Friday, August 11, 2006


THE BIG COUNTRY (1958, USA, William Wyler, James R. Webb / Sy Bartlett screenplay, Jessamyn West adaptation, Donald Hamilton novel)
I'm not responsible for what people think. Only for what I am.

A quiet-spoken easterner arrives out west to marry his fiancee. His manhood is tested, but he's unwilling to do the things needed to prove his honour and win the respect of those on either side of a feud between two ranching families. No gestures heavenward, not a trace of religion or Christ symbolism. But if you reckon Jesus meant what he said about turning the other cheek, this movie might matter to you. It does to me.

Wyler not only directed but had a hand in the adaptation and screenplay of this important, stirring, entertaining film. Multiple writer credits often signal a compromised screenplay: not so here, where the detailed, psychologically complex (and believable) story perfectly fills every one of its 165 minutes without melodrama. (Well okay, the soundtrack works too hard, but every other element works brilliantly, with every dramatic high point well-earned). The dialogue is intelligent, the plot reversals are startling and satisfying, the characters nuanced, the scenery and the cinematography gorgeous (as are the womenfolk). Potent performances from Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston and Charles Bickford, with a Burl Ives an absolute powerhouse.

From SHANE to OPEN RANGE, westerns concern themselves with the place where honour, justice and violence meet. Most justify (and some glorify) violence as a necessary means to the end of peace and order, the only way for good people to respond to evil in a lawless place. This exceedingly intelligent, heartfelt motion picture seeks another way.


Available at Videomatica

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