The Big Country is best remembered for Jerome Moross’s instantly identifiable musical score, one of the greatest (and most hummable) ever written for a western. It’s also a score of surprising variety and texture, enhancing the visuals and the emotions so much so that it becomes an integral element of the film’s overall impact, in much the same way that Hitchcock’s later classics, such as Vertigo (1958), are unimaginable without Bernard Herrmann’s music. And, as with Herrmann’s work, you’re never unaware of Moross’s Oscar-nominated score, but it’s so right that I never tire of it. Moross’s rousing music connects stirringly with the rapturously beautiful images of Franz Planer’s color cinematography, embellishing the film’s sensory pleasures to ecstatic proportions. Obviously, this movie has to be big, and it has to be big often. It’s no surprise that the camerawork is gorgeous, or that the natural scenery astonishes, but the film’s look is uniquely memorable for its array of compositions that serve as constant reminders of just how big the big country is. These vistas aren’t employed merely to showcase wide-screen visions of American beauty for their own sake, but rather to highlight, through the camera’s distant perspective, how small humanity is within these unfathomable spaces. The film features breathtaking, panoramic shots in which the human figures (or the houses or towns that inhabit them) are tiny, isolated specks in a world they mean to conquer and control. Whether on horseback or in carriages or on foot, the characters are matted against an endless nothingness that, to our eyes, overwhelms them, but it actually invigorates them with possibility. Since “big” is the unifying force behind every aspect of Wyler’s vision, it’s extraordinary that the production never swallows up its cast. In his pursuit of grandeur, Wyler never sacrifices the small, telling details of character.
excerpted from John DiLeo’s
Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery
© 2008 Hansen Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved.