Westerns: The Big Country

Gregory Peck Jaz on The Big Country

It’s raining outside and I’m curled up on the couch with a cup of jasmine green tea and my laptop. I’m contemplating Westerns. Obviously — as evidenced by a previous post — Westerns aren’t my thing. The Big Country is an exception. Also Cowboys and Aliens. Because who doesn’t like a stubble-perfect, cowboy hat-clad Daniel Craig shooting down evil, slimy green extraterrestrials?

But back to The Big Country.

Starring Atticus Finch as Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston As Himself, The Big Country is all about standing up for human rights and finding whimsical objects hidden in tree nooks. Okay, maybe not the latter, but the film’s hero is a flawless, incredibly honorable and good-looking guy who wants to do the right thing by everyone even when what some people truly deserve is a good punch in the face.

The film starts as most Westerns do: a stranger comes into town and immediately ruffles the townsfolk’s carefully cultivated feathers. Land is at stake. More specifically, water. Two feuding families, the Terrills and Hannasseys, stand on either side, vying for control and trying to convince its owner, spunky Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons of Guys and Dolls fame), to sell. She refuses, knowing what will happen if she does.

What does the stranger have to do with all this? Nothing at first. James McKay (Peck), a retired sea captain, simply came out west to marry the ditzy blonde he met up north, not stir up trouble.  But she just so happens to be a Terrill … not to mention Heston’s – her father’s right hand man – love interest. Sparks fly. Guns shoot. Horses gallop. And Heston, thankfully, gets a good punch in the face.

Liz on The Big Country

“Have you ever seen anything so big?”

“Yes.”

“You have? What?”

“A couple of oceans.”

“Oceans? Humph,” the local mutters as newcomer and ship’s captain Jim McKay walks away.

Brief Summary of The Big Country: Ship’s captain comes to fiancé’s western community and gets caught up in a feud between her wealthy family, the Terrills, and the despised and uncouth Hannasseys. Also caught between the groups is the fiancé’s friend Julie Maragon, who owns a large ranch with a year round water source both families want exclusive access to.

Gregory Peck (as Jim McKay) brings to the little western community where his fiancé Pat Terril lives everything from a new look with his fancy bowler hat to a new perspective on how big the country really is and why the notable citizens act as they do.

McKay’s father was killed in a duel, leaving McKay with a firm belief that a “good name needs no defense.” He accepts hazing from the Hannasseys (the “local trash” family hated by his wealthy fiancé’s family), declines riding bronco Old Thunder in front of everyone, even refuses to fight jealous foremen Charles Heston. McKay simply refuses to prove himself to anyone. Anyone but himself, that is. When watching the movie, I always want him to fight, to defend himself, to make sure everyone knows he’s not a coward. But I understand what he’s saying. You can’t go through your life proving yourself to others, getting your feather ruffled every time someone insults or mistreats you. In my opinion, this attitude can be taken too far, like by those who expect people to accept everything they do as right. Watch a few adventure movies, especially seafaring ones, and you’ll see the arrogant captains or adventures ordering their men to do dangerous or seemingly nonsensical things without explanation. It’s humbling to explain your actions, but sometimes a certain amount of “proving yourself” is a good thing.

An interesting angle to the caring what others think about you topic is McKay’s fiancé Pat’s response to the implication that he’s a coward. She expects him to fight and is humiliated when he doesn’t (“I’ve never been so humiliated in my life” is a comment she makes to him more than once), leading to tension between them. Her friend Julie even asks her “How many times does a man have to win you?”

Starring Gregory Peck, Carrol Baker at Pat Terrill, Jean Simmons as Julie Marragon, Charles Heston as the Terrill’s foreman, and Burl Ives as Rufus Hannasseys, and directed by Willim Wyler of Mrs.Miniver and Ben Hur fame, The Big Country is a must see. Whether its an aerial shot of riders snaking their way through Blanco Canyon or dust clouded wheels rolling to the fabulous score, The Big Country is, as Motion Picture Herald calls it, “a work of art.”

There are at least two great foreshadow lines in this movie. One of those happens at the beginning and the other near the end. I didn’t mention them to prevent spoilers, but if you want to whisper them in the comments section, I’d love to know if anyone else caught them.

Don’t forgot to leave a comment on this previous post for a chance to win two Robin Lee Hatcher Books!

Betrayal: A Novel by Robin Lee Hatcher

Betrayal Betrayal: A Novel by Robin Lee Hatcher

I have to admit I really like the hero’s name: Hugh Brennan. It reminds me of the name of the sheriff on the BBC series Cadfael, a character I always liked. I didn’t note any special reason for the name or connection to the story’s theme, but a good, pronounceable name is always a good thing in a book. Right? The heroine’s name, however, does fit well with the story. Julia Grace, widowed ranch owner, shows grace and mercy to the tired drifter (the handsome Hugh Brennan, of course) by giving him a food and a job when she could have sent him away in the interest of personal safety—she had no reason to trust him then. The surname name Grace fits her well, though it was tarnished by her controlling, brutish husband.

Betrayal is an apt title for the book, as it is something both Julia and Hugh know well. Betrayal, pain, and the love of God. Julia, now free from her husband’s abuse, wants only the solitude of her Wyoming ranch. Hugh, recently free from years of imprisonment for a crime his own father committed, wants to find his sisters in Idaho. But, as Providence would have it, Hugh’s horse goes lame while crossing Julia’s property. She needs help on the ranch, he needs a place to stay while his horse rests, so they strike a deal—he’ll stay for a few weeks and then help her drive her cattle to a buyer.

Of course, you know what happens then: they gradually fall in love but don’t want to admit it because of their hurt and broken pasts, there’s trouble (in the form of a conniving, land greedy former brother-in-law) that threatens to drive them apart when they begin to think there might be hope, and, after all that, a confession of love, and a happy ending. I won’t tell you how it happens, that would be a spoiler, but it does happen, and I enjoyed finding out how it came about.

Now that I’ve told you a bit about the book’s storyline, here are my other comments on it:

Positive:

-I like stories of wounded hearts being healed, so that’s a plus.

-Encouraging spiritually with reminders of God’s love for each of us, of our status as new creations, and of hope for the future.

-Likeable, admirable main characters. I always prefer heroes/heroines I can respect.

– Good supporting characters in their gracious, loving neighbors Peter and Rose Collins

-Good descriptions of the land

-Is part of Where the Heart Lives series, but stands alone.

Negative:

-The frequent switching from Hugh’s to Julia’s point of view was distracting. I’d prefer longer sections from each of them.

-There were too many hints from the author that they were falling in love. A few less “why should I care about her/him?” and “why was she comforted by his presence?” type of questions and comments would have improved it.

-A few less comments on how in love Rose and Peter were (there were a few sections from their points-of-view as well) would be an improvement as well. We readers get the idea.

Overall opinion: Cute, inspirational romance. I read and enjoyed the previous novel (Belonging) and look forward to the next one. These books are about Hugh’s sisters, from whom he was separated as child.

Confession: I received this book, and the previous book in the series, from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for a review. However, I’ve striven to give an honest review. Zondervan kindly sent along an extra of the books as a gift for my blog readers.

For a chance to win a copy of Robin Lee Hatcher’s books Belonging and Betrayal, please leave a comment about why you’d like to win the books, or in keeping with the month’s Western theme, tell me your favorite Western. 

A name will be drawn randomly for the prize. To have your name in the hat more than once, subscribe to the blog and tell me you did (or already have) in the comment. The winner’s name will be announced next week.

Westerns: A Favorites List

As I mentioned in the last post, I love westerns. So, I decided to compile a list of those I’ve enjoyed watching. I’m sure I’ll remember many more after I post this, but here are a few you might enjoy when you feel in the mood for action and western scenery. Also see below for a chance to win Robin Lee Hatcher’s new book Betrayal.

Singing Cowboy Westerns and Other Saturday Matinee Westerns

The Zane Grey Classic Western Collection with Randolph Scott, Russell Hayden, and George O’Brien. Particularly enjoyed: Dude Ranger, Wagon Wheels, Knights of the Range, Arizona Raiders (with Flash Gordon actor Buster Crabbe). Haven’t read the books, but they were quite popular.

Gene Autry (especially those with Smiley Burnette as Frog Millhouse) Whirlwind, Gaucho Serenade, and most of the rest, except Phantom Empire, which has a strange fantasy twist to it

Roy Rogers

The Three Mesquites

Hopalong Cassidy

I have watched one Lone Ranger and didn’t care for it (everybody died except him), so I’m not recommending them.

Jimmy Stewart

The Far Country, Bend in the River, Rarebreed

Worth mentioning though not my favorites: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (also with John Wayne) and Winchester ‘73

John Wayne

Red River, Rio Bravo, Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Lobo, McClintock, True Grit, The Cowboys, Stagecoach, Angel and the Badman, North to Alaska

Didn’t like: The Searchers, 3 Godfathers

Tyrone Power

Mark of Zorro It’s set in California, so it counts, right?

Rawhide Forced by stagecoach line owner father to work at a lonely stagecoach stop, Power’s only desire is to return to civilization until four escaped prisoners take over the stop and Power has to keep himself and stranded traveler Susan Hayward alive.

Miscellaneous

Westward the Women  Robert Taylor grudgingly takes a group of brides out west, including former girl-of-ill-repute Denise Darcel

The Hanging Tree Gary Cooper is a doctor with a secret in gold rush territory.

The Big Country This is a great Gregory Peck western, but don’t waste your time on Mackenna’s Gold

Four Faces West Joel McCrea steals $2000 from a bank in order to save his father’s ranch. He leaves an I.O.U note, works to pay the money back, and tries to stay out of jail without having to use his pistols. The nurse who tended to his rattlesnake bite encourages him to give himself up. Joel McCrea is said to be a star of many westerns, but this is the only one I recall seeing him in.

Ride ‘Em Cowboy and The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap Two fun Abbot and Costello westerns.

Can’t Help Singing An amusing western with singing star Deanna Durbin as a spoiled society girl running away to marry a soldier in California

Audie Murphy The Duel at Silvercreek

Cat Ballou Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin. Not my favorite, but it’s funny in parts. I’ve never seen a horse and rider lean against a wall like that before.

Note: You may have noticed a lack of Clint Eastwood movies. I’ve only seen part of Paint Your Wagon, and the only thing I liked about it was the music.

About the book giveaway

In exchange for a review, Zondervan sent me a copy of Robin Lee Hatcher’s new book Betrayal and the previous book in the Where the Heart Lives series, Belonging, to read and a copy to give away.

These inspirational Christian fiction romances are very enjoyable and are set out west, so it seems fitting that to enter to win the books, you must, in the comments section, either tell me your favorite western(s) or tell me why you want to win the books.

How will the winner be decided? By the tried and true method of drawing a commenter’s name from a hat.

If you want your name in the hat more than once: Subscribe to the blog and tell me you did in the comments section (or that you already have subscribed), follow me on twitter (@e_kitchens), or remind me of a great western (as in one that I enjoyed) but I forgot to mention.

I will post my review of Betrayal tomorrow. A post on The Big Country and an announcement of the winner will follow next week.

Westerns: McClintock

I (Liz) love westerns. I guess it’s the combination of action, romance, good music, beautiful (or at least different) scenery, and, of course, horses. It was difficult to choose only a couple to post on, but since you can’t talk about westerns without mentioning John Wayne, we decided to feature a John Wayne movie—McClintock.

Liz on McClintock

One of the fun things about watching movies is recognizing actors/actresses from other films or shows. Besides John Wayne, you might recognize his frequent and much-liked companion Chill Wills, the fiery red head Maureen O’Hara (his love interest in a number of films), Mrs. Munster actress Yvonne De Carlo, and Jerry Van Dyke. Also of note is Patrick Wayne—John Wayne’s real life son—who plays the handsome Dev Warren who wins the heart of McClintock’s daughter.

Favorite scenes or Quotes:

“I don’t give jobs. I hire men.” McClintock

“Everyone works for someone. I work for everyone who’s ever ordered a steak.” (Paraphrase) McClintock

The fight where almost everyone ends up in a mud pit. I don’t know why watching someone get knocked into a mud pit, climb out, and then get knocked in again is amusing, but it is.

Dev spanking McClintock’s daughter with help from McClintock

Dev and McClintock taking up for Davy’s right to ask the girl he likes to dance

“Yes, I know I’m an Indian. But I’m also the fastest runner in town. I’ve got a college education and I’m also the railroad telegrapher. But does anybody say ‘Hello, Runner’ or ‘Hello, College Man’ or ‘Hello, Telegrapher’? No! Not even ‘Hello, Knothead’! It’s always ‘Let the Indian do it.'” I like Jake and Davy and their father/son type relationship. And can’t you connect with Davy’s frustration? At some point, I’m sure most of us have felt like we’ve been turned into a 1-D(escription) character, whether it’s by race, hair-color, talent, or something else.

The movie would be improved by: sobering McClintock, leaving out the Comanche raid, and having Mrs. McClintock better dressed during the last scene.

G.W. McClintock isn’t a sterling character by any means, but he’s likeable, fair, and a pretty good judge of people, and the movie, it’s just fun. Well, actually I guess that depends on what flaws you tend to overlook or be piqued by, as illustrated by Jaz’s comments.

Jaz on McClintock

Note: this film reflects popular viewpoints at the time of its release. As George Washington McLintock said, everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.

This is mine.

Dear creators of McLintock!: Your film is a racist, sexist production with only occasional splatterings of humor.

Don’t pretend to be all for Native American rights if you’re not. You almost had me fooled, especially with this quote:

“Yes, I know I’m an Indian. But I’m also the fastest runner in town. I’ve got a college education and I’m also the railroad telegrapher. But does anybody say ‘Hello, Runner’ or ‘Hello, College Man’ or ‘Hello, Telegrapher’? No! Not even ‘Hello, Knothead’! It’s always ‘Let the Indian do it.'” *

*By “Indian,” they mean Native American.

And then you had to go and ruin it at the end by having the Comanche tribe raid a gun stash and shoot up the town like crazed hooligans.

Here’s an idea: if you were truly in favor of Native American equality, you would have designated the runner-telegrapher-college man as Becky McLintock’s love interest. Not the recently hired ranch hand who had to drop out of college and who spanked the heroine – using an iron coal shovel – for kissing her boyfriend. This when he barely knew her. WHAT THE HECK.

In addition to more uses for coal shovels, please enlighten me as to how exactly such suggestive and sexist contact is superior to a chaperoned kiss.

And as for McLintock chasing his underwear-clad wife all over town and then spanking her with that same iron coal shovel in front of the cheering, laughing townsfolk …

There are no words.

Perhaps she overreacted as you suggest. But if a husband caroused at bars inhabited by scantily clad females, got drunk, then returned with a lipstick-stained collar and absolutely no explanation, how would a wife react?

Oh honey, forget it! Now have another slice of my apple pie while I trade these pumps and pearls for a silk nightie.

I don’t think so.

I liked and didn’t like Maureen O’Hara in this role. Her performance was forced, although you gave her character spunk (up until that idiotic spanking scene) and some good lines. Like the day after she fought in the big brawl:

Mrs. Warren: McLintock give you that black eye?

Kate (O’Hara): No! Nobody gave it to me! I WON it!

I will hand you this: the mud fight scene was funny. But not funny enough to make up for everything else.

The 10 best Jane Austen characters

Recently I read an online post by The Guardian commemorating the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Title? “The 10 Best Jane Austen Characters.” You will find the list here.

Note that the characters weren’t chosen by Guardian writers, but by Austen biographer Paula Byrne. And by “best” Byrne clearly means the most intriguing, the ones eliciting strong responses from the reader. NOT the “nicest and prettiest.”

While I found myself disagreeing with some, the list prompted me to come up with my own list of characters from Austen’s complete novels.

1. Mr. Collins is arguably Austen’s greatest comic character. Oily, pompous, hypocritical and utterly clueless and ridiculous, he simultaneously repulses and amuses. Pride and Prejudice

2. Lady Susan. Duh. She’s a cougar-homewrecker who parties hard and hates her daughter for getting in the way. Eloquent, beautiful, charming and deadly, Lady Susan is the woman every man’s mother warned about. I stayed up past midnight last night reading this scandalous short novel. Lady Susan

3. It’s impossible to omit one of literature’s greatest heroines, Elizabeth Bennet. She refuses to bend to society’s conventions, possesses an invaluable sense of humor, and admits when she’s in the wrong. Plus she exercises daily. Pride and Prejudice

4. Elinor Dashwood is poised and levelheaded in the face of calamity. She will sacrifice her time and comfort for friends and family, but will also speak out when they go too far – she’s not a doormat. Sense &Sensibility

5. A crafty fortune-seeker, Lucy Steele ingratiates herself with adults and their spoiled kids to gain their confidence and affection. In the end, she gets what she wants and gets away with it. Sense &Sensibility

6. Self-absorbed and naïve, yet generous and well intentioned, Emma makes plenty of mistakes but learns from them. She’s the kind of friend you’d go with on shopping/gossip/coffee sessions (but nothing deeper than that). Emma

 7. Lady Catherine de Bourgh spices up the novel with her self-aggrandizing comments, her love of being “useful” and her opposition to the “pollution” of Pemberly. Pride & Prejudice

 8. Captain Wentworth. He’s constant – over eight and a half years! – considerate and a successful naval captain. If nothing else, his eloquent letter to Anne grants him a spot here. “You pierce my soul.”  Persuasion

 9. Henry Tilney sets himself apart from all other Jane Austen heroes: he actually possesses a sense of humor. A minister, of all things, who makes you laugh! Talk about defying literary stereotypes. Northanger Abbey

 10. I never liked Fanny Price, but she deserves a spot here. She’s kind, loving and constant even when the object of her affection is pretty thick-skulled about the whole thing. Mansfield Park

Yes, I omitted Mr. Darcy. I wanted to give others a place first. Anyway, he’s already a given, so what’s the need?