The Big Country (1958) Director: William Wyler
The Big Country is a great film, and one of the few films to feature Charlton Heston in a supporting role, rather than as the protagonist. It has an all-star cast of Heston, Gregory Peck, Jean Simons, Carroll Baker, and Burl Ives (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and also a Golden Globe). The now famous score was nominated for an Academy Award.
It tells the story of James McKay a successful Navy sea captain who goes to visit his girlfriend Patricia in the American West on her father’s large ranch house. On the way into town, mcKay is laughed at by the school boys and is rounded up as a prank by the Hannassey boys (a rival family).
McKay plays the moderator as he is quickly dropped into the midst of a long rivalry between families, as Patricia’s father disapproves of him. He secretly figures out how to become a leader by riding Old Thunder and clandestinely buying the “Big Muddy” -an old river that both families argue over control of. The end of the film plays out like a Greek tragedy as father kills son, neighbor kills neighbor, and McKay brings new balance to the big country.
It was the favorite film of Dwight Eisenhower, as he had it screened at least four times. As Gregory Peck noted later, the film was intended to be a liberal commentary on the Cold War.
The film is a classic, an epic western, and should definitely be viewed by lovers of classic cinema.