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The Big Country is a 1958 American Western film directed by William Wyler. It stars Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, and Burl Ives. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for its outstanding musical score, and Ives won the award for Best Supporting Actor.
Wealthy, newly retired sea captain James McKay (Peck) travels to the American West to join his fiancée, Patricia (Baker), at the enormous ranch owned by her father, Major Terrill. Terrill has been feuding with Rufus Hannassey (Ives), the patriarch of a poorer, less refined ranching clan. McKay gets caught up in the middle of the Terrill-Hannassey feud.
McKay refuses to be provoked into proving his manhood, having sworn off such behavior since his father died in a meaningless duel. He does nothing to stop Hannassey's trouble-making son, Buck, from harassing him, and he declines a challenge by Terrill's foreman, Steve Leech (Heston), to ride an unruly horse. Patricia, Terrill and Leech consider this to be cowardly in view of the region's lawlessness.
One morning, McKay rides to the Big Muddy, and persuades the owner, Julie (Simmons), to sell him her land by promising to continue her policy of allowing both groups access to the river.
Needless to say, his plan doesn't end exactly as he'd hoped...
The film provides examples of:
- Awesome Music: Some would say that's what this movie is all about. They may very well be right.
- Black and Grey Morality: Mr. Hannassey may be relentless, and he certainly won't win the "Father of the Year" award, but he's also a man of honor who always keeps his word and doesn't kill unless he must. Terrill is impulsive and prideful. Killing a bunch of innocent cattle is one thing. Then he goes and leads a lot of good men to their death's, just so he can kill one man!
- California Doubling: Averted; this is a William Wyler film we're talking about here.
- Captain Obvious: The locals all seem very intent on pointing out one thing:
It's a Big Country!
- Cattle Baron: Both the Terrill and Hannassey families.
- City Slicker
- Dark Is Not Evil: Don't judge Mr. Hannassey or his family by the way they look, or how they live. Except Buck, of course.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lots and lots of 'em.
- The Gunslinger: Buck sure thinks he is.
- The Gunfighter Wannabe: What Buck actually is.
- Jerkass: Buck (although by the film's end, he's more of a Jerkass Woobie) and both Terrills
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Steve Leech and Mr. Hannassey
- Offing the Offspring: Mr. Hannassey's code of honor forces him to kill Buck.
- One Bullet Left: McKay's father's dueling pistols.
- Riding Into the Sunset: More like riding into the valley below.
- Schoolmarm: Julie
- Showdown At High Noon
- The So-Called Coward: McKay, who refuses to get provoked into needless confrontations, develops this reputation -- but actually, he's just savvy enough to realize that the entire mess is just two bitter, hate-filled old men trying to get others to do their fighting for them.
- Take a Third Option: Subverted. McKay tries this; it dosen't work out for Hannassey and Terrill.
- Temporary Love Interest: Mackay came to the west to marry spoiled Patricia and ends up with honest Julie. Score one for the honest folks!
- The Western: Naturally.