The Big Country (1958)

Written by John Chard on February 7, 2017

I'm not going to go on living in the middle of a civil war.

Retired sea Captain James McKay (Gregory Peck) arrives in the sprawling land of the West to marry fiancée Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker). With an amiable, almost pacifistic approach to life, McKay confounds the ranchers he is now mixing with. Particularly the Terrill ranch foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) who takes an immediate dislike to him. Not only that but it seems that James has landed right in the middle of a family rivalry between the Terrill's and the Hannassey's: just as it's about to fully ignite into war.

Directed by William Wyler (Ben-Hur/Mrs. Miniver), The Big Country is adapted from a short story called Ambush at Blanco Canyon that was written by Donald Hamilton. Beautifully photographed by Franz Planer on location at the Red Rock Canyon in Mojave, California and at the three-thousand acre Drais ranch in Stockton, the film is epic in many ways. Though the story, with its twin themes of violence begets violence and you don't have to act tough to be tough, is a thin one, it's given such an operatic make over by Wyler that it's not hard to be swept away by it all. Helped enormously by the afore mentioned Planer, music composer Jerome Moross, and an impressive and on form cast (Heston in superb tough guy mode and Burl Ives delivering a Oscar winning performance as head Hannassey patriarch Rufus), it's a big production in many ways.

Overall, The Big Country sees a small story made big as it's told in an astutely classic style. With memorable acting, gorgeous scenery, big music and notable moments of action (a fist fight between Peck & Heston alone is epic and apparently took three days to get right) it's a must see for the Western enthusiast. 8/10