The Big Sky


2h 18m 1952
The Big Sky

Brief Synopsis

Trappers lead an expedition against river pirates and Indians along the Missouri River.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Western
Release Date
Aug 1952
Premiere Information
Chicago premiere: 29 Jul 1952; New York opening: 19 Aug 1952
Production Company
Winchester Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Big Horn, Montana, United States; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, United States; Jackson Hole, Wyoming, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. (Cleveland, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 18m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10,975ft (16 reels)

Synopsis

In 1832, trapper Jim Deakins leaves his Kentucky home to look for work in St. Louis. En route, Jim meets Boone Claudel, a quick-fisted fugitive who has been falsely accused of a crime. Boone and Jim become fast friends, and Boone joins Jim on his journey. Soon after the two arrive in St. Louis, Boone strikes an innocent Indian crossing his path and tells Jim that he dislikes all Indians. It eventually becomes clear to Jim that Boone's prejudice against Indians stems from the poor opinion he holds of his alcoholic uncle, Zeb Calloway, who is half Indian. While searching for his uncle, Boone meets Sam Eggleston, the ill-tempered owner of the Missouri River Co., who tells Boone that Zeb owes him money for a missing delivery of whiskey. Later, Boone and Jim are thrown in jail for starting a barroom brawl with Eggleston and his men. To their astonishment, Boone and Jim discover that their cellmate is none other than Zeb. Zeb tells Jim and Boone that Eggleston and his company dislike him and that they killed his partner because as a free trader he was too much competition for the Missouri River Company.

Following their release from jail, Boone and Jim decide to join Zeb on a keelboat expedition up the Missouri River and into dangerous Montana Indian territory. The head of the expedition, Jourdonnais, warns his men that they are about to embark on a 2,000-mile journey into the heart of the Blackfoot Indian territory, a region that has never been traversed by white men. To quell the trappers' fears, Jourdonnais explains that their safety will be ensured by the presence of Teal Eye, a young Indian woman, whom they will be escorting to her Blackfoot chief. Once the expedition gets underway, Zeb tells Jim and Boone that the Indians fear the white man's presence in their territory because of what they call the "grab," the white man's habit of grabbing everything in sight.

Many months into the journey, the expedition, having survived the perils of white water rapids and Indian attacks, is beset upon by a group of white men, who attack their camp and abduct Teal Eye. The attackers, who are all in the employ of rival fur trader MacMasters, then try to sabotage the traders' effort to reach the Blackfoot territory by setting fire to their ship. The ship is saved just in time, and two of the saboteurs are captured by the traders and later confess to working for MacMasters. Teal Eye is eventually rescued and rejoins the expedition as it enters Blackfoot territory. Once the traders reach their destination and pick up their furs, Boone announces that he has decided to marry Teal Eye and live among the Blackfoot.

Photo Collections

The Big Sky - Kirk Douglas Publicity Still
Here is a photo of Kirk Douglas, taken to help publicize The Big Sky (1952). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Western
Release Date
Aug 1952
Premiere Information
Chicago premiere: 29 Jul 1952; New York opening: 19 Aug 1952
Production Company
Winchester Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Big Horn, Montana, United States; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, United States; Jackson Hole, Wyoming, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. (Cleveland, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 18m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10,975ft (16 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Cinematography

1952
Russell Harlan

Best Supporting Actor

1952
Arthur Hunnicutt

Articles

The Big Sky


Lanky American character actor Arthur Hunnicutt won his only Oscar® nomination for his supporting role in The Big Sky (1952), an unusual RKO Western directed by Howard Hawks and starring Kirk Douglas. Hunnicutt serves as narrator of this adventure as well as playing the grizzled uncle of Dewey Martin as one of two Kentucky frontiersmen (Douglas is the other) who attempt the first keelboat trip up the Missouri River in 1830. A specialist at playing "old codgers" far beyond his own years, Hunnicutt was only 41 when he played cantankerous old Uncle Zeb. In the opinion of some reviewers, his character is the film's central protagonist.

The story, based on a popular novel by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., has Douglas and Martin joining trapper Hunnicutt, fresh from prison, as he leads a French expedition to visit the friendly Blackfoot Indians to trade furs. Accompanying the expedition on its 2,000-mile journey is a beautiful Blackfoot princess (Elizabeth Threatt) with whom both younger men fall in love. The journey is complicated by interference from the powerful Fur Trade Organization and attacks by Crow Indians.

Also Oscar®-nominated was Russell Harlan's magnificent black and white cinematography, which captures the splendid scenery in a style suggestive of Ansel Adams photographs. The film was shot on location along the Snake River in Wyoming's Jackson Hole Valley and Grand Teton National Park. Hawks takes pains to show what early keel boat travel may have been like and utilizes real Frenchmen and authentic accents in the supporting roles.

Hunnicutt, a native of Gravelly, Arkansas, was a veteran of the stage, where his leading role in Tobacco Road set the tone for the film career that began in 1942. He appeared in close to 60 movies, almost always as a country bumpkin or Western sidekick. He won his Walter Brennan-like role in The Big Sky when Brennan himself proved unavailable. In 1956, although a couple of decades younger than costar Marjorie Main, Hunnicutt took on Percy Kilbride's old role of Pa Kettle in The Kettles in the Ozarks. Hunnicutt, who made his last feature film in 1975, also appeared in numerous television shows before his death from cancer in 1979.

Producer: Howard Hawks, Edward Lasker (Associate Producer)
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, from novel by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Editing: Christian Nyby
Art Director: Albert S. D'Agostino, Perry Ferguson
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins
Principal Cast: Kirk Douglas (Jim Deakins), Dewey Martin (Boone Cardell), Elizabeth Threatt (Teal Eye), Arthur Hunnicutt (Zeb Calloway/Narrator), Buddy Baer (Romaine), Steven Geray ("Frenchy" Jourdonnais), Jim Davis (Streak).
BW-139m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe
The Big Sky

The Big Sky

Lanky American character actor Arthur Hunnicutt won his only Oscar® nomination for his supporting role in The Big Sky (1952), an unusual RKO Western directed by Howard Hawks and starring Kirk Douglas. Hunnicutt serves as narrator of this adventure as well as playing the grizzled uncle of Dewey Martin as one of two Kentucky frontiersmen (Douglas is the other) who attempt the first keelboat trip up the Missouri River in 1830. A specialist at playing "old codgers" far beyond his own years, Hunnicutt was only 41 when he played cantankerous old Uncle Zeb. In the opinion of some reviewers, his character is the film's central protagonist. The story, based on a popular novel by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., has Douglas and Martin joining trapper Hunnicutt, fresh from prison, as he leads a French expedition to visit the friendly Blackfoot Indians to trade furs. Accompanying the expedition on its 2,000-mile journey is a beautiful Blackfoot princess (Elizabeth Threatt) with whom both younger men fall in love. The journey is complicated by interference from the powerful Fur Trade Organization and attacks by Crow Indians. Also Oscar®-nominated was Russell Harlan's magnificent black and white cinematography, which captures the splendid scenery in a style suggestive of Ansel Adams photographs. The film was shot on location along the Snake River in Wyoming's Jackson Hole Valley and Grand Teton National Park. Hawks takes pains to show what early keel boat travel may have been like and utilizes real Frenchmen and authentic accents in the supporting roles. Hunnicutt, a native of Gravelly, Arkansas, was a veteran of the stage, where his leading role in Tobacco Road set the tone for the film career that began in 1942. He appeared in close to 60 movies, almost always as a country bumpkin or Western sidekick. He won his Walter Brennan-like role in The Big Sky when Brennan himself proved unavailable. In 1956, although a couple of decades younger than costar Marjorie Main, Hunnicutt took on Percy Kilbride's old role of Pa Kettle in The Kettles in the Ozarks. Hunnicutt, who made his last feature film in 1975, also appeared in numerous television shows before his death from cancer in 1979. Producer: Howard Hawks, Edward Lasker (Associate Producer) Director: Howard Hawks Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, from novel by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. Cinematography: Russell Harlan Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin Editing: Christian Nyby Art Director: Albert S. D'Agostino, Perry Ferguson Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins Principal Cast: Kirk Douglas (Jim Deakins), Dewey Martin (Boone Cardell), Elizabeth Threatt (Teal Eye), Arthur Hunnicutt (Zeb Calloway/Narrator), Buddy Baer (Romaine), Steven Geray ("Frenchy" Jourdonnais), Jim Davis (Streak). BW-139m. Closed captioning. by Roger Fristoe

Quotes

They ain't deservin' of it, but I guess we better bury 'em.
- Zeb Calloway

Trivia

Notes

The following acknowledgment appears onscreen after the opening credits: "Grateful acknowledgment is made to The National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior for their assistance in photographing the natural beauty of Grand Teton National Park." According to contemporary news items, the film rights to the A. B. Guthrie, Jr. novel on which this picture is based were purchased by Howard Hawks in March 1950 for approximately $40,000. A New York Times article noted that Guthrie retained the film rights to the unused portions of his novel for a possible sequel. Guthrie's novel The Big Sky was the first of a trilogy. The second book, The Way West, won a Pulitzer Prize and was filmed by United Artists in 1967 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). The third book, These Thousand Hills, was filmed by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1959 and was directed by Richard Fliescher and starred Don Murray and Richard Egan (see below).
       According to information contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in August 1950 the PCA raised objections to "three major items" in the script. In addition to scenes depicting what the PCA believed to be gratuitous "brutality and gruesomeness," it criticized the excessive drinking in the script and "the suggestion that one of the principals, Boone, sleeps with the Indian girl, Teal Eye, only to wake up the next morning and find that he has married her." The PCA called this sequence "unacceptable under the [Production] Code," and demanded that the script be re-written to have Boone married to Teal Eye in a way that "does not involve his having pre-marital experience with her."
       Hollywood Reporter news items note that production on the picture was set to begin in August 1950 in Jackson Hole, WY, but because of excessive snowfall in the area, shooting was delayed for a year. According to a November 13, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, The Big Sky marked the first time in Hollywood history that a "$2,000,000 outdoor drama has been completed without using a single frame of process photography." The news item also noted that nine weeks of shooting by the first unit was followed by twelve weeks of second unit shooting at Jackson Hole, WY, and eight weeks of interior shooting at the RKO Pathe lot. Second unit footage also included a Crow Indian buffalo kill, shot in Big Horn, MT, according to an October 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item. Although the film's preview running time was 140 minutes, the picture was cut to 122 minutes before its general release. The Big Sky was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and Arthur Hunnicutt was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Modern sources add Cactus Mack to the cast.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video December 27, 1989

Released in United States Summer August 1952

Broadcast in USA over TBS (colorized version) July 18, 1990.

Released in United States Summer August 1952

Released in United States on Video December 27, 1989 (colorized version)