This movie should be as well known as Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), or Ben Hur (1959). I suspect the reason it is not, is due to the BT Syndrome. (Bland Title). The Big Country sounds like it could be a documentary about logging.
That reminds me of when my mother would ask if I wanted a BLT sandwich. I would say I wanted a “B”. After all, once you have bacon and bread, who needs lettuce or tomato?
But I digress.
The Big Country tells the story of James McKay (Gregory Peck), a seaman from New England, who travels out west (hence the title) to marry his fiance. He becomes involved in a family feud over land between his fiance’s family and the Hannassey clan.
One reason this a BMEM is Peck’s character; he prefers to avoid confrontation, and seeks a way to resolve the situation peacefully. Very unusual plot for a western made in 1958.
Of course, he fails, which makes for some truly powerful drama. After a climatic confrontation between Peck and Charlton Heston, Peck asks, “Now tell me Leech, what did we prove? Huh?” The line still resonates today. And the final scene between the Hannassey patriarch (Burl Ives) and his son (Chuck Conners) is stunning.
Director William Wyler (The Best Years of our Lives (1946), Detective Story (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), The Desperate Hours (1955), Ben Hur (1959)) knows how to combine spectacle without sacrificing the human element. He knows how to let a scene linger, allowing the mind to soak in what just happened before moving on. Of course, with actors like Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives in front of you, I imagine lingering was an obvious choice.
When you watch this movie, make sure you have all your snacks ready, and make sure all your friends are sitting and ready to watch it before you hit the play button. While the screen is still dark, the score by Jerome Moss kicks in. The thrilling violins immediately grab you, and you know you’re about to watch a classic.