The Big Land
Cast & Crew
After returning home to his Texas ranch at the end of the Civil War, Chad Morgan, who served as an officer in the Confederacy, discovers that his neighbors are experiencing financial difficulties due to their inability to find a buyer for their herds. Chad convinces the ranchers to drive their cattle to a Missouri railhead where representatives from Eastern city markets will be waiting to bid for them. When the ranchers arrive at the railhead, however, they find that a single buyer, the larcenous Brog, has driven away competition and is offering only $1.50 a head, rather than the ten dollars they expected. Forced to accept Brog's offer, the ranchers feel betrayed by Chad, whom they hold responsible. Billy, a young, hot-headed rancher, begins a dispute with Brog, who shoots him in the shoulder. When the Texans return home, Chad, having nothing to return to, decides to stay in Missouri. That evening, while trying to find shelter from a rainstorm, Chad is refused a hotel room due to prejudice against Southerners. When Chad is turned away at the livery stable, Joe Jagger, one of several men sleeping there, insists that he be allowed to stay. During the night, the alcoholic Joe is caught rummaging through other men's packs, desperately searching for liquor. The angered men attempt to hang him, but the sharp-shooting Chad stops them with gunfire and consequently must leave town with Joe. Because Joe has stolen a horse, Chad leads them west across the state line to Kansas territory to avoid arrest. As they travel, Joe suffers from the heat and by night is crazed with delirium tremens. Craving liquor, he attempts to ride off alone in the night, threatening to kill Chad if he follows, but Chad knocks him unconscious. When Joe awakens in the morning, he is ashamed and grateful. On their journey west, they see a train pass on one of the newly built rail lines. Eventually, they reach the farm of Sven Johnson and his widowed daughter-in-law Kate, whose husband died on their westward journey. Kate's young sons, David and Olaf, hold them off with rifles, but Sven comes to the rescue and invites them to dinner and to stay the night. Refusing an after-dinner drink, Joe entertains the boys by drawing buildings of Boston, where he once lived. Ben, a neighboring farmer who is courting Kate, comes to discuss the difficulty of delivering their wheat to the nearest market a hundred miles away. Chad suggests they need a rail spur to the area, but Joe, whose close friend is a railroad executive in Kansas City, says that a rail line will never be built unless steady, year-round usage can be guaranteed. Later, in the bunkhouse, Chad, surprised by Joe's professional knowledge, asks about his past and Joe says that he drank away his architecture career. Conceiving a way to help the farmers, Chad asks Joe to introduce him to his railroad friend in Kansas City, Tom Draper, who is also the fiancé of Joe's sister, Helen. At the saloon where Helen works as a singer, Chad, Joe and Tom meet, and Chad pitches his idea: If Tom would build a rail line extending to the area of the Johnson's farm, it could become a marketplace for cattle and wheat, thus insuring year-round activity. Chad predicts that the railway would provide the impetus to turn fields of buffalo grass into productive farmland, while also providing Texas ranchers with an alternative to the Missouri market. Enthusiastic to resume his career, Joe proposes building a town there, with hotels, cattle corrals and other amenities to accommodate the influx of buyers and sellers. At first Helen is uneasy, knowing that Joe's illness hinders his achievements, but she senses that he is healing and she is intrigued by Chad, who brought it about. After Helen begins to believe in them, Tom becomes convinced, realizing he has much to gain from their success. Brog sees their meeting at the saloon and, when they return to Kansas, decides to follow secretly with his cohort. Tom and Helen accompany Joe and Chad, to meet with the farmers in the area, who back their idea and put up the money to build the town. Later, while Joe and the others lay out stakes to delimit the town, the spying Brog recognizes the danger to his self-interests. Before Chad leaves for Texas to spread the word about their alternate cattle market, Helen thanks him for making Joe "a man again" and kisses him. Tom has already noticed a spark between the two and is relieved when Chad rides off. Work on the building of the town continues, but when it is nearly completed, Brog and his thugs set it afire. Even though everyone is disheartened, especially Joe, Helen insists that they build again. Determined, Joe agrees, but adds, "This time we wear guns." Chad is not well received in Texas, and when the grudging Billy threatens him with a hot brand, Chad overpowers him and convinces the ranchers to drive their herds to Kansas. When the new town is completed, buyers are brought in on the new rail line shortly before the cattle arrive. Brog and his men also come to scare away the competition, but the buyers stand their ground. During the night, however, after one of the buyers is murdered in his bed, the others demand protection, but the infant town as yet has no sheriff. Joe tries to stand up to Brog, who he knows is responsible for the murder, but is humiliated. Seeing Joe go into his office with a whiskey bottle, Kate sends young Davy to fetch Helen. When Helen arrives, she finds that Joe has resisted the bottle's temptation and is preparing for a showdown with Brog. Ignoring Helen's pleas, Joe again confronts Brog, who shoots and kills him. When Chad returns ahead of the herd, he finds the town in mourning. Helen, who plans to leave with Tom that evening, blames Chad for Joe's death. Meanwhile, the buyers are preparing to leave before the auction, too fearful to care that they risk economic ruin if Brog succeeds. The cattle are brought in, but during the night, Brog's men stampede them through town. Afterward, Chad confronts Brog, challenging him to a shootout. When Brog and his henchman try to gang up on him, Chad shoots them both. Helen then runs to Chad and embraces him, and Tom sadly realizes that he has lost her. To console Tom for his loss, Sven tells him how he lost his son coming west and suggests that sometimes people lose things when they are trying to build something new. Understanding, Tom returns to Kansas City alone.
Jack Wrather Jr.
George J. Lewis
Robert B. Williams
A. Guy Teague
George C. Bertholon
William L. Kuehl
Francis E. Stahl
The Big Land
Ladd plays a cattle driver angered by the low prices offered by the only buyer in the territory with access to the railroad essential to shipping the beef back east for consumption. Hooking up with a washed-up alcoholic whose life he saves, he sets out to create his own town with a railroad stop where cattlemen can sell their stock at reasonable prices. Although his experiences in the Civil War made him reject violence, Ladd is finally forced to take up his guns against the powerful villain.
Film rights to Frank Gruber's novel The Big Grass were purchased in 1955, but it was two years before Alan Ladd's own Jaguar Productions brought it to the screen, the fourth production under his banner. Shot under the working titles "Buffalo Grass" and "Stampeded," the film's premise was stated right after the credits by a narrator, who explained the bitterness that remained between Southerners and Northerners after the Civil War and the common practice among Confederate veterans of driving their herds to Missouri. The film, however, was shot not in Missouri but around Sonora, Calif., a location not far from Yosemite National Park that has been used for at least a couple of dozen movies and television shows. That scenery didn't really help the picture's reviews, with New York Times critic Bosley Crowther calling the whole thing "synthetic" and describing Ladd's work here as "a pasteboard cutout of the cowboy performance he gave in Shane."
Crowther's carping notwithstanding, fans of Ladd and Westerns will find enjoyment here, and film buffs can revel in another--and little seen--entry in the career of one of Hollywood's most acclaimed cinematographers, John Seitz, known chiefly for his masterly film noir work in Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), and the film that made Alan Ladd a star, This Gun for Hire (1942). Seitz was frequently the director of photography on Ladd's 1940s Paramount pictures, including the noir-ified version of Fitzgerald's classic, The Great Gatsby (1949), and Ladd thought highly enough of him to hire Seitz for nearly all of the films produced by Jaguar. All in all, the two worked together a remarkable 25 times.
The supporting cast does some good work as well, especially Edmond O'Brien as Jagger the drunk. This was the second time Ladd co-starred with Virginia Mayo, with whom he had a good relationship while shooting The Iron Mistress (1952). Also in the cast are Ladd's children, Alana and David. Although screen credit for David on The Proud Rebel (1958) read "introducing David Ladd," this was actually his debut, except for a bit part in Shane.
The New York Times reported in July 1956 that the ten-wheeled railroad engine, named "Three Spot," used in the film hauled gold from the Chinese camp mines and Twain Hart, Calif., in the 1890s and, in 1956, was still operating near Sonora on a track owned by Sierra Railroad.
According to a March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, comic books based on The Big Land were published by Dell featuring photos and production credits from the film. At least one of these comics is still available from several sources on line.
David Dortort, who adapted Gruber's novel for film, made his mark with his very first screenplay, Nicholas Ray's sensitive rodeo drama The Lusty Men (1952), but his big screen work never quite lived up to that promise. He did, however, achieve great success with his creation of the TV Western series Bonanza and High Chaparral.
Director: Gordon Douglas
Producer: Alan Ladd
Screenplay: David Dortort, Martin Rackin, based on the novel The Big Grass by Frank Gruber
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Thomas Reilly
Art Direction: Malcolm C. Bert
Original Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Alan Ladd (Chad Morgan), Virginia Mayo (Helen Jagger), Edmond O'Brien (Joe Jagger), Anthony Caruso (Brog), Julie Bishop (Kate Johnson)
By Rob Nixon
The Big Land
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
She was born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis, Missouri on November 30, 1920, and got her show business start at the age of six by enrolling in her aunt's School of Dramatic Expression. While still in her teens, she joined the nightclub circuit, and after paying her dues for a few years traveling across the country, she eventually caught the eye of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He gave her a small role in her first film, starring future husband, Michael O'Shea, in Jack London (1943). She then received minor billing as a "Goldwyn Girl," in the Danny Kaye farce, Up In Arms (1944). Almost immediately, Goldwyn saw her natural movement, comfort and ease in front of the camera, and in just her fourth film, she landed a plumb lead opposite Bob Hope in The Princess and the Pirate (1944). She proved a hit with moviegoers, and her next two films would be with her most frequent leading man, Danny Kaye: Wonder Man (1945), and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Both films were big hits, and the chemistry between Mayo and Kaye - the classy, reserved blonde beauty clashing with the hyperactive clown - was surprisingly successful.
Mayo did make a brief break from light comedy, and gave a good performance as Dana Andrews' unfaithful wife, Marie, in the popular post-war drama, The Best Years of Their Lives (1946); but despite the good reviews, she was back with Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).
It wasn't until the following year that Mayo got the chance to sink her teeth into a meaty role. That film, White Heat (1949), and her role, as Cody Jarrett's (James Cagney) sluttish, conniving wife, Verna, is memorable for the sheer ruthlessness of her performance. Remember, it was Verna who shot Cody¿s mother in the back, and yet when Cody confronts her after he escapes from prison to exact revenge for her death, Verna effectively places the blame on Big Ed (Steve Cochran):
Verna: I can't tell you Cody!
Cody: Tell me!
Verna: Ed...he shot her in the back!!!
Critics and fans purred over the newfound versatility, yet strangely, she never found a part as juicy as Verna again. Her next film, with Cagney, The West Point Story (1950), was a pleasant enough musical; but her role as Lady Wellesley in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), co-starring Gregory Peck, was merely decorative; that of a burlesque queen attempting to earn a university degree in the gormless comedy, She¿s Working Her Way Through College (1952); and worst of all, the Biblical bomb, The Silver Chalice (1954) which was, incidentally, Paul Newman's film debut, and is a film he still derides as the worst of his career.
Realizing that her future in movies was slowing down, she turned to the supper club circuit in the 60s with her husband, Michael O'Shea, touring the country in such productions as No, No Nanette, Barefoot in the Park, Hello Dolly, and Butterflies Are Free. Like most performers who had outdistanced their glory days with the film industry, Mayo turned to television for the next two decades, appearing in such shows as Night Gallery, Police Story, Murder She Wrote, and Remington Steele. She even earned a recurring role in the short-lived NBC soap opera, Santa Barbara (1984-85), playing an aging hoofer named "Peaches DeLight." Mayo was married to O'Shea from 1947 until his death in 1973. She is survived by their daughter, Mary Johnston; and three grandsons.
by Michael T. Toole
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
The working titles of the film were Buffalo Grass and Stampeded. After the opening credits, an off-screen narrator explains that bitterness remained between Southerners and Northerners after the Civil War, and that Confederate Army veterans drove their herds to the railheads in Missouri so that the growing population of Eastern cities would have enough beef. According to Hollywood Reporter production charts, portions of the film were shot around Sonora, CA. A July 1956 New York Times article reported that the ten-wheeled railroad engine, named "Three Spot," used in the film hauled gold from the Chinese camp mines and Twain Hart, CA in the 1890s and, in 1956, was still operating near Sonora on a fifty-seven track owned by Sierra Railroad.
Alana and David Ladd, 13 and 9 years old, respectively, were the children of actor-producer Alan Ladd. Although David's onscreen credit in the 1958 Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. production, The Proud Rebel (see below) reads "and introducing," The Big Land marked both children's film debuts. According to a March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, comic books based on The Big Land, which featured photos and production credits from the film, were published by Dell.
Released in United States 1957
Released in United States 1957