Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Big Land (1957) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE BIG LAND (1957) is an Alan Ladd Western which is part of a recent "wave" of Ladd films from the Warner Archive. The other recently released films are DRUM BEAT (1954), THE DEEP SIX (1958), and GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND (1960).

Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien lead a strong supporting cast in this enjoyable film. It's considered a relatively minor Western in some quarters but I found it pleasant viewing. The story is a fairly workmanlike, standard issue Western tale but sometimes that's what hits the spot.

In this film from Ladd's Jaguar Productions, he plays Chad Morgan, a cattleman who is pretty much robbed blind by a cattle buyer, Brog (Anthony Caruso), who's the only game in town.

Chad befriends Joe (O'Brien), an alcoholic architect, and together they come up with a plan for a rail line to a new town where cattle will attract many more buyers. The local farmers join in, anticipating new markets for their crops.

Joe's sister Helen (Mayo) is engaged to a railroad man (Don Castle) who helps the men execute their plan...which is fought at every turn by the nasty, violent Brog.

The script isn't anything special, although there are some good lines here and there. (When offered water, the hard-drinking O'Brien snaps, "What am I, a trout?") However, the film is a good example of what a better-than-average cast can do with run-of-the-mill material. For instance, much of Ladd and Mayo's relationship develops outside of their spoken words, especially as her character is engaged to another man; instead it's conveyed in long, pointed looks.

There's also a little welcome complexity inasmuch as Helen's fiance is a nice guy the audience doesn't want to see hurt, even though it seems inevitable that Ladd and Mayo will wind up together.

O'Brien is terrific, managing to obtain viewer sympathy as he battles to beat his addiction, nicknaming himself "The Sarsaparilla Kid." He also has some of the movie's best lines. It's hard not to think about the irony of Ladd watching O'Brien's character struggle with alcohol, which would wreck the handsome Ladd's looks by 1960's GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND.

Julie Bishop plays a widow with two cute little boys, played by Jack Wrather Jr. and David Ladd, whose only previous credit was a small role in SHANE (1953). David is cute as the proverbial button in this. The cast also includes John Qualen, James Anderson, George J. Lewis, and John Doucette.

The movie was shot in Warnercolor by John F. Seitz. Warnercolor tends to have a harsh look, but here the color is all over the map, with some exteriors having an orange tinge. I assume it's how the movie looked upon release, or at least that's as good as it's possible for the movie to look today. Otherwise the print is free of other types of flaws.

The screenplay by David Dortort (BONANZA) runs 92 minutes. Based on a still (shown here), I think some of the middle section of the movie may have ended up on the cutting-room floor, unless it's a publicity still; I did feel as though there might have been more to the story during the town building section.

It was directed by Gordon Douglas, who directed SAN QUENTIN (1946), seen earlier in the week.

Fans of the lead actors who enjoy standard Saturday matinee Western fare should enjoy this one. There are no extras on the Warner Archive DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

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