Friday, July 05, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Big Trees (1952)

THE BIG TREES is a moderately interesting Western drama starring Kirk Douglas as a shady, unethical businessman battling Quaker homesteaders for rights to a redwood forest.

The above pretty much sums up the movie's plot, a fairly slow-moving 89 minutes in which Douglas is ultimately converted by the steadfast Quakers, his love for a Quaker widow (Eve Miller), and his admiration for his former aide turned honest lawman (Edgar Buchanan). The final section of the film finds the reformed Douglas battling his former righthand man (John Archer) over the fate of "the big trees."

The movie is pleasant enough, with attractive location filming in Northern California and a solid cast, but it never really takes off; it just sort of moseys along and finally comes to an end. Even the action sequences are sort of ho-hum. The movie held my attention but never elicited much in the way of emotions.

I've got to admit that Kirk Douglas doesn't do anything for me as an actor, and that's a considerable drawback for the film given that he has so much screen time. I'm not sure if it's the actor himself or the abrasive characters he so often plays, but I'm always left cold by him. He's in a couple of movies I like due to other cast members -- for example, OUT OF THE PAST (1947) -- but he never engages me emotionally. That was the case again in THE BIG TREES, where I found him rather uninteresting, and his ultimate conversion only partly convincing.

Patrice Wymore (then Mrs. Errol Flynn) plays a saloon girl Douglas has been stringing along and using for a decade. She sings one dance hall number but otherwise it's a fairly limited role; her main purpose is to illustrate that Douglas is a heel and then to help deliver his comeuppance.

Eve Miller does fine as the widow who goes toe to toe with Douglas. A sequence where her cat engages in a cleverly engineered "Act of God" is the best part of the movie.

The supporting cast includes Roy Roberts, Ellen Corby, Alan Hale Jr., Lane Chandler, and Charles Meredith.

This film was directed by Felix E. Feist and filmed in Technicolor by Bert Glennon.

THE BIG TREES is a remake of VALLEY OF THE GIANTS, which had been filmed three times previously, most recently in 1938 with Wayne Morris and Claire Trevor. Some of the second unit footage in THE BIG TREES was lifted from the 1938 film, which was also filmed in Technicolor.

A fun bit of trivia is that Alan Hale Sr. was in the cast of VALLEY OF THE GIANTS, and his son Alan Jr. acted in THE BIG TREES.

THE BIG TREES can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

This Warner Bros. film seems to have fallen into the public domain. It was released on DVD by public domain specialist Alpha Video and has had at least one other DVD release by a different company. It was also released on VHS by more than one company.

I hope to give Douglas another chance later this month and attend a screening of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) at the Egyptian Theatre. The screening is part of a tribute to a Disney legend, production designer Harper Goff. 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA is one of the films on my list of 10 Classics to see in 2013 so it will be wonderful if I'm able to see it for the first time on a big screen.


Blogger john k said...

Very interesting comments regarding Kirk Douglas,Laura.
I read that he did THE BIG TRESS for free so that
Warners would release him from his contract.
A Kirk Douglas film that you may enjoy him in is
MAN WITHOUT A STAR. He even gets to sing and play the
banjo in this one!Great chemistry between Kirk and
Jeanne Crain.
He seemed to like to play tormented characters,he has
a "past" in MAN WITHOUT A STAR but his loner/drifter
is also charming and amusing.

4:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, thanks much for all that info! I do have a copy of MAN WITHOUT A STAR here -- I'm a huge Jeanne Crain fan and it's one I haven't seen, so I'll give it a shot. :)

Best wishes,

8:42 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I also love MAN WITHOUT A STAR. You may find Douglas more relaxed and charming in this than some other movies. He actually had a fair amount of range, though does favor those intense, tormented roles. I must I like him a lot--and he was Minnelli's favorite, which is saying a lot.

I know you've seen THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (you didn't think he was great in that?--that character was so interesting and worth buiding a movie around). Have you seen LUST FOR LIFE or TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN?

Also, not to be confused with THE BIG TREES is Hawks' THE BIG SKY, a sublime Western and Kirk is relatively laidback and thoroughly likeable and sympathetic in that movie.

I'm not trying to get anyone to like an actor. It's well-known that my opinion of Marlon Brando is pretty low and I actually think he's generally about the least credible actor of his era, all acting tricks and no believability at all most of the time. I would have liked Aldo Ray in ON THE WATERFRONT.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake! Thanks for backing up John on MAN WITHOUT A STAR -- I have the VHS release here and will bump it up higher in the viewing stack!

I really liked THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL but have to admit that again it was despite Douglas rather than because of him -- I loved Powell, Turner, Pidgeon, Stewart, and the nods to Hollywood history, plus the Raksin score. Perhaps he's simply too effective at playing flawed characters (grin). Yet there are other actors who do that who also really grab me emotionally, like Robert Ryan. I always feel I'm watching Douglas from an emotional distance.

I try to remain open-minded as I've found that my movie tastes have broadened with time -- if you'd told me even a decade ago that one day I'd be purchasing Joan Crawford boxed sets I'd have thought you were crazy, LOL. So perhaps there's still a film ahead with Douglas that will "connect" with me.

I've not yet seen LUST FOR LIFE or TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN -- I'm coming to most of Minnelli's dramas relatively late, though I spent my teen years immersed in his musicals! I should at least see SOME CAME RUNNING this year, even if I don't make it to those Douglas films in the immediate future.

I like Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT and also STREETCAR, though I'm not much of a fan otherwise. But Aldo Ray in ON THE WATERFRONT is a really intriguing idea, especially having recently enjoyed him in NIGHTFALL. I can see that working.

Best wishes,

5:02 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

Kirk Douglas was one of my first crushes, and I'm still very fond of him. I remember "The Big Trees" was quite disappointing. Haven't seen that one in years, not sure if I'd like it better nowadays!

I had seen 20,000 on the Egyptian schedule and was thinking about heading over for that myself!

My favorites of Douglas's movies are "20,000" (of course), "The Vikings," and "Lonely Are the Brave." And "Tough Guys," with Burt Lancaster. Really wish that one was out on DVD. I haven't seen it since its theatrical release!

I have never seen "On the Waterfront" because of my dislike for Marlon Brando... but now I almost want to see it, just to picture Aldo Ray in it instead!

8:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb! Thanks much for the list of your favorite Douglas films. If you go to 20,000 LEAGUES maybe we can meet up, let me know! :) Hope you and your family have had a great holiday weekend.

Best wishes,

8:44 PM  
Blogger egomoi said...

The best quality dvd release was from Toby Roan, more colorful than Alpha's washed out 5 buck release. It is worth hunting for if you can find a copy.

7:32 AM  

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