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...
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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 <email@example.com>
The scars on Van Johnson's face in this film are real, not make-up. While filming A Guy Named Joe (1943), Johnson was in an automobile accident and thrown through the car's windshield. The plastic surgery of the day could not totally remove his scars. In most of his later films, he wore heavy make-up to hide them, but probably felt that in this film, makeup on a reverend was not in his character's nature, whereas in The Caine Mutiny (1954), he felt leaving the scars added to his character. See more »
When the census taker asks Ethel Barrymore her name, she replies "Mrs. Brian Patrick Riordan" and he writes it down. Always with censuses, a woman's given name is entered. See more »
"It's a Big Country: An American Anthology" is a very unusual movie and is clearly a product of its times. While such a schmaltzy bit of unabashed patriotism and propaganda would be laughed at today, following WWII and in the midst of the Red Scare, it all made perfect sense back in the day. It was intended to hammer home the goodness of America and its people...though perhaps it comes on a bit strong here and there.
The film is made up of eight different stories. To me, this is the biggest weakness of the film. Perhaps paring it down to three or four stories would have worked better...especially since some of the stories are underdeveloped or just didn't work all that well. Here's a breakdown of the stories:
1. Two guys are on a train. One is a loudmouth (James Whitmore) and he strikes up a conversation with a guy who seems, at first, to just want a bit of peace and quiet (William Powell). This one was very forgettable and a bit stupid. This one merits a 3.
2. Ethel Barrymore plays a lonely widow who was somehow missed in the census. With the help of a newspaper editor (George Murphy) she gets counted. VERY schmaltzy and utterly ridiculous, this one is still very enjoyable and merits a 6.
3. In a tribute to the accomplishments of Black Americans, a montage of famous Blacks is shown while the narrator describes their many achievements and contributions. This is totally unlike most of the rest of the film and instead of a fictional story, it's a mini- documentary. For 1951, it's very liberal and positive...though folks today will likely think it's a bit of a 'whitewash' by making everything look too positive for this minority group. Despite this, I think it's quite good for the time in which it was made and I give it an 8.
4. Mr. Szabo (Cuddles Sakal) is a Hungarian man with many daughters...who he dearly loves. However, Mr. Szabo is a bigot when it comes to Greeks--he hates them and insists Hungarians ALWAYS will hate Greeks. Not surprisingly, his oldest daughter (Janet Leigh) ends up falling for a Greek (Gene Kelly) and this causes many problems...as well as forces Mr. Szabo to examine his own prejudices--hammering home the message that Americans should be united. However, I do wonder-- do Greeks and Hungarians really dislike each other? I don't think this has ever been true...and would love to know more from anyone who knows more about this. Making Kelly and his brothers Turkish-Americans...that would have made a lot more sense since there has been a long, long tradition of distrust and dislike between these groups. This segment easily could have been longer and more developed and was one of the more enjoyable segments thanks, as always, to the wonderful Cuddles Sakal. Of course, I'd love him in ANYTHING! 8.
5. A Jewish soldier (Keefe Brasselle) returns home from the Korean War. Among the first things he does is visit the mother (Marjorie Main) of a fallen buddy. The message is about more than tolerance for others but about our need for each other--and the strength Americans derive from its many ethnic groups. EXTREMELY preachy and schmaltzy but well done. 6.
6. This is a bizarre one. The narrator begins talking about Texas when Gary Cooper (dressed as a cowboy) interrupts and begins talking at length about his beloved Texas (though Cooper was actually from Montana!). It plays much like a travelogue...to a foreign country! This is among the shortest segments and is kind of funny...and forgettable. 6.
7. Van Johnson plays a young minister who has just arrived in Washington, DC and the church is the same one the President usually attends. His preaching sucks--mostly because he is more concerned with impressing the President than the congregation. Among the least watchable of the segments, 3.
8. Nancy Davis (Reagan) plays a school teacher who notices that an Italian-American kid cannot see very well...so she sends a note home. The father (Frederic March) is angry...his son sees just fine...or so he thinks. He's so upset he goes to see the teacher about this. Somehow, this idiotic father thinks that needing glasses is the same has having a hearing problem. Huh?! Well, regardless, the teacher has a tough time getting through to him. This segment seems to have less lot to do with the overall theme of the film but was okay otherwise. 5.
Overall, this is a fair film--with several really good portions and several which just don't work well. In many cases, by allowing the story to slowly reveal itself would have made the message less preachy and obvious. Subtle, it ain't but an interesting little experimental film.
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