I hope you enjoy them, Julie!
And thank you everyone who participated!
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?”
“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!
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:
-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.
-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.
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
The Three Mesquites
I have watched one Lone Ranger and didn’t care for it (everybody died except him), so I’m not recommending them.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Jaz on The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is a story about the death of feminism.
Or is it?
Katharina, a fiery independent beauty, is married off at the first offer to rowdy, volatile fortune seeker Petruchio and morphs into a submissive, ingratiating wife.
Or does she?
Maybe it’s just me, but Petruchio and Katharina’s first meeting came off as rather flirtatious. The zingers come one after the other in quick succession, and if Katharina truly disliked him, she would have left the room immediately – she wasn’t one to sit and take it, not even for her father.
On the other hand, suppose she truly despised him. Why did she go along with the wedding?
Perhaps Petruchio intrigued her. Perhaps Katharina decided life would be more tolerable living with a rude, straightforward male than with her heartless father and egotistical, conniving and pretentious goody-goody sister Bianca for the rest of her life. Marriage was the only way out then – since Baptista forbade Bianca from marrying before her. Sadly, Petruchio was the only one who asked … and the only one likely to ask, ever.
Imagine having to live Katharina’s life. Ignored by her father, snubbed by her sister, known to all as “that shrew.” It would drive anyone into a mad fury.
So did her decision lead to the squashing of her independent spirit? Or was she merely playing along with Petruchio’s charade?
Truth be told, I haven’t figured it out yet, although I’m inclined to lean toward the latter. I enjoyed the play: it’s splattered with humor – on and off-colour – and catchy quotes.
“Tush, tush! fear boys with bugs!”
As for Bianca’s bevy of beaus, they’re amusing but tend to blur into each other. They serve only as foils for Katharina and Petruchio.
Liz on The Taming of the Shrew
I much prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his tragedies, and The Taming of the Shrew is quite a comedy. The wife-hunting scoundrel Petruchio is cruel enough to match the shrewish Katharina. Though I don’t care for Petruchio because of his overly harsh treatment of Katharina, I find the story entertaining and witty, and I enjoyed the 1967 movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Called a “battle of the sexes”, it’s certainly a battle of wits, and that’s a type of battle I relish.
The Taming of the Shrew has spawned at least two adaptations: Kiss Me Kate and Ten Things I Hate about You. If I didn’t already like The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me Kate would give me reason to. The movie of that name, based on the Cole Porter musical and starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, is one of my favorites. In it, an arrogant stage actor puts on a production of The Taming of the Shrew and tries to win back his ex-wife, who plays the shrew—both on stage and off. In traditional Shakespeare fashion, there’s a mistaken identify in that one of the performers claimed to be a Howard Keel’s character while gambling (and losing). Two gangsters call on Howard Keel during the play’s opening performance to collect on the debt, and Howard Keel cleverly uses them to keep his ex-wife from leaving the show with hilarious results.
As the play is full of witty dialog, the musical is filled with great songs, like the beautiful “So in Love” and the amusing “Too Darn Hot” (performed by dancer Ann Miller) and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (performed by the gangsters, one of whom is Keenan Wynn, or, as I know him, “the bad, bald guy from the Fred MacMurry Absent Minded Professor”).
So, next time you’re in the mood for Shakespeare, check on The Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate.
What are your thoughts on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew?
Welcome to Our Mutual Friends Blog! This month we’re talking about “scary” or ghoulish classic movies or books. We’re starting with The Phantom of the Opera.
Jaz on The Phantom of the Opera
I wish Hitchcock had directed a film version of The Phantom of the Opera. As it is, I contented myself with the 1943 movie starring Claude Rains (The Phantom), Susanna Foster (Christine Dubois) and Nelson Eddy (Anatole Garron). While Claude Rains was a talented actor, this role didn’t quite mesh with his onscreen personality. I see him as the repentant accomplice in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, not a sinister, masked musical fanatic. But I did like the effect of the ominous caped shadow fleeing through dark halls.
The film is based on a novel of the same name, first published as a serial in 1909 –according to the all-knowing google – by French author Gaston Leroux. I haven’t read it, but informed sources (i.e., my sister) clearly indicate the film is to the novel like a mini marshmallow is to a 24-oz steak: light and sweet versus dark and intense.
Susanna Foster and Nelson Eddy show off their gorgeous voices, and that helps make up for the film’s lackluster attempt at horror. There’s one scene in particular that I liked: when Christine stood in diva Biancarolli’s place and sang a succession of impossibly high notes as clear as glass. What a moment of triumph!
Clear glass aside, I found it a bit difficult to empathize with Foster’s character. She seems shallow and affected. Her joyful reaction to the news that Biancarolli had been taken ill, as well as her indifference to the rival suitors, makes her appear callous.
This film was not without humor – albeit unintentional. In one scene Anatole Garron breaks a deadly fall by gripping onto a stage curtain for dear life. After hanging there for a good while, he manages to catch hold of a rope and slide down to safety. The entire time, three workers on the stage below idly glance up at his antics. And the sight of the phantom working away at the chandelier’s giant chain with a tiny hand saw was rather humorous. I kept expecting him to turn away in frustration.
I didn’t have time to view the 1925 silent film, but it looks creepy. I might watch it this weekend. Expect an update soon …
Liz on The Phantom of the Opera
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the Andrew Lloyd Webber The Phantom of the Opera and or listened to the soundtrack. However, the plot of the movie has several major holes, like how did a gypsy boy grow up in the caverns of an opera house to become a well-educated “genius” (according to Meg’s mother) living in posh surroundings? The 1943 movie of the same name has a much better plot and some pretty good music, though of a more classical bent that Webber’s score. I haven’t read the French book on which all of these are based, so I can’t compare them to it.
The 1943 movie: Claude Rains does an excellent job as the poor, soft-spoken violinist who morphs into the cruel phantom of the opera. In love with one of the chorus girl, Rains secretly pays for her to have voice lessons until he tragically loses his job due to arthritis or some joint trouble that hinders his playing. Having spent his savings on paying for Christine’s voice lessons, he tries to sell a symphony he’s written. The arrogant music publisher refuses to talk to him. Rains hears someone playing his composition, mistakenly believes the publisher has stolen his music, and goes mad and strangles the publisher. The man and his assistant were doing acid etching when Rains arrived, and the assistant throws the tray of acid into Rains’s face, causing the phantom’s famous deformity. Rains seeks shelter under the opera house and turns his love for Christine into a passion to make her prima donna at whatever cost—a much better origin for the phantom of the opera than that given in the Webber play in my opinion.
Christine has two suitors in the movie, a tenor played by Nelson Eddy and a policeman. Both are likeable and their attempts to beat the other out and win Christine’s affection are humorous.
The end of the movie was a bit surprising, but I won’t give that away. I’ll simply recommend you watch the movie to find out what happens.