Cinema Station

The Big Country Continued | October 13, 2010

Gus’ recent entry spurred me on to finally watch The Big Country for the first time.

It is a completely unique Western, an epic vision from William Wyler quite different than anything Howard Hawks or John Ford ever made but just as important and valid in the Western canon.

I want to briefly mention one scene: the fist-fight between Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston. From the beginning of the film, the two have unresolved tension. Heston always tries to challenge Peck in public; Peck won’t have it. But one night, he visits Heston’s room and tells him it’s time. The scene really begins when Peck says, “The goodbye I have in mind will take a little more room than we have in here.” They go out to a field and fight.

Wyler and his editor cut from close shots of the fight to the wide landscape where these two men appear minuscule against the “big country”. There is no music, just the sounds of the fists, the feet, the falling, the heavy breathing. It is simultaneously minimal and grand. It is also more than the fight between two characters, but the battle of two cinematic icons.

They fight each other a long time because they are both strong men. When they are both exhausted, Heston says, “All I can say McKay is that you take a helluva long time to say goodbye.”

Here is the scene. Though the quality isn’t terrific, it represents the epic nature of the movie and this great scene well.



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