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Alec West23 June 2005
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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"How Many Times Does A Man Have To Win You?"
bkoganbing30 January 2006
The Big Country is one big and fun western with concurrent plot lines. The first is the struggle between two implacable enemies, Charles Bickford and Burl Ives. The second is a four sided romantic triangle involving Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, and Carroll Baker with Chuck Connors trying to horn in.

William Wyler directed the almost three hour western with a sure hand and your interest does not wane for one minute in this film. Gregory Peck also was a co-producer on this film as well as the first billed. He had a hand in casting a lot of the film, specifically Burl Ives in his Academy Award winning performance as Rufus Hannessy.

It's the Terrills versus the Hannessys. Charles Bickford is the local Ponderosa owner Major Terrill. Presumably the title comes from the Civil War. Bickford does play Terrill with a military bearing. My guess is that he was a Yankee soldier.

The Hannessys would now be called white trash. They look like hillbilly folk who also came west for fame and fortune. They've also got a big spread in a place called Blanco Canyon. They hate the Yankee Major as much as he hates them.

Sitting between them is Jean Simmons who has inherited a modest piece of land that sits across a river that both outfits water their cattle on as per an agreement with her late grandfather. She doesn't work the land herself any more, she teaches school in town.

Simmons tries to keep above the feud. She is friends with Carroll Baker, Charles Bickford's daughter. She's been east and is bringing home a prospective bridegroom who is a former sea captain played by Gregory Peck. That doesn't sit well with Charlton Heston who is the Terrill foreman. He's got eyes on Baker himself and Chuck Connors who is Burl Ives eldest son has eyes for Simmons when he's not in the local bordello.

A lot of started and broken relationships and a few of the cast members being killed occurs in The Big Country. My favorite scene and line in the film is when Burl Ives gives some advice to Chuck Connors on how to woo and win Jean Simmons. His big advice is to show her how much you care by taking a bath occasionally.

Charlton Heston took a role that was fourth billed because he wanted the opportunity to work with William Wyler. That was one great career move because Wyler and he hit it off so well that Wyler signed him for the lead in his next film which turned out to be Ben-Hur. Heston in his memoirs, conservative as he became, says he also got along very well with Gregory Peck who he called a "thinking man's liberal."

Peck and Wyler had worked together previously on Roman Holiday and had done good work there and also hit it off. However with Peck as a co-producer as well as star they had some clashes on the set. One notable one involved Peck wanting to retake the carriage scene where the Hannessy brothers attack Peck and Baker on the way to the Bickford ranch. Peck wasn't satisfied and wanted a retake. Wyler who was legendary for doing scenes dozens of times until he got what he wanted refused. Later when shown the finished film, Wyler had edited out and around what Peck didn't like and it came out OK. They remained friends, but never worked together again.

Simmons as the independent minded school teacher and Baker as the spoiled daddy's little girl acquit themselves well in their roles. Baker is disappointed in Peck not seeing him as her ideal western man and Simmons upbraids her with the quote I put in the review title.

This is also the final film of Alfonso Bedoya who never did get a role in an American film as good as the one he had as Gold Hat in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Still this is a fine farewell performance to a very colorful and talented player.

When he's on the screen Burl Ives dominates and fills it and not just physically either. Rufus Hannessy may not be to the manor born, but he has his own sense of integrity and fair play. All that Burl Ives captured in Rufus and The Big Country is worth watching just for him alone.

And that Jerome Moross score; simply one of the best ever done in the history of film.
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One of the great movies
trpdean6 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Whether or not you care a hoot about westerns or western scenery, whether or not you like Gregory Peck or Jean Simmons, whether or not you like movies with action - this is a powerful moving experience.

The movie has so many Shakespearean tones - the father-son relationship, the rival families, the mismatched romantic couple - it will remind you of so many of his plays. It was also said to be Wyler's comment on the Cold War - and probably also reflects the feelings of a director who grew up in Alsace-Lorraine and felt from birth the enmity between the French and Germans before World War I.

One of the things I most enjoyed was the way in which the viewer had some sympathies with every single one of the seven main characters.

The least sympathetic is probably the Chuck Connors role -- yet even with him, one feels right from the start his dynamism, his love of life, his all-too-human pleasure in things. He's not a simple bully - in some respects he could easily fit in with the trio of Gunga Din who burst from windows, enjoy women to the fullest if they aren't tied down, play tricks, and live life to the fullest. The director makes us FEEL the joy of Connors and his brothers in showing off, in their daring, their vivacity when we see them on horseback early in the movie.

The most sympathetic are Peck and Simmons - and wow, what a combination. They were born to play opposite each other - and it's terribly sad that this is their only pairing.

Charles Bickford, Burl Ives, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, we feel with each one. For example, Baker is given a wonderful scene in which she pleads that she will do whatever it takes to get Peck back, apologizes for her behavior, insists it will never happen again. She is shallow, too young for Peck, concerned enormously with appearances - yet Wyler shows us a warm creature easily capable of love and affection.

We feel with Heston - who has grown up loving a woman who has put him in his place and who has now tied herself to a stranger - who will presumably in time became his boss even though Heston was raised as practically a stepson to Bickford. We see Heston subtly change over the course of the film - to an independence of Bickford that is wonderfully done.

The astonishing courage of Bickford's character, his stamina, his truly rugged independence, his native refinement, and his outrage at the coarseness of the Hennessys, is so well-drawn.

Ives' character is brilliantly drawn too - a great sense of fair play, an admiration for gentlemen - which he is decidedly not and knows - a feeling that he has never gotten much of what he wanted, his disappointment in his son - these are fascinating to see.

This is really a great movie - with great characters who themselves cause the plot to go the only way it could.

My only objection is the too neat ending - but Simmons and Peck just looking at each other is SO right.

Don't miss this. It is both powerful and subtle - it is never rushed and devotes time to the development of all the seven characters which I find quite rate in movies generally.

Thus, we see Simmons and Baker together alone - and Baker's comment, "You always think you know everything" to Simmons gives us a pretty strong idea of their characters' relation before the movie ever began.

We see Heston alone with Baker - his barely suppressed desire breaking out - and her feeling that he is beneath her.

We see wonderful scenes of Bickford and Heston alone together - and the great scene where we realize that the men hold with Heston far more than with their nominal boss when they refuse to go where Heston won't go.

This is monumental - fascinating - very American - and wonderful.
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Big entertainment, bigger music.
Poseidon-34 February 2002
As several characters state in the film, "This is a big country" and THIS is a BIG MOVIE. It screams out for widescreen viewing. Many of the characters are largely and broadly drawn with big strokes (stubborn Peck, fiery Baker, resentful Heston, righteous Simmons, imperious Bickford, cantankerous Ives and slithering Connors) yet they all are dwarfed by the huge landscape. Tall men, horses, trees and houses are all presented as so many ants on an ant hill in many of the images. The film has a compelling story and intriguing interpersonal relationships and rivalries which are all enhanced by this larger than life approach. The landscape is sometimes awe-inspiring, notably in the Blanco Canyon scenes near the end of the film. Peck is appropriately straight-laced and uncomfortable in this rough & tumble setting, lovely Simmons is a likable heroine and Baker is an effective daddy's girl with misplaced affections. Connors acquits himself very nicely as a thoroughly detestable punk. Heston comes off extremely strong in this film. He's completely at home and was probably never more handsome (check out the scene in which he's roused from his bed by Peck!) He makes the most out of this secondary role. Bickford and Oscar-winning Ives make a great pair of adversaries...almost makes one wish for a prequel to see what got these two so riled up (but today's filmmakers couldn't be counted upon to do it in a tasteful, classy way.) Memorable scenes include the taunting of Peck by Connors and his brothers, Ives grand entrance into Bickford's house and an almost legendary fight scene between Heston and Peck. All of the above are raised to an even higher plane of excellence by what must be one of the greatest musical scores in film history (western or otherwise.) Jerome Moross composed several themes (the opening title is the best known) which put this film into a whole new category of enjoyment. The score stands alone as a beautiful listening experience and paired with the images in this film, it is amazing. It occasionally seems intrusive, yet knows when to keep quiet as well. The Oscar that year went to Tiompkin's "Old Man and the Sea", but it seems astonishing that anything could have bested this score. The film's only real flaw is slight overlength, but nothing really stands out as aching to be cut! Maybe just bits and pieces....but, really, the story just takes it's time and builds to some stirring moments.
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Easily one of the most underrated movies of all-time.
DRF28 January 2001
I've read all of the comments about Wyler's "The Big Country". I don't even remember the first time I saw this movie but I have never tired of watching it. William Wyler went to the vault and pulled out the often used theme, "the showdown on main street at high noon" genre that many directors had tired of and felt was the kiss of death to western movies of the day and he pulled it off in grand fashion. Why this movie has never received it's just due has mystified me for years. Maybe the late '50's became the time of the "brat pak" movie genre, ("Rebel Without A Cause"), but the performances in this movie are classic. Jean Simmons was absolutely intriguing. As a man watching this movie, I soon realized what Mr. Peck would begin to see in this woman as the movie progressed. Just that little glimpse from Ms. Simmons as she measured up the man she would soon fall in love with had more sexual power than most flicks today that try to thrive on the sexual theme to sell theatre tickets.

This is not just a western. It is pure greatness from William Wyler and a cast that added strength to the film. Burl Ives and Charles Bickford played their respective roles with the intenseness and professionalism of a classic Shakespearean play and Charlton Heston was perfect as the antagonist to Gregory Peck. This film has no weakness and has gotten better with time.
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Enjoyable ranch-war Western with an outstanding Oscar-Nominated Musical Score...
Nazi_Fighter_David26 September 1999
When Jim McKay (Gregory Peck) stepped off the stagecoach in the open range of the West, Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) was already his excellent rival and adversary...

Steve - Major Terrill's strong right arm - was in love with the beautiful Pat (Carroll Baker) daughter of his boss, who intends to marry the innocent handsome Captain...

Soon than expected, McKay discovered a bitter blood feud between the Terrills, owner of a huge ranch, and the Hannasseys, simple mountain men..

Extreme hatred united the two families, the two cattlemen Major Terrill (Charles Bickford) and Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives).

Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons) was a strategic factor in the conflict... She was the key to supply water... Both, Terrill and Hannassey wanted her part of land to have their cattle watered, but she always said 'no' to either... Why not to say 'yes' now to Jim McKay! Julie was touched by his honesty, a quality she admired in a man...

Jim, a perfect gentleman - suffering humiliation since his arrival to the big country - grew to unlike Pat's ideas and manners which were in a primitive set of values... He became aware of Julie as a sensitive woman, an understanding human being with great heart...

When Julie is kidnapped by the Hannassey, McKay goes to meet Rifus... He wins esteem and consideration from the old man but fails to refrain a hostile confrontation between the two selfish, inflexible old barons...

"The Big Country" is distinguished by its magnificent landscapes... The high, wide and impressive buggy ride spread out a lavish, sumptuous scale of the State of Texas as never has been carried to the silver screen..

The film is about land and its influence and power over people... A story that can occur everyday in every country, zone and family... The love, the hatred, the war for land, for power, for water rights... always for an asset!

Gregory Peck is outstanding as the calm anti-traditional hero, balancing a deed of bravery, strength and endurance...

Jean Simmons is a big leading lady at that time, big enough to the 'Big Country.'

Carroll Baker, famous as the thumb-sucking child-wife in "Baby Doll," is Charles Bickford's willful daughter, acting according to his law and dictate...

Charlton Heston confirms a favorable impression by giving an excellent account as the grinning, menacing rival in love with the land and with McKay's attractive fiancée...

Burl Ives - Winner of the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor in the film - is impeccably cast as the gray-haired patriarch of a shameful, indecent, discourteous clan...

Charles Bickford (1891-1967) could play as easily the sincere man of virtue ("Duel in the Sun") as the dishonest villain... His generous character and his stubborn face fitted him perfectly to such roles as the proud misguided patriarch led by false and mistaken ideas in the range against Burl Ives...

Chuck Connors (1921-92) is always remembered for his success on T.V. notably in "The Rifleman" series (58-63). Here he plays the heavy coward, the rude and vulgar, the hypocrite impolite noisy disorderly son...

Directed by William Wyler, "The Big Country" is a spectacular Western featuring a brilliant cast at top shape...

If you like big action, big fights, big love, don't miss it!
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With Peck went the last true gentleman
Harry T. Yung8 September 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers (as there will always be people watching it for the first time)

The word gentleman has probably been terribly abused in all these years. For an icon of a true gentleman, absolutely no one can surpass Gregory Peck, on and off screen. In The Big Country, Peck's performance best portrayed what a gentleman is.

Before going into this theme, let me make one interesting diversion, in observing that movie makers around that time were rather fond of big casts, led by undisputed heavyweights and supported by some who were lesser in stature but still stars in their own right. Without even thinking hard, I can quote a few examples. Obviously The Big Country (1958) is one, with Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives and Charles Bickford. Even more impressive is Spartacus (1960), with Kirk Douglas, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons (again), Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin and Tony Curtis. Another is Judgement at Nuremberg (1961): Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland and Montgomery Cliff. I used to try to line up the roster, weighting one against another in a hopeless quest of deciding which one has the final edge. Such pursuit invariably ended up in my throwing up my arms in despair.

So much for side tracking. The essence of Big Country is in its hero James McKay, who is one notch above Will Kane in High Noon, a rather passive `hero' forced into heroism by circumstances. McKay is all positive, never wavering ever so slightly in his belief. Neither provocation nor insult can force him into violence. While he steadfastly resists the temptation of being a flashy, show-off type of `hero', he is the farthest away from being a dodger. He takes up every challenge that Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker) scorns him for dodging. It's just that he does not need to prove himself to her, or to anybody, for that matter. It takes a real woman, Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons), to recognise a real man.

The most remarkable (and daring) thing about Big Country is the view it takes about fast draws, which is the most important factor (if not the only factor) behind every single successful western. Big Country dares to treat it as utterly worthless, or even more, as a sign of cowardice. In the final showdown, adversary Buck Hannassey the fast draw is portrayed as a coward at heart when his advantage is taken away, and eventually shot down by his own father in scorn when he tried to shoot McKay in the back.

Some say that Big Country is not even a western and I do not disagree. To me, it's enjoying and admiring the performance of two of the greatest stars that ever graced the screen, Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons.
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One of my Favorites
louro29 December 2007
I love movies, and this is as close to perfect, as it gets. First of all can, you imagine a movie with such a cast. Heston, Peck, Ives, Bickford, Connor, Baker, and Jean Simmons ( one of my favorite actors ). Throw in the scenery, the incredible musical score, and a plot with romance, and minimal violence, and you have a classic. On a home widescreen with the volume high, I am sure even compared to todays movies it is entertaining and ageless. As a footnote, I saw this movie years ago and it stuck in my mind. One day while listening to CBC radio on a call in request segment someone called in and asked for the theme from Big Country. It stirred me to track down a copy of the movie. I also like the story about Heston thinking of turning it down ( An Actor's Life ) since his part was secondary. His agent said are you nuts to turn down Willy Wyler. This movie led Wyler to cast him in Ben Hur.
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Big Fued, Big Romance, Big musical Score
peters15914 January 2004
The Big Country was passed over by the professional critics as being empty, ernest, and not enough sweep to be called a true epic. Well, I remember seeing The Big Country and was properly swept off my feet by the grand scale of the Big Country, the death feud between Burl Ives and Charles Bickford, the shaky and doomed romance between Gregory Peck and the spoiled Carroll Baker and the quiet understanding between Peck and the lovely Jean Simmons, but most of all, the thing that propelled me to see The Big Country over and over was the magnificant score by Jerome Moross. Sure, I could site many scores that have aided films to glory, Max Steiner for The Letter, Maurice Jarre for Lawrence of Arabia, Miklos Roza for an excellent score for a weak epic Land of the Pharaohs, and Hans Zimmer for an excellent score for a great epic Gladiator but I still say that for a western you can't get any better than the magnificant score for The Big Country. The sweep and majesty and the quiet moments of Jerome Moross's music sets the tone for this truly underated movie. United Artist released the music on LP and I wore mine out along with my neighbors complaints, I now own an excellent CD produced by SILVA SCREEN which I can't wear out. All in all see The Big Country on your big screen in Widescreen and give yourself a real treat. Who needs Giant?
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A Big Film
henry-girling22 December 2003
There are many things to enjoy in 'The Big Country'. The landscape itself is a character that seems overwhelming. There are many panoramic shots of it, sweeping out to a misty horizon. All beautifully photographed. This big country seems to glow and the film gets an appropriate music score, sweeping and colourful. It must be one of the most perfect film scores written.

In this breathtaking landscape the story of the characters unfold with their prides, jealousies, fears, loves, pretensions, hopes, disappointments. The actors are first rate and convey lots of feeling not just in dialogue but in looks. It is worth seeing more than once to catch the emotional nuances. This is a film with space in lots of senses and it gives the cast time to flesh out their characters. In all the splendid acting I have a particular admiration for Chuck Connors in a performance of a lifetime. His Buck Hennassey is a coward and a bully yet you can't help feeling sorry for him in the end.

There is also the political undertones, the oft quoted Cold War parallels, embodied in the confrontation between Bickford and Ives of mutually assured destruction, that was an ever present issue in the late fifties. Bickford and Ives have narrow self interested vision that portends destruction, while the Peck character has a wider view of co-operation and fairness. (In an illuminating exchange at the engagement party a guest asks Peck if he has seen anything bigger than the 'big country' and Peck replies to the guest's astonishment that he has, a couple of oceans!) It is the outsider who sees clearest.

William Wyler was a great director and made a great film to be enjoyed on many levels. It is an aural and visual treat but the film also has believable characters performed by a superior cast. And I can't stop humming that theme tune....
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One of my favorite films of all time
rkersh25 November 2007
I always tell anyone who listens that Gregory Peck never made a bad film. The Big Country is one of his best and one I have watched over and over. As of this writing it is being run by WETA in the widescreen version and I have watched it twice in the last 2 daze . . .

I read a lot of the comments of my fellow admirers and there seems to be a consensus that this movie has few if any weaknesses. Nearly every comment mentions the musical score and the great cast. The unforgettable Burl Ives in his Oscar winning role, Charleton Heston, Carol Baker, Charles Bickford, Chuck Conners and Jean Simmons . . . what a beauty! Until this go 'round I had never given much thought to the location of the story. I figured The Big Country was an obvious reference to The Big Sky country of Montana or at least Wyoming. Since I have been to Texas it would be easy to assume the location was there, especially the cattle ranches and dry canyons. Thanx to IMDb I now know the film was shot in California, another place I have lived and noticed the ranches.

The one overriding thing about this movie that I always felt was that it should have been a mini-series and should have gone on and on. It was a story you could put yourself into and who wouldn't have wanted to be James McKay falling in love with Julie Maragon played by the great Jean Simmons. Bravo!
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Majestic western with much to admire.
Jonathon Dabell23 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Westerns, by their very nature, are mostly quite simplistic films. That's not to say they're bad – some of the simplest westerns of all are actually cinematic masterpieces because they've been pared to the bone for maximum impact. Stagecoach and High Noon, for example. But every now and then a western comes along that adds layers to the basic concept of the genre and becomes something more. This might be layers of psychology, layers of philosophy, layers of brutality – anything, really, that goes beyond the simple western framework and lends a more profound subtext to the film. Notable genre entries that have done this include The Searchers, The Wild Bunch and The Big Country, the latter of which is a 1958 epic made by William Wyler just a year before his incredible remake of Ben Hur.

Sea captain Jim Mackay (Gregory Peck) travels to the Wild West to reunite with a lady he met back east, the beautiful Pat Terrill (Carroll Baker). However, Jim finds nothing but hostility and danger in the west, and is quickly taunted by some the locals who find him effeminate and cowardly because of his belief that violence doesn't solve anything. Pat's father Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford) is a wealthy rancher, but Jim is troubled when he discovers that the Major is locked in a long-standing feud over water rights with a rival family, the Hannasseys. It doesn't take Jim long to figure out that Pat is not the woman for him – she may have seemed the perfect match back in the polite society of the East, but in her home region of the West she is dedicated to her father's aggressive attitudes and treats Jim differently, belittling him almost, because of his pacifist views. Worse still, the ranch foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) has designs of his own on Pat and wants to fight Jim for her affection. In the end, Jim switches his attention to school teacher Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons), who owns the patch of land that provides both the Terrills and the Hannasseys with their water. Violence erupts between the two warring families, with Jim and Julie getting caught literally in the middle of their fatal battle for supremacy.

There's much to admire about The Big Country. Jerome Moross's amazing score is perhaps the most memorable thing of all, a wonderful piece of dramatic scoring that is now a classic and known by people who haven't even seen the film. It's good to see Peck in such fine form too – often criticised for being too wooden, his acting style here lends perfect credibility to the pacifist hero role. The entire cast in is excellent form if the truth be told, with Burl Ives the choice of the bunch as the fiercely proud leader of the Hannassey clan (an Oscar-winning role, and thoroughly deserving of it). Franz Planer's cinematography is quite majestic and helps the film to live up to its rather grand title. And Wyler directs the film exceptionally well, holding our attention over almost three hours and presenting characters and a back story that are totally convincing and involving. Critics have occasionally accused the film of being overblown, and there is an element of truth in that, and the ending rather unfairly asks us to care about the fate of Bickford and Ives when they've been portrayed as very unsympathetic characters up to that point. On the whole, though, The Big Country is definitely a western worth recommending.
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Spectacular underrated Western epic with an all star cast.
Slim-420 November 1999
Warning: Spoilers
The strength of this movie is its great cast, an excellent script and Jerome Moross' memorable score. Critics bombed it when it was released, but moviegoers loved it. I did, too.

"It's a big country", one of the characters in the movie says. This is obvious in the opening credits as a stagecoach crosses the treeless plain carrying Gregory Peck, who plays Jim McKay, to a meeting with his fiance (played by Carol Baker) in San Rafael. The fist fight with the foreman of Ladder Ranch, played by Charlton Heston, is original in its staging. There have been much better fight scenes. "Pittsburgh" and "North to Alaska" come to mind. This fight scene is memorable because the camera emphasizes the vastness of the country by showing the fight from long range. It works.

The emphasis in this film is on the complex personal relationships between the characters. Peck and Baker are engaged to be married, but their relationship seems doomed from the start. In the opening scenes they are harassed by the Hannassey's, mortal enemies of the Terrell's. Peck and Baker are fundamentally incompatible. He doesn't measure up to her father (played by Charles Bickford), and she is upset that he doesn't ride Old Thunder or accept Steve Leach's challenge. McKay does both, but he does these things on his own terms. He is not a show off. He may be a little unsure of himself, but he does not give up easily. His efforts to ride Old Thunder demonstrate this. He is also modest. "I had a little trouble with a horse", he later tells Julie Maragon in a classic understatement. Pat Terrell is disappointed in her fiance and dumps him. Later, when she tries to make peace, McKay rejects her overtures. "It goes much deeper than that", he tells her, referring to her comment that the estrangement was a simple misunderstanding. In a pique she compares him unfavorably to her father and walks out of his life. McKay's courage shows at the end when he rides into Blanco Canyon to rescue Julie Maragon (played by Jean Simmons). Why did he do it? He did it for love. He loves Julie Maragon.

The relationship between Rufus Hannassey (played by Burl Ives) and Henry Terrell sets the tone for the movie. Terrell is a "gentleman" living in a mansion. The Hannassey clan lives in rough shacks in Blanco Canyon. Rufus is not as uncultured as the Terrell's make him out. Indeed, he appreciates the fine dueling pistols he finds in McKay's saddlebags. "Gentlemen's weapons", he derisively tells his definitely uncouth son (played by Chuck Connors). In one scene Rufus publicly questions Henry Terrell's qualifications as a gentleman. Gentlemen or not the two old men hate each other. The movie never tells you how it started. Perhaps no one remembers. Perhaps it is simple economics. Both the Terrells and the Hannasseys covet the Big Muddy, Julie Maragon's ranch. Water is more than life in the West. In one scene Terrell's cowboys shoot holes in the water tower at Rufus' ranch. Steve Leach questions the ethics of this. "Do you really want this Major?", he asks. "Let the boys have their fun," he replies. Later, Rufus returns the favor by barging uninvited into Terrell's party. It is not unexpected that they kill each other at the end.

The relationship between McKay and Steve Leach begins on a bad note. Leach seems to have a romantic interest in McKay's fiance. He offers a fight, which McKay refuses. Later, when they do fight, the relationship seems to change. "You take a long time to say good by," he tells McKay. "I'm just about finished", McKay replies. It is apparent at the end that Leach respects McKay's courage.

The script is refreshingly original. The familiar dialogue from other Westerns is missing here. "This is a frosty Friday", Rufus says at one point. "Teach your mother to suck eggs", he suggests to his McKay at another point. If anything, there may be too much dialogue in this film. A little more action might have helped.

The action is also different from your typical Western. The big screen approach to the fist fight is a good example. The long-expected gun fight between Steve Leach and Buck Hannassey never happens. Instead Hannassey and McKay face off with dueling pistols. McKay wins, because Hannassey shows his coward's colors. He grabs a six gun from one of the cow hands and tries to kill McKay. It is Rufus who shoots his son.

Jerome Moross' music is fantastic. My favorite cue is "The Welcoming", which underscores the scene in which Buck Hannassey and three ranch hands harass McKay and his fiance. Variations of the musical themes in this film appear in the "Jayhawkers" and "The Proud Rebel". The title tune was recently reprised in "Varsity Blues".

This movie is best watched on the big screen. Unfortunately, I don't believe there is a wide screen version of this film available on video. Hopefully, that omission will soon be corrected. However, the great script and wonderful characterizations can be enjoyed on the small screen, too.
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It's A Big Wonderful Country ****
edwagreen11 February 2006
"The Big Country" is a rousing great western with a fabulous all-star cast. As always, Gregory Peck shines in still another film attesting to his social conscientiousness depicted on the screen during his long career.

Carol Baker brings her usual sexy ways as the woman who meets Peck in the east and has him come home to the west to wed. It soon appears that Peck was not meant to be a westerner. Naturally, he meets ranch foreman Charlton Heston, a macho guy who is jealous of Baker's love for James (Peck). Still another fine performance by Charles Bickford as her crusty father, who appears to be a fine gentleman but in reality is a bitter person locked in a dispute with a lower class Burl Ives. It is Ives who steals the film in his portrayal. He was awarded the Oscar for best supporting actor and it was well deserved. Jean Simmons is the western school marm, yet we never see her in a classroom setting.

Seems that Peck has walked into the beginning of a range war between Bickford and Ives over water rights for cattle.

Chuck Connors, who plays Ives' son, sets things in motion by assaulting Peck. Bickford uses this as a pretext to declare "war" on the Hennessey's (Ives and his sons.) Things really start to escalate. In the meantime, Peck does prove his masculinity but it is too late for Baker, who has come to believe that he is a coward.

The final showdown is obvious but handled very well.

Another great asset to the film is the rousing musical score. Its upbeat tempo tells you that you're in for a grand western. It is a big country and wonderful one at that.
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One of the greatest Westerns; one of the greatest movies
skoyles26 February 2006
A masterpiece, pure and simple. I saw "The Big Country" when It came out and I was in my very early teens. I thought it was over at the one hour thirty-nine minute mark; it was the longest motion picture I had ever seen. And I could not appreciate it at the time. Oh, I liked Peck's character very much but missed all the amazing nuances of the complex characters, for this is not only a Western but also a capital "R" Romance, a study in loyalties (most clearly seen in Heston's role. Is this his finest performance? Ives won the Oscar, and deservedly so, but Conners never again came close to the talent he showed as Buck, and Bickford crowned his long career in this triumphant human drama of love, family, power, blood, money and land. The true star of this wonderful motion picture is actually the title character: it is about "The Big Country". It is the West. It does not matter if it be Texas or Alberta; it could as easily have been oil rather than cattle (as was attempted not nearly so well in "Giant"); or it could have been gold (as in the inferior "Pale Rider"): Wyler here captures the essence of the West in a pre-Leone Shakespearean human epic of the West.
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Perfect movie, Perfect music.
NativeTexan24 December 2000
There's just not one thing wrong with this movie. The casting is perfect, as is the direction, cinematography, script, and music. The score by Jerome Moross is perfection, and my personal favorite of all the great western movie scores. All the actors/actresses are a perfect fit for their roles, and the male cast of Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Charles Bickford, Burl Ives, and Chuck Connors (who shines as the thoroughly bad Buck Hannassey) is ensemble acting at it's best. Carol Baker and Jean Simmons are luminous, compelling, and strangely powerful.
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A Big Country, A Big Western, and Big Burl's Oscar
theowinthrop9 February 2006
THE BIG COUNTRY fits two types of movies that were big in the 1950s: One was the modern western (a western where the characters behaved with modern sensibilities), and the other was the huge blockbuster movies made to attract the audience being lost to early television (ironically, mostly to westerns as programs). Directed by William Wyler, he takes a leaf from John Ford's movies, such as the "cavalry trilogy" and THE SEARCHERS, to let the audience see for themselves the immensity of the American west (more properly the southwest). In fact, a kind of mild running gag in the film is how when Gregory Peck arrives everyone from his future father-in-law Charles Bickford, and his fiancé Carol Baker, and even Charlton Heston mentions that it is a big country (and that he can get lost in it). At the party thrown by Bickford, one of the guests asks Peck if he's ever been impressed by anything larger than the country. Peck says he has. He was a sea captain, and he's seen the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans! Ironically, at one point, he is believed lost and scouting parties are sent for him. He is never lost - he had a map and a compass all the time!

Peck seems an eastern "dude" out of water when he arrives with his derby style hat (exciting the hoots of laughter from Chuck Connors and his men (the "Hannasey" white trash)). Actually he is simply not a man to demonstrate his emotions as readily as Bickford, Heston, Connors, or Burl Ives. They are always ready to defend their honor - as Bickford points out they are two hundred miles from the closest government seat, so they have to be their own policemen. But Peck keeps confounding them all. He conquers the horse that throws all the strangers - but he does it quietly when only Alfonso Bedoya is around to help. He won't stand up against Connors, whom he considers a drunken bully. He won't publicly fight Heston when the latter calls him a liar. But when alone they fight to a draw, and Heston realizes Peck is not a weakling or coward.

Peck also sees the tensions in the country as due to the antagonisms of two men: Bickford's Major Henry Terrill and Ives' Rufus Hannassay. It is a clash of class (on the surface), although Peck eventually says it is a confrontation between two selfish old men. He tries to find a happy medium out of the mess by buying Jean Simmons' land, but that is not as successful an idea as he hoped. Peck, somewhat simplistically, thinks that by promising open watering rights to everyone he is settling the main issue. But the hatred is too strong.

All the characters are well drawn. Baker, at first a loving girlfriend, turns out to be too deeply committed to her father's point of view on everything. Simmons, who owns the coveted watering area, "the big muddy", thinks in a similar way to Peck, but she underestimates her being a woman alone in a range war. Connors is determined to bully and grab what he can from everyone, but he doesn't fool his father (whom considers him a great disappointment), and can't prevent the world from seeing he's a coward. Heston is loyal to Bickford (who picked him out of the dust literally) but he does have as sense of right and wrong, and a sense of shame, that causes a break in their relationship in the end. Bedoya proves to be loyal to Peck, and the only one to accompany him on his last mission in the film. Bickford has striven to appear classy and a defender of "Christian values", but he is a ruthless cattle baron for all that who sees the silly attack on Peck as a "comment" on himself by his enemy Ives (who knew nothing about it).

But Ives is wonderful - and deserved his Oscar. His best remembered performance (of course) will always be "Big Daddy" in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF - one of the best written roles in modern American theater. Rufus Hannassy is white trash (note his advise of taking an occasional bath when dating a woman). But in comparison to the more hypocritical Bickford/Terrill, he does not push his men to confront anyone, nor does he get uptight about trivialities. He confronts Terrill at the latter's home during a party after Terrill had led his own men to raid Ives' ranch and destroy his water tower. He does understand what Terrill would never understand: a real gentleman is a good neighbor and a man of his word (two things Terrill can barely be). And finally there is the involved issue of Ives' relationship with his son Connors. Ives' has a sense of morality, and he beats up Connors when the latter tries to commit rape. Up to their last moments on screen together Connors is consistently disappointing him. It is only after the latter's death that Ives' comes to his senses, and agrees with Peck as to what he must do to stop the range war from continuing. Of the two selfish old men, Ives keeps the audience's sympathy.
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A Big Movie
smatysia13 November 2001
Definitely a big movie. Some great performances here as well as stunning photography and interesting direction. Wyler frames so much of the action in huge sweeping vistas, to evoke the film's title. A good job by Peck, playing the sea captain gone west. All the other characters seemed to have him pegged as a pantywaist city slicker from back East, rather than someone who would have to be quite tough to survive in that unknown milieu. His fiancee, was such a spoiled brat type that one wonders what McKay ever saw in her back in Baltimore. There was some strange connection between her and her father, played adequately by Charles Bickford. (They called one another "Darling") Jean Simmons as Julie Maragon lit up the screen with her charm whenever she appeared. The supporting cast, however, stole the show. Chuck Connors, as the sniveling, evil Buck Hennessey. Burl Ives, as the Hennessey patriarch. (Oscar winner for this role) And Charlton Heston, as the Ladder Ranch foreman, Steve Leach. An interesting role for Heston to accept, a fairly unlikeable character. The plot and dialogue were thoroughly engaging. I definitely recommend this film. Grade: A
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Male and Female styles and values
Peter Freeman14 December 2006
Alec West said spoke well in his post about the movie. It is one of my favorite movies for similar reasons. I would only add that I have used the film to illustrate different male and female values and styles. In Jim and Leech, and Buck as well, we see quite different versions of maleness: their world-views and how they present themselves to others. The contrast between Terrill and Hannassay is another interesting study. Pat and Julie offer a couple wonderful contrasts of female ways of being in the world. As a therapist, I have seen present day versions of these characters' values and behaviors time and again. My favorite character is Jim, but the character of greatest interest to me is Steve Leech. I admire his loyalty and find his transformation through his interactions with McKay well drawn.
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Great subversive Western, one of the greatest scores for a film ever.
Sergeant_Tibbs4 March 2015
I'm always appalled at how little William Wyler I've seen. I adore The Best Years of Our Lives and Roman Holiday, but Ben-Hur is underwhelming. Now with The Big Country winning my heart, he really deserves better. I'm a sucker for a good subversive Western. The myth of the American frontier in cinema is fascinating to me and any film that develops the ideas inherently has my attention. The Big Country is credited as the first pacifist Western as Gregory Peck refuses to fight until the last moment or acknowledge the seriousness of any conflict. He's an unconventional hero. One who teeters a line of cowardice. But this just makes him all the more endearing as a three dimensional character. Granted, the film has its caricature characters on the side, but the script has such a dry wit. Burt Ives won an Oscar for his role and coming in an hour into the film, there wasn't much spotlight left to share, but he certainly has his moments. It's a grand epic in visuals and length that I easily sunk into. It's a big country alright. Also boasts one of the best scores I've ever heard. Can't believe it's not considered a greater classic.

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Unsurpassable - at least in this millennium!
uds326 September 2002
Probably one of the ten best films ever made - and let's NOT go there! This genuine epic is less of a Western and more of a tribute to honor and decent human values, none held more dear than by Rufus Hannassey himself.

Everything came together in this masterful and sprawling work. William Wyler director, arguably without peer in his field (BEN HUR), maintained an iron grip on his story, never losing focus of what THE BIG COUNTRY was all about. With actors such as Heston, Peck, Baker, Simmons, Ives and Bickford pretty much at the apex of their careers, the characters were imbued with more than life. They will live forever now, long beyond our deaths and perhaps even rebirth.

The film is all about honor. Pushy though self-made landowner Major Terrill wanting simply the best for his daughter (Baker) and his refusal to consider the plight and livelihood of his backwoods neighbors the Hannasseys. Peck himself as upstanding paragon of decency Jim Mackay who has wooed and has now come to marry Terrill's high-spirited, overly protected and ultimately short-sighted daughter Patricia. Heston as Terrill's 2 IC who has carried a torch for Patricia all these years but would never betray his boss, one that he freely admits he would "Follow into Hell" if necessary. Simmons as beautiful, uncluttered and still single Julie Maragon whose property the Hannasseys would dearly love to acquire ostensibly for the "Big Muddy" water rights.

These peoples' interactions set to the dusty but beautiful western backdrop are what makes this simply unforgettable and unrepeatable viewing. I had the good fortune to see this film in its original 70mm format at its London premiere in '58. It hasn't aged a day! It does however lose just so much on a television screen. "Powerful" doesn't adequately cover this masterpiece which is heightened even more by the never-equalled musical score from Jerome Moross.

How this film might be received by a new audience in 2002 and with such different values I wouldn't care to say, but I like to think there will always be people around that will stand up for the essence of what this great film promotes in terms of searing human endeavours, strengths and integrities.
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" I'm not responsible for what people think, I'm only responsible for what I am"
thinker169112 May 2009
Across the motion picture screen where actors and actresses can be seen as bigger than life, is this incredible feature. It's the story of an Eastern sea Captain James McKay (Gregory Peck) who's decided to leave his ship's travels behind, take a Western wife and move West to meet her wealthy father. Arriving, McKay admires the grand scope and scenery of the open West, but is unimpressed with its size. To western observers, he is treated with indifference and his quiet peaceful demeanor is seen as lacking in manhood. One individual laughingly taunts him with the West's immense grandeur with 'Did you ever see anything so big? Yes, answers McKay, two Oceans.' From then on its a test of wills between East and West. There amid the vast open range lies the great plains ranch called 'Ladder' with it's rough, tough square-jaw Foreman named Steve Leech (Charlton Heston). Its Leech who doesn't believe McKay is much of a man and challenges the Captain again and again, only to be denied. Charles Bickford plays Maj. Henry Terrill a self-proclaimed gentleman who's twenty year old feud with his one time rival Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives) and his son Buck (Chuck Connors) aim to settle their quarrel with guns. In addition, both powerful men struggle to obtain the major source of water in the region called " Big Muddy " which is owned by Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons). Her friend, Patricia (Carroll Baker) is the daughter of Henry Terrill and is as bigoted and blind as her father. With a supporting cast which includes Alfonso Bedoya as Ramón Guiteras, the film is filled with Grand scenes, majestic landscapes and western action. The story is straight forward and definitely a must for anyone who likes a good old fashion Cowboy movie. All in all, nothing short of a grand Classic. Easilly recommended to all. ****
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Big Country, Great film
Jem Odewahn22 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A beautiful, eloquent and thoughtful epic that is perhaps an "anti-western". Gregory Peck is perfectly cast as the newly-arrived pacifist who is reluctantly cast into the battle between two powerful families in the Old West, one respected and one considered outcasts. William Wyler directs and probes plenty of questions as to justice, as Charles Bickford's family, for all their position and respect, treat the rough Hannassey clan (headed by bullish Burl Ives) no better than they treat them. In a terrific cast, Carroll Baker is Bickford's spoiled daughter who is engaged to Peck yet doesn't understand him. She's been bred to the ways of the Old West, and she can't understand the sort of man Peck is, and why he won't seem to fight. But her best friend and schoolmarm Jean Simmons (her lovely, down-to-earth quality makes her character very believable)does, and she and Peck fall in love. Charlton Heston smolders in the background as the Bickford's foreman who wants Carroll Baker badly (and these two seem to be made for each other). Aside from the convincing acting, and interesting plot, this is beautifully filmed and has a great musical score. Perhaps it lags in places, and even if it does run for 2 and a half hours some points aren't as fleshed out as I would have liked (I would have liked to have seen more of Heston's character, and Baker just disappears from the film at times). But it's still an excellent film, thoughtful and thought-provoking as the best movies should be.
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The Ultimate Liberal Western
fredo705 August 2011
Just watched this for the first time and was blown away by it. What John Wayne did for Republicans, Gregory Peck does for liberal Democrats. This man makes pacifism look sexy. Peck's strong, stoic and manly performance really holds this movie and he gets the girl too (a school teacher no less).

The movie really works because of the genius casting of Charlton Heston. When Peck decides to duke it out with Moses you are sure he is not a coward.

And this movie looks big, I mean big, Lawrence of Arabia big. Surprisingly this was made in the 50's, but it looks and feels like a 60's movie. But I imagine the theme of old men getting young men into war, was very relevant especially after Korea. This is a cold war movie to be sure, but it still works. I am amazed that Liberal Hollywood can't make such a powerful picture today. Well I suppose two cowboys bumming each other is more their thing.

Did I mention that it had a fantastic score?
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Big country, people and emotions
matchettja8 July 2006
"Big" describes not only the country, but also the people in it and their emotions, which are often expressed nonverbally. We see love, understanding, excitement, fear, rage, jealousy, shame, disapproval and more through facial expression. One of the highlights is the look two major characters exchange showing the love each has for the other, never before expressed. Neither of them speaks a word, but they understand clearly enough.

I won't get into a detailed summary of the plot as that can be found elsewhere. Instead I would like to focus on a few of the lesser scenes, non-essential but adding to the overall flavor as, for example, the cowboy rousted out of his sleep and being so disoriented that he nearly climbs on his horse backwards. Or the cowboy who puts on a display of terrific horsemanship trailing behind his horse at full gallop holding on only by the tail. Or the father encouraging his son's romantic aspirations with the words, "Treat her right. Take a bath sometimes." One of the major criticisms is that the movie is too long, but it is difficult for me to find even a line that could be cut without losing something.

As for the characters, Gregory Peck's sea captain Jim McKay is my second favorite of his roles, behind only Atticus Finch of "To Kill a Mockingbird". He is a man of great inner peace and strength, uncaring about what others think of him. He desires peace, but he will not back down from a fight if no other choice is left to him. Equally impressive is Jean Simmons as schoolteacher Julie Maragon. Also peace loving, she refuses to sell her land, which contains the only water for miles around, to either one of two feuding families who would cut water off from the other should they get their hands on that land.

Other major characters include ranch owner Major Terrell (Charles Bickford), bent on the destruction of his rival Rufus Hannassey, his daughter Pat (Carroll Baker), engaged to McKay but in reality in love with her father, and foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston), fiercely loyal to his boss, in love with his daughter and intensely jealous of her fancy fiancé from back east. Alfonso Bedoya, in his final role, stands out, as does Chuck Conners as Rufus' cowardly son, Buck. However, it is Burl Ives as the blunt, coarse, but principled head of the Hannassey clan who towers over everyone else. He got the Academy Award and deservedly so.

One final note: the music score by Jerome Moross is nothing short of magnificent.

The movie critics got it all wrong on this one. It is neither too long in running time nor too short on action. It is as it should be, an American epic.
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