March plays the role with dignity never do you feel he's a caricature.
Another episode that is nicely done involves Gene Kelly, Greek American boy falling for Janet Leigh, Hungarian American girl. They've got a problem though, her father played by Hollywood's number one Hungarian S.Z. Sakall. In the past 20 years we've seen a whole lot of stories about ancient ethnic hatreds coming out of Eastern Europe. Sakall is carrying some old grudges against Greeks though he really isn't sure why. Point being that here in America you're supposed to leave that all behind. That segment is still very much relevant.
Could we make It's A Big Country today? Not at this time, maybe at some future point when we've reached a national consensus that despite all our problems, America's a pretty good place after all.
WARNING: These comments may reveal portions of the film's
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.
"It's a Big Country" is a significant film. Created only a few years
after the victorious effort of WWII, it was delivered to an American
public that was exercising newfound powers, economic and political. It
was a society undergoing rapid change for the same reasons and also due
to changing mores in gender and race relations (caused by war
experiences) and due to changes in technology and infrastructure (the
car, interstate highways, etc.). The film fairly pleads for factions of
the country to remain united despite their tendency to seek their own
This film feels like a moving representation of Norman Rockwell paintings, displaying a homespun, good-natured respect for traditions and the values that drove the United States to become successful. From the viewpoint of the 21st century, some of these values seem naïve. In our post-Watergate world, fewer Americans see government authority and other established authorities as innately benign. But it is simplistically easy to view this film as merely propaganda or naïve.
Most of the episodes in this collection of vignettes champion values that were and are important to embrace: Racial understanding. The American melting pot. The Constitutional freedoms. But reading some reviews of the film, it is clear that some viewers also see the film as a documentary on American exceptionalism. And it's a subtext that cannot be ignored. Various individuals have always promoted the idea that America is the greatest country that ever existed--teachers, politicians, the military, the clergy.
The thing that is exceptional and unique about the U.S. is its Constitution. Sometimes that message is lost in the nationalistic clamor.
The film has an exceptional cast (Frederic March continues to amaze), exceptional writing that stirs the heart and summons tears, and solid production values. For those of any age, it can serve as a marker designating the state of the country circa 1950. So many complex factors have affected the evolution of the U.S. from what it was to what it is now. I like being reminded of the optimism of that time, however naïve. And it can remind us of the values we need to preserve and the viewpoints we have thankfully left behind.
Collection of stories to show the melting pot aspect of the USA. The
film is blessed with an array of talent that only could be pulled
together in Hollywood at its peak.
Episodic by nature and all the vignettes have their charm but the first three are really the best.
William Powell and James Whitmore breeze their way through a lively discussion of the ever evolving nature of the country. Their reactions to each other are what makes the skit.
Next up is a little story about not being lost in the crowd made charming by Ethel Barrymore's gentle performance.
The next segment is a tribute to notable African Americans which is nice in and of itself but that's also why it's a bit problematic. Considering the time it was made the isolated state of the short would have made it easy to snip out in the South. Of course the same could be said for any of the stories but since their are not people of color in any of the other segments it's rather obvious that was the intention at the time. Still it's a nice opportunity to see the significant Americans it spotlights.
The other sections all showing various slices of life, aside from Gary Cooper's star bit simply representing Texas, are pleasant but are on the sticky side of sweet.
This par excellence a film only the American could make.I cannot
imagine a French,English or Italian director making a movie to glorify
Wellmann and co tell us that America is a big country ,with big differences but where everybody has his place in the sun: in the "celebrities" segment,there are plenty of black artists such as Armstrong ,but the civil rights were ignored in 1949.
What saves this naive film containing more finer feelings than a Capra movie,is some kind of humor .Take the first scene on a train and the last sentence of the baffled traveler or the Hungarian daddy who does not want his daughters to marry a Greek,cause we are "enemies" .How great the melting pot is!And so are Gene Kelly and Janet Leigh.
Some stars only appear a few minutes:Gary Cooper tells us what a wonderful state "Lone Star" Texas is where oil spurts out everywhere under your feet;Ethel Barrymore plays a delightful old lady who is cross cause she was not counted when they took a census of the population.
The last sketch ,about glasses ,was perhaps not a very good choice to conclude the movie.
It was,is and will always be a big country.
Well-intentioned anthology film from MGM that lacks a clear focus. It's a collection of short stories that don't seem to have any other point except, I suppose, that the United States is a melting pot and how swell that is. Absolutely nothing wrong with that idea but I feel like more effort could have been put into (a) writing better stories and (b) having the stories connect better to drive home the "we're all different but we're all together" theme. The best anthology films tend to connect their stories and this just doesn't do that well. Still, it's full of old stars and the stories themselves, while not the strongest, are enjoyable enough. Worth a look for classic film fans. Probably kryptonite to cynics.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I understand this film did poorly at the box office. And I understand.
A lot of it is pretty uninteresting, although its intent -- to instill
pride in America -- was admirable. What's interesting about this "flop"
were the big stars in it: Ethel Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Nancy Davis
(not a big star, but the future First Lady), Van Johnson, Gene Kelly,
Janet Leigh, Marjorie Main, Fredric March, George Murphy, William
Powell, S.Z. Sakall, James Whitmore, and Keenan Wynn.
So how did a film with such a stellar cast flop? It was 8 unrelated "skits" about some aspect of American life. So each star was on camera for maybe 5-10 minutes only. Some of the stories were dumb and/or boring. Lots of propaganda-type film in between. A couple of the stories were interesting -- for example the Italian family segment (headed by Fredric March) was well done, as was the census story headed by Ethel Barrymore.
This is NOT one for your DVD shelf, but is worth one watch for the big stars.
It's hard to understand why this movie was made in 1951. It is
obviously a public service announcement (propaganda piece) that was
made for some reason.
The movie is made up of eight vignettes whose only commonality seems to be that America is a diverse country. While this notion seems hackneyed to us today, it must have had a reason to be made back then. One wonders if it was made for adult audiences or just for elementary school children. In any case, it is interesting to see what the public thought of as diversity in 1951 and how it was portrayed.
The vignettes display several nationalities and ethnic groups whom American WASPS seem to be just discovering, as if they never knew these groups were also Americans. The celebrities in this film seem to be telling us how diverse American is and doing it with platitudes. If nothing else, this film is quaint by today's standards.
---There is a segment with Marjorie Main (as herself) meeting one of her deceased son's army buddies. At first, she seemed put off by the fact that his buddy (Keefe Brasselle) is Jewish (though the word is never used).
After talking to him a while, she wants to write to his mother to let her know what a fine boy she thought he was. The apparent anti-Semitism of the 40s and 50s in America is something I can't personally relate to. However, it must have occurred since it crops up so often in the movies of that period: For example: Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire.
----Garry Cooper does a humorous piece about Texas--the biggest of the 48 states at the timeand how Texas is no different than any other state. While he describes Texas and Texans as just like any other state, the clips in the background show just the opposite.
----In another vignette, S.Z. Sakall plays the role of a widowed Hungarian with five daughters. He tells his daughters that he hates Greeks. When asked why, he says that Hungarians just hate Greeks. When his eldest daughter (Janet Leigh) is given a ride by a Greek (Gene Kelly) they soon fall in love, and the two families learn to like each other.
----In presenting stories about the diversity of America in the 50s, the movie fails to show us stories about American Indians or Asian Americans. Evidently, such was what American diversity did NOT include in 1950.
To me, the most interesting segment of the movie was the one featuring American Negroes (for that would have been the correct term at the time). Yet, the term, 'Negro' is never uttered in the cluster of newsreels shown---with a congratulatory narration about these "great Americans."
What we IS shown are the contributions made by great Americans such as: Jackie Robinson, Jessie Owens, Marion Anderson (singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), and entertainers such as Lois Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, etc.
The reason this segment was interesting to me is that there is no cute little story to be told here: Just newsreels and monuments. The American audience had not yet reached the point where blacks and whites could be seen interacting with each other (on anything like an equal basis) in the same little story.
Why? Because there were no such little stories like this--in any part of the country--at that time. I don't say this to put down the film. I only say it because it was TRUE. And, if nothing else, it demonstrates how far we have come since the film was made.
The film was dull but (in a way) interesting as a time capsule for the period in when it was made.
I love propaganda films. I don't care how dated and cheesy they can be. I'm fascinated by how they try to do whatever it is they are trying to do, even when I don't at all agree with their communication goals. If you watch this movie purely as an example of propaganda, and are aware of what was going on in the USA when the film was released (1951), you will enjoy it, even as cheesy as it can be. What I love about this film in particular is that it's not just a rah-rah-USA-we're-fabulous film, but it's a challenge to viewers as well, asking the people of the USA a number of things, including if they understand that it's the racial and ethnic diversity of this country that makes the USA so special, if they will fear change or embrace it, and if they can let go of long-held prejudices. If you aren't fascinated by propaganda, then you will enjoy the film at the very least if you are a movie buff: so many, many big names! My favorite: Fredric March, who is absolutely aDORKable. What I wondered after watching it: could a similar film be made now? And what would it look like?
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