- The Big Country is a fitting name for Wyler’s audacious, expensive, open-air western.
- It is closer to Stevens’ Giant (1956) in terms of expanse (beyond actually)- especially in comparison with Boetticher’s work or Anthony Mann during the same strech. This is an epic, Wyler is working on a massive canvas, 166-minutes, almost all exterior landscapes, 25-50 immaculate long shots with man almost swallowed up by the size of the country
- Even the performances are big- the dueling (albeit in a pretty stiff casing) baritones of Gregory Peck (Peck’s 1946 Duel in the Sun is another western with similar ambition) and Charlton Heston (they’re serviceable this is a great performance from neither). I think it is fair to wonder if this is an even better film with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in 1958
- Jerome Morris’ score should have been mentioned sooner— majestic
- There are battling patriarchies (the screen presence of Charles Bickford and Burl Ives is key- very good casting) – part gang-warfare (with political undertones) like Johnny Guitar, part Earps vs. Clatons, and part-Shakespearian- it has a heft to it- Kurosawa would admire this film I believe with his feudal japan adaptations that look close to this
- East coast civilization (Peck) vs. western violence and ruggedness (just about everyone else)- could be a good double-billing with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
- there’s a anonymity to Wyler’s work that will always keep him from touching the all-time greats- but this is yet another feather in the cap in his long, storied career
- A gorgeous shot sequence at 20-minutes— Peck is on the second story porch with cattle in the distance- a beautiful landscape painting. Heston has a shot just after that, sizing up Peck (he’s a rival for the beautiful spoiled brat played by Carroll Baker) in another stunner under an awning
- A nice choice of dissolves for many of the edits
- Burl Ives won the best supporting Oscar in 1958—he won for this (and he’s good here)- but he also had Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to help. He isn’t in the film at all until 1 hour in—and he makes a big speech- a great entrance and character
- Many vistas of open country and cattle, characters in the foreground—this is Wyler after all- one of the godfathers of deep of field work. One with Jean Simmons of her land with the stream
- Reoccurring long shots—a formal/visual tie. The fist fight between Heston and Peck at night (with no music- a great touch)- long overhead shots of the climactic battle in white sand. This is Kurosawa’s Ran.
- A Must-See film
Does Burl Ives gives the best performance in the entire film?
@Anderson– yes, I would say so
Willi Wyler– JEZEBEL, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, MINIVER, BEST YEARS…ROMAN HOLIDAY, FUNNY GIRL, BEN HUR…Wyler’s gift was in never letting his own ego get in the way of the film, and in helping his actors breach their own limitations, and he did this effortlessly and with grace. Understated, yes, but as potent, as powerful as a whisper in an empty room. He was and will always be one of the greats. And the composer is Jerome Moross, whose work as a classical composer is well known. His CARDINAL score is breath taking, similar chord structure as luscious, as striking, as sweeping as BIG COUNTRY.