'The Big Country' - Movie Review

Gregory Peck plays James McKay, a sea captain coming to the American prairies to join his fiancée Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker) in this Western. He quickly discovers that the Terrills are in a long-term feud with their poorer and less refined neighbours the Hannasseys - in part because on his first day in the area he's dragged out of his horse cart, roped, and buffeted about by four of the Hannassey's drunken men. He soon finds himself at odds with several of the locals as he refuses to prove his manhood by fighting, something they're all very invested in - including his fiancée, who is appalled at his apparent cowardice. As he discovers, the key to the area is a large ranch called "The Big Muddy," where both the Terrills and the Hannasseys water their cattle. The school teacher that owns the ranch (Jean Simmons) refuses to sell to either family to maintain the fragile peace. But McKay's arrival and subsequent mistreatment (which he's not particularly fussed about) is used by the Terrill family head as an excuse to elevate the feud between the families.

I picked this up from the library because it's directed by William Wyler, it's at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it stars Gregory Peck. And, like all movies, it has some good stuff in it - as mentioned by several critics, Burl Ives as Rufus Hannassey, the family head, is the most interesting character. Most other characters are fairly black-and-white (Peck being both too nice and too brave to really believe), but Rufus is a blunt and obnoxious man with a sense of honour. But I found myself speeding up significant portions of the movie - a 166 minute running time with multiple minutes of people riding horses across grand scenery becomes quite tedious. It was barely worth the effort with a lily-white protagonist proving his bravery and keeping the peace in a thoroughly pre-ordained way ... although I admit the grand finale show-down and gun fights were unpredictable and more interesting than the rest of the film.