Big Country (1958), The

The Big Country (1958), produced and directed by William Wyler.

A grand, rich-looking western with several strong angles to it.

We have the East vs West notions of law and justice. Sea captain Gregory Peck is aghast at the violent feuding between two powerful families. But is patriarch Charles Bickford wrong when he points out they have to enforce their own law on the frontier? You'd think Peck, used to long sea voyages, would understand that, but as a newcomer perhaps he sees opportunities for compromise more clearly. And he might be wiser and more just than the others. It is hard to control vigilante justice once it begins.

There is also the contest of characters: between those whose courage must be publicly displayed, conforming to a social code, and those who follow conscience and an internal moral compass, regardless of public opinion. Ranch foreman Charlton Heston is the perfect example of the former: the tough and virtuous cowboy challenged by Peck's contrary example.

Heston oozes masculine contempt for the rival who does not measure up. We quickly decide he is a better match for ranch daughter Carroll Baker, and he agrees.

Apart from that, the setting is oddly domestic: the West has been settled and now it's struggles over water rights, property titles, love and marriage. The big ranch house with grand parties is a frontier fantasy. The story has more comedy than I remember.

At 2 3/4 hours it takes some endurance to get through. A few "relationship" scenes could have been compressed. We have the big beatdown between Peck and Heston, then duel #1 between Peck and Connors, then a somewhat overblown duel between the old men.

Chuck Connors was born to play villains; no way to remove than dangerous glint in his eyes.

Burl Ives, Jean Simmons and Carroll Baker are all fine. Charles Bickford is irreplaceable as the hard, unsmiling patriarch.

Alfonso Bedoya, who plays Ramón the stable boss, died eight days after finishing this film.

The score is the traditional Copland-inspired Americana of the West. Filmed in Technirama.

Available on Blu-ray.

What a dull original poster for a Technicolor film.