The Big Country

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The Big Country is a 1958 American Western film directed by William Wyler. It stars Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, and Chuck Connors. It was based on the novel of the same name by Donald Hamilton.

Ives won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor as well as the Golden Globe Award. The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for the musical score by Jerome Moross.

Contents

Plot

Wealthy, newly retired sea captain James McKay (Gregory Peck) travels to the American West to join his fiancée Patricia (Carroll Baker) at the enormous ranch owned by her father, Major Terrill (Charles Bickford). Terrill has been feuding with Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives), the patriarch of a poorer, less refined ranching clan. Patricia's friend, schoolteacher Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons), owns the "Big Muddy", a large ranch with a vital water supply. She is caught in the middle of the Terrill-Hannassey feud, as she has been allowing Hannassey to use her water for his cattle, while Terrill has been trying to buy her land in order to put Hannassey out of business.

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 (Chuck Connors) from harassing him, and he declines a challenge by Terrill's foreman, Steve Leech (Charlton Heston), to ride an unruly horse. Patricia, Terrill, and Leech consider this to be cowardly in view of the region's lawlessness. When Terrill and the men ride to the Hannassey place in retribution for Buck's harassment, McKay stays at the ranch and learns to ride the horse while telling no one except ranchhand Ramon (Alfonso Bedoya).

One morning, after instructing Ramon to tell the others not to worry about him, McKay rides to the Big Muddy, using a map and compass to navigate the terrain, and persuades Julie to sell him her land by promising to continue her policy of allowing both the Terrills and the Hannasseys access to the river. Meanwhile, a search party spends two days looking for McKay, believing he is lost. McKay finds the search party and explains that he was not in danger, but Leech calls him a liar in front of Patricia and Terrill. McKay again refuses to be goaded into a fight, and he and Patricia agree to reconsider their engagement after she becomes upset at his apparent cowardice. Early the next morning, before anybody else is up, McKay settles with Leech. They fight away from the house, without witnesses, to an exhausted draw. After that, Leech begins to respect McKay.

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