The film remains gripping and fascinating to me for some of its performances (pace Michel Mourlet, for me Burl Ives and Jean Simmons are “axioms” far more than is Heston) and for carrying Wyler’s Bazinian passion for deep focus to cosmic proportions in those wide-open spaces.
It was one of the films that gave Wyler a reputation for torpid bloat, but these days its pictorial magnificence — Wyler demanded locations for this tale of the American West that looked untouched by civilization — its great cast, and its evident Cold War allegory make the film more absorbing in many ways than the far more celebrated Ben-Hur (1959).
Wyler paints the West like he knew that no one had seen it look quite this spectacular, and his cast simmer like frying eggs under the sprawling sky and their insurmountable blood hatred. It’s the Seven Samurai of westerns (more so than that film’s plodding remake The Magnificent Seven) and it uses the sheer power of the land to strip away the masks men wear to appear strong.
The Big Country is a great western made with an epic scope by William Wyler. It's the uncommon Western where issues of capital, class, & civil rights are played out in depth with overt sympathy to the working class & great disdain for their exploitation. It also has a pacifist message, showing one that violence or revenge does not equate into manhood & honor, which is also rare amid Westerns.
TV. The country is really huge and when filming it cinema's followed the necessary proportions, both plastic and dramaturgical. In fact, i do not remember liking a Wyler movie as much before, stripped of his usual filming rhetoric. The problem is to see such large country and film on a television's screen dimension.
William Wyler is frightening: 12 of his movies were nominated for the Academy awards and he won a Palme d'Or in Cannes. He is typically the kind of director you would love to despise because he seems so politically correct. Sorry, I can't. According to me, The Big Country deserves the masterpiece qualification as much as a Quentin Tarantino or John Cassavetes film. It's about fathers and sons. Indispensable.
Gregory Peck is a total badass here in this fantastic epic from the great William Wyler. Jean Simmons is an absolute wonder to behold and Burl Ives gives a powerhouse performance. This is a true epic, with great feeling and deep emotion, matched with the expansive landscapes, this film practically explodes off the screen.
Peck and Heston beating each other to a pulp in a series of la nuit américaine long shots, the silence of the soundtrack disarmingly savage in its own right, is strange and ruthless in a way that's beyond the 50s cycle of Westerns.
I haven't seen many Westerns so my opinion doesn't hold much weight, but from those I have seen, "The Big Country" is one of the best. That's largely due to the character of "James McKay", who is by far, the most evolved character ever to grace a Western. Also, the musical score by Jerome Moross is very powerful and uplifting...if there was a "Top Ten" list of Greatest Film Scores, this one should be included.
Great characters, performances and cinematography. Burl Ives' performance won him an oscar. Class warfare in the old west. A taste of culture and civility surrounded by the harsh and sometimes vulgar realities of the time. Very refreshing. One of my top five westerns.