After marrying an American lieutenant with whom he was assigned to work in post-war Germany, a French captain attempts to find a way to accompany her back to the States under the terms of the War Bride Act.
Jim Deakins is a frontiersman and Indian trader who is making a perilous journey with a group of other men up the Missouri River to get a large haul of furs from friendly Blackfoot Indians. The problem is that they have to get through hostile Indian territory first and they find that they have seriously underestimated the difficulties they will undergo. The large body of men who started the journey are gradually whittled down until only a hardy few, like Deakins, are left. Written by
The early history of America is a tale of great first times. There were men who were the first to cross new prairies and new mountains, the first to find gold, silver and copper; to plow new wheat fields and build new settlements.
This is the story of another of the great American firsts-- the tale of the first men who took a keelboat up the wild and unexplored Missouri River--who poled, pulled and rowed their way from St. Louis through 2000 miles of hostile Indian country to the hills of Montana and opened a new land for the future - - The Great Northwest. See more »
The Big Sky is directed by Howard Hawks and adapted by Dudley Nichols from the novel of the same name written by A.B. Guthrie Jr. It stars Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt & Arthur Hunnicutt. Dimitri Tiomkin scores the music and Russell Harlan photographs on location at Grand Teton National Park & Jackson Hole in Wyoming.
1832 and Jim Deakins (Douglas) & Boone Caudill (Martin) meet by chance out in the wilderness. Quickly bonding they travel to St Louis together to seek out Boone's Uncle Zeb (Hunnicutt). After finding him via a bar room brawl, the two men agree to join Zeb in a venture up the Missouri river to trade fur with the unpredictable Blackfoot Indians; their insurance against attack by the Blackfoot coming courtesy of Teal Eye (Threatt), a beautiful Blackfoot princess kidnapped years previously and now being returned home. Along the way the party have to battle nature, the Indian factions and also the Missouri Company out to topple their enterprise for fear of losing their monopoly on trade. Perhaps worse still is that the new found friendship between Boone & Jim will be tested by their mutual attraction to Teal Eye?
Given the credentials that come with The Big Sky, it's a little surprising that it's not more well known. Hawks, Douglas and Tiomkin speak for themselves, while Guthrie wrote the script for Shane and Nichols wrote the screenplay for John Ford's 1939 pulse raiser, Stagecoach. Add in that Hunnicutt and Harlan were Academy Award nominated for Best Support Actor and Cinematography respectively, well you have a fine bunch of professionals involved with this movie. So why so ignored or forgotten? The starting point should be with Hawks himself, who openly had issues with the finished product. Originally the film was a huge 140 minutes long and was doing decent business at the box office. But the studio execs had it cut down to 122 minutes so as to fit one more screening in during the day. The film promptly flopped and was left for dead by director and studio. Hawks was also never fully behind Douglas in the role of Deakins, he had wanted Gary Cooper or John Wayne. It seems in the end that Hawks just walked away after release and lost faith in promoting it. Western fans were grateful that the experience didn't make him turn his back on the genre, tho, for he delivered Rio Bravo 7 years later.
Having not seen the full uncut version of the film, I personally have to say that the 122 minute version viewed was pretty uneven and lacking a certain narrative spark to make it fully work. It's even episodic for the most part. What isn't in doubt is that visually it's one of Hawks' most rewarding pictures, with Harlan's photography sumptuous and period perfecto. Douglas is spirited and plays the black humour within quite nicely, while Martin is good foil for Douglas' beaming machismo, even if he's just a little too animated at times. Threatt doesn't have to do anything other than smile and look pretty, while Hank Worden shows up to neatly play a buffoon Indian called Poordevil! Undoubtedly the star of the show is Hunnicutt (who also narrates), tucking into a boozy, grizzled, teller of tall tales character, Hunnicutt lifts the film on the frequent occasions it threatens to sag beyond repair.
With the visuals and enjoyable Hawksian take on "man love" the film is worth the time of any Western fan. While the efforts to resist racism are honourable and neatly played. But in the end Hawks' frustration is justified, for it feels like a patched together adventure piece. And certainly not one that makes you think it's directed by the man who made Red River. I wouldn't hesitate to watch the full 140 minute cut of the film, but until then it will be some time before I can see myself watching this version again. 6/10
Footnote: Some Region 2 DVD's exist of the full cut, where the cut scenes have been spliced back in from a 16mm print. I'm led to believe that the quality is far from great. For British readers, the 122 minute cut shows up once in a blue moon on TV, where the BBC have the rights so at least it is advertisement free. As yet there is still no Region 1 release for the film.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this