The Big Country Blu-ray Review: A Comfortable Ride on a Slow Horse

When James McKay (Gregory Peck) rides into William Wyler’s The Big Country, everybody believes he is a foppish dandy. Even his fiancee, Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker) believes his clothes are too nice, his mannerisms too self-important. But McKay is a hardened sea captain as well as a foppish dandy. McKay has come to the Big Country to be accepted into the family by Patricia’s father, Henry “the Major” Terrill (Charles Bickford). The Major has a long-standing feud with Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives) over water rights in a canyon owned by Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons).

Buy The Big Country (Special Edition) Blu-ray

McKay is one of those people who is capable of much but doesn’t want anybody to know just how capable he is. In one early scene, McKay is almost tricked by ranch foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston in a rare non-leading role) into riding an unbusted bronco named Old Thunder. Luckily, he sees that he is expected to fail and turns the offer down. Later, when everybody is off getting into tangential fights with the Hannasseys, McKay not only rides Old Thunder, he breaks him without anybody knowing except cowhand Ramon Gutierrez (Alfonso Bedoya). Does the secret get out? Of course. All of McKay’s secrets get out. This way we know he is a man, that he doesn’t turn down a challenge, and all the other characters and love interests can find out, too.

Julie Maragon wants to sell her much-disputed land, but only wants to sell to someone who will continue to allow both the Major and the Hannasseys water rights for their cattle. The Major wants to buy the land for himself and exclude the Hannasseys from the water. The Hannasseys have plans of their own to keep what they believe is rightfully theirs. In walks James McKay with his own money and his own offer. It isn’t long before he will need to choose between his petulant fiancee Patricia, or the brilliant and beautiful rancher, Julie.

This is a story you have seen countless times: the fish out of water saves the day and makes good. However, this film is a branded epic. In this case, that means that which should take five minutes will take ten or fifteen. At nearly three hours, The Big Country has a lot of lens, and story, to fill.

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling
  • Directed by William Wyler: Documentary – comprehensive, one-hour documentary with interviews with Wyler taped just three days before his passing in 1981.
  • Interviews with Cecilia Peck, Carey Peck, and Tony Peck
  • Interview with Fraser Heston
  • Interview with Catherine Wyler
  • Fun in the Country: Featurette – promo narrated by Jean Simmons.
  • Larry Cohen on Chuck Connors
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spot
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Greg Hammond

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