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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