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Retired, wealthy sea Captain Jame McKay arrives in the vast expanse of the West to marry fiancée Pat Terrill. McKay is a man whose values and approach to life are a mystery to the ranchers and ranch foreman Steve Leech takes an immediate dislike to him. Pat is spoiled, selfish and controlled by her wealthy father, Major Henry Terrill. The Major is involved in a ruthless civil war, over watering rights for cattle, with a rough hewn clan led by Rufus Hannassey. The land in question is owned by Julie Maragon and both Terrill and Hannassey want it. Written by
E.W. DesMarais <email@example.com>
As a rule, I don't like westerns. This isn't because I'm a city slicker (though now, I do live in a city). I grew up in rural Eastern Oregon where "real" cowboys still herd their cattle through the center of town in John Day, Oregon. My stepfather owned a 10,170 acre cattle ranch. After being raised among "real" cowboys, the Hollywood versions tend to leave me flat. The Big Country was an exception.
Jim McKay (Gregory Peck) introduced us to a different kind of man, far different than most stereotypical men of the Wild West. If I were to compare McKay's character to any other film character, it would be Ghandi. He's a man who doesn't feel obliged to seek the approval of others ... a man who believes that violence doesn't need to be used to solve problems. His secret ride of Old Thunder, making Ramon (Alfonso Bedoya) swear to keep quiet regardless of the outcome, set the tone for McKay's character. His later secret fight with Steve Leech (Charleton Heston), making him swear to keep quiet regardless of the outcome, cemented that tone. This was a REAL man whose opinion of himself was not dependent upon anyone else's opinion ... in stark contrast to anyone else in the film outside of Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons). As Ramon said, "Such a man is very rare."
Outside of McKay, my #2 favorite character in the film was Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives). I found nothing about him distasteful considering he was a character whose back was against the wall ... whose livelihood was threatened. The things he did make perfect sense in such a situation. His only flaw was his obvious poor parenthood. He really blew it with Buck (Chuck Connors) and Buck's siblings were of the same ilk.
I'm so glad that MGM/UA finally released the widescreen version in 2001. This is a film that deserves such a presence. It may not be playing in theaters anymore but seeing it in any other display size takes so much away from it. I've seen the pan/scan version before and will never go back.
One note. The full listing of writing credits for the film adaptation is lacking. "Ambush In Blanco Canyon," originally serialized in a magazine, was later novelized into "The Big Country" by Donald Hamilton ... and Hamilton also worked on the adaptation as well as Leon Uris ("Topaz," "Exodus," "Gunfight At the OK Corral," etc.).
This epic film was not lacking for anything. It had the best writers, the best actors, the best musical score, and the best scenery of any other film of its time ... western or otherwise. And the film remains one of my favorite films of all time.
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