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Gregory Peck vs. Charlton Heston: 'The Big Country' Academy Screening

The Big Country by William Wyler

A newly struck print from the restoration of William Wyler's 1958 widescreen Western epic The Big Country will be premiered at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Friday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m.

Filmed in Technirama (a widescreen alternative to CinemaScope), The Big Country stars that most underrated of actors, Gregory Peck, as a newly retired sea captain who tries to plant roots in the old American West. He sets out to the endless country to marry his fiancée (Carroll Baker), the daughter of a wealthy landowner (Charles Bickford), but ends up embroiled in a feud over land and watering rights for cattle.

This thinking person's Western was based on Donald Hamilton's novel, which was adapted by Jessamyn West and Robert Wyler (brother of the director). Final screenplay credits went to Wyler, James R. Webb, and Sy Bartlett.

Also in the cast is that most underused of actresses, Jean Simmons, in addition to Charlton Heston (despite Moses, billed after Peck, Simmons, and Baker), Burl Ives, and Chuck Connors. If memory doesn't fail me, the best performance is given by Charles Bickford, while the worst one comes courtesy of Charlton Heston, whose villain is as ineffectual as his heroes.

(Exception to this rule: Heston's Mexican narcotics officer in Touch of Evil. Perhaps it was the bizarre make-up; perhaps it was Orson Welles' direction; perhaps biker from hell Mercedes McCambridge threatened to beat him up if he didn't get his acting straight. Whatever it was, for once Heston delivered a believable performance as a determined Mexican police officer from outer space out to get some real meanies. Better than that, only Katharine Hepburn's Chinese peasant from outer galaxy fighting for freedom in Dragon Seed. And I'm not being facetious. They were good – even if I'm the only person this side of Andromeda to think so.)

Gregory Peck in The Big Country by William WylerBurl Ives, until then better known for his singing, earned a best supporting actor Academy Award his performance as poor but tough rancher Rufus Hannassey – though surely the award was also supposed to include two of Ives' other 1958 performances, Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Ephraim Cabot in Desire Under the Elms. The film also received a nomination for Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Jerome Moross).

The new print was restored by the Academy Film Archive with support from the Film Foundation.

Tickets to The Big Country are $5 for the general public and may be purchased online at www.oscars.org/events. There are no minimum order requirements and no transaction or processing fees. Tickets are available online until noon PST on the day of the event.

Tickets may also be purchased by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours, or depending on availability, on the night of the screening when doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Seats are unreserved. Complimentary parking is provided in the garages located at 8920 and 9025 Wilshire Boulevard. For additional information, call (310) 247-3600.

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1 Comment to Gregory Peck vs. Charlton Heston: 'The Big Country' Academy Screening

  1. Isaac

    How Mr Peck could be considered “underrated” as an actor is beyond me. He was a fine figure of a man with wonderful style and poise, he had a fine voice and the camera loved every angle and every facet of his considerably hansom head, but as an actor he had an extremely limited compass, in fact, I can only identify one performance, which he recreated in at least a dozen films in which he starred.

    Burl Ives gave the best performance in Big Country by a mile, and Ms Simmons was surely at least in the running for the least effective. Yes, Mr Heston was a poser fond of burning up time and emotional energy, and a man far too aware of his own facial features. Big country is a fine film for all that.