I know what you’re thinking. It’s blasphemous for me to give a movie with both Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston a four out of 10. But I had to do it. All I kept thinking through the entire two and a half epic western was, “THE BIG COUNTRY is a poor man’s GIANT.” There. I said it. Allow me to explain.
From the very moment he steps out of the stage coach and on to the ground of the tiny settlement in Texas, we’re told that Jim McKay (Peck) does not belong in these parts. Although we never see him on a ship or near water, he’s a ship captain who met a girl back east, proposed and followed her back here to live the life of a rancher. This makes the head ranch hand Steve Leech (Heston) very irritated because he loves Patricia (Caroll Baker) too.
McKay is a gentleman who doesn’t believe in rough housing or violence. Unfortunately, he’s about to marry into the Terrill family who has feuded with the neighboring Hannassey family for decades over a valuable patch of land owned by the town’s school teacher Julie (Jean Simmons). Things have gotten so bad that gauntlets are about to be thrown, challenging a fight to the death among the patriarchs of both families.
Patricia doesn’t understand McKay’s resistance to what has always been a norm in her life and begins to doubt her feelings for him. Of course, Julie is there to offer a comforting shoulder and affections begin to shift with McKay offers to buy the land that gives the poor school marm so much grief. This provides additional fuel to the already blazing fire between the Terrills and the Hannasseys.
THE BIG COUNTRY provided many distractions for me. First, it was way too long. I felt like we experienced the entire 10 minute horse ride it took to get from town to the Terrill estate. Was that really necessary? Perhaps it was in 1958 when this film was made. Second, Burl Ives was Papa Hannassey. I love Burl Ives because he is the epitome of Christmas claymation for me. I kept expecting him to bust out singing, “Holly Jolly Christmas” at any moment. Or any song for that matter. Couldn’t they have made this into a musical? Probably not. I would deem it a poor man’s SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS if that was the case.
McKay was weak. Charlton Heston was a minor character. Jean Simmons was graceful and elegant and Patricia was whiny, mean and had the misfortune of a cliff hanger storyline. McKay rode off into the sunset with Julie. I assume Patricia ended up with Leech? Who knows? Who cares really.
THE BIG COUNTRY is a big favorite for many people, but I just didn’t embrace the classic western like I thought I would. As I said before, I felt it took certain liberties with plots and characters from GIANT which came out two years before. Charlton Heston was quite the hottie, but give me James Dean any day.
Video: 1080p High Definition : The movie is known for its western scenery and huge countryside. I did feel the “big country” of THE BIG COUNTRY. However, the aspect ratio seemed to be “off” at certain times, like it was stretched too far. I looked around and noticed this is true and was done to clean up some of the scenes. It’s not devastating by any means, but it is there.
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio: From my research, I learned that the score is pretty famous. I did notice it during the show, mostly because the characters rode everywhere on horses and there was no dialog.
Fun in the Country (5:10): This is a neat, vintage featurette with some behind the scenes footage that you rarely see in older films.
TV Spot, Theatrical Trailer