The Big Country is a western drama from 1958 directed by William Wyler. The story revolves around Jim McKay (Gregory Peck), a sophisticated guy from the east who goes out west to marry a ranch owner’s daughter (Carroll Baker). When McKay arrives, he finds himself thrust into the middle of an intense and violent range war between his future father in law and another ruthless land owner played by Burl Ives.
When this movie first started, I was afraid it was going to turn into a generic, recycled range war story I had seen several times before. That is not what happened at all. This is ultimately a story of characters with the land dispute as a backdrop for the events that happen to them. The screenplay is very well-written by James R. Webb and the characters are very well drawn. There are twists and turns and a very unexpected and captivating ending sequence. Overall, this is a very well-written film all the way around.
The acting in this movie is terrific. I would expect no less from this cast, quite frankly. Jim McKay was a perfect role for Gregory Peck. It was the type of part that he was used to playing and he did a very good job with it. Charlton Heston and Carroll Baker are good in the film, although Baker reminds me too much of Jean Arthur. Chuck Connors, who is probably one of my favorite actors from the period, plays a much different role than I have ever seen him in. The two that really stand out to me are Jean Simmons and Burl Ives. Simmons plays a young schoolteacher caught up in the middle of the whole situation. (Although the fact that they had a schoolteacher and no kids did bother me a little bit.) Ives performance at the end of the film is powerfully emotional and a joy to watch.
The movie is very well directed by William Wyler, who made one of the greatest movies of all time in Ben-Hur right after this. He does a great job with action sequences. Two scenes in particular come to mind; one in which Gregory Peck is breaking a horse and another in which his character is fighting Charlton Heston’s character. The film is well paced with a lot of good slow tension building between the characters early.
The ending of the film is absolutely perfect. It delivers a heavy handed emotional punch straight to the heart. Peck and Ives performances in the last twenty minutes are sensational. This film managed to surprise me with an ending sequence that I didn’t quite see coming but was very satisfied by. Everything wraps up like it should. It is indeed the perfect ending to a great film.
Any problems I may have with this movie would be small and nitpicky. There is a big decision that Jean Simmons character makes at one point and it seemed to me like she made the decision too fast. Also, I would have liked to have seen Chuck Connors character fleshed out just a little bit more. I assume that time restraints are to blame for both of those small problems.
The Big Country is a great movie. I certainly enjoyed it and will definitely see it again. It is not the era defining classic that Wyler’s next film would be, but it is one that, in my opinion, has fallen through the cracks of history. You should certainly see this if you get the chance. The Movie Man gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Visit The Movie Man on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/reviewsmovieman?ref=aymt_homepage_panel