It's a Big Country
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A long-realized lofty MGM anthology celebrating America, It's a Big Country's embryonic beginnings commenced under the Mayer rule - finally achieving completion in 1951, via a drastically cut down (88 minutes!), streamlined non-roadshow version, produced and released during the more liberal-oriented Dore Schary reign.
Originally conceived as a superstar opus for top line Metro talent (Gable, Tracy, etc.), It's a Big Country took so long to reach fruition that its headliners had already bolted from the confines of the studio system, preferring to go independent - the first visible cracks of the end of an era. Still there were plenty of major stars on view in this eight part entertaining omnibus, including Gary Cooper, William Powell, Fredric March, Van Johnson, and Gene Kelly. Cooper's segment, directed by Clarence Brown, a wry Western monologue penned by Dorothy Kingsley, lauding the accomplishments of Texas was considered the most clever and amusing.
It was, however, the poignant John Sturges episode, dealing with elderly Bostonian Ethel Barrymore, whose erroneous omission from the 1950 census prompts her defiant crusade for inclusion (before death silences her), that drew all the thoughtful plaudits. More a propaganda curio rather than the milestone of MGM history it was intended to be, the movie's array of talent in front and behind the camera nevertheless truly remains a staggering achievement. The supporting cast comprises Janet Leigh, Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, James Whitmore and S.Z. Sakall; the other directors include William Wellman, Charles Vidor, and supposedly (but uncredited) Anthony Mann. The cinematography boasts the accomplishments of four masters of light, distinguished by the brilliant John Alton while the scoring soars with contributions from Adolph Deutsch, Lennie Hayton, Bronislau Kaper, David Raksin and David Rose.
Directors: Clarence Brown, Don Hartman, John Sturges, Richard Thorpe, Charles Vidor, Don Weis, William Wellman
Producer: Robert Sisk
Screenplay: William Ludwig, Helen Deutsch, Ray Chordes, Claudia Cranston, Lucille Schlossberg, Dorothy Kingsley, Dore Schary Cinematography: John Alton, Ray June, William C. Mellor, Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: Ben Lewis, Frederick Y. Smith
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu, Arthur Lonergan, Gabriel Scognamillo
Music: Alberto Columbo, Adolph Deutsch, Lennie Hayton, Bronislau Kaper, Rudolph G. Kopp, David Raksin, David Rose, Charles Wolcott
Cast: Ethel Barrymore (Mrs. Brian Patrick Riordan), Keefe Brasselle (Sgt. Maxie Klein), Gary Cooper ('Texas'), Nancy Davis (Miss Coleman), Van Johnson (Rev. Adam Burch), Gene Kelly (Icarus Xenophon).
BW-90m. Closed captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus