Classic Movie Review: The Big Country

“The Big Country” works on so many levels. If you haven’t seen it, you must. Here’s why:

William Wyler’s “The Big Country” is a magnificent and beautiful epic that breathtakingly sweeps through the open prairies of the west in the later half of the 19th century. Many have called “The Big Country” the “anti-western,” and that it is. And it is what makes this film approachable and refreshing.

The cast is top-notch. Gregory Peck plays a restrained and proud Eastern gentlemen who is engaged to a fiery western girl, who is still deeply under her father’s dog-eat-dog western mindset.

When Peck refuses to fight back after the local hooligans rough him up, he is looked on as a coward. Peck’s character is used to show the foolishness of the prideful, western ideals of most other Hollywood movies, which end with macho-shootouts until the dead outnumber the living.

But this film is counter-intuitive as a western goes. It shows the barbarity of clan feuds and the emptiness of using violent threats as the law.

The cinematography is stunning. The cast is engaging. (Burl Ives gives a wonderful performance in which he notched a Academy Award nomination. Charlton Heston gives a nuanced performance as the typical tough western cow-hand.)

This 1958 film is a gem. It’s going on my best western films of all time list. If you haven’t seen it, enjoy it today.

The Perfect Easter Weekend Movie: Ben Hur

If you are looking for a meaningful and extremely compelling epic story for the Easter weekend, you could do no better than to revisit one of the classic, historical epics of the golden age of Hollywood: Ben Hur.

Ben Hur has become one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s story is timeless. Boyhood friends, Judah Ben-Hur (Charleton Heston) and Messala, become rivals as Judah cannot betray his own people at the hands of Messala’s accession in importance in the Roman Empire. Judah is betrayed and sent into slavery, losing all his wealth and family.

But Ben Hur is not just a dramatic historical drama, it rises to new and special heights because of the time period and what is happening in and around Jerusalem at this time. The complete title gives the audience a foretaste of what’s to come: “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.”

Ben Hur, through slavery and circumstance, comes across a young Jewish teacher, whom some call “The King of the Jews.”

Ben Hur has some truly memorable scenes. The chariot race as he tries to seek revenge on Messala is an iconic Hollywood sequence. And the other scene of the Christ walking the Via Dolorosa with Ben Hur following his steps on the edge of the crowd is truly moving.

This is epic without computer graphics. Refreshing, indeed.

Ben Hur is a true 5-star, thumbs-up, top-ten of all time type of classic. It’s a perfect edition to the Easter weekend. I highly recommend.

El Cid: A Timely Hollywood Message for This Day and Age – Part I

Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren in a three-hour epic against the breathtaking backdrops of the Spanish countryside. El Cid (1961) is one of Hollywood’s great epics which I finally just watched.

(Here’s the IMDb link:¬†

It’s highly entertaining and intriguing. I highly recommend it. I’m not going to go into the detailed plot and pick it apart for its acting, but I do want to highlight two powerful messages that came out of the story which are extremely timely for this day and age.

First lesson: honor your leaders, but hold their feet to the fire. El Cid was the Spanish hero who single-handedly kept the Spanish city-states together during the 11th century A.D. When the Spanish king died, El Cid pledged his allegiance to the eldest son. But the youngest son and sister plotted against the eldest and had him killed. The youngest son then took the crown. El Cid suspected that the younger had something to do with the elder’s death. So before the powerful warrior would pledge his allegiance to the new king, he forced the younger to swear to God, calling down death and damnation upon himself if he was lying, that he had nothing to do with his brother’s death. He swore so, and then El Cid became completely loyal to the king – even when the jealous king banished El Cid into the desert – even when the king took El Cid’s wife and children and locked them in prison, he remained loyal to the king. After a siege on the coastal city of Valencia, the joyous crowd nearly forced El Cid to take up the crown, but he refused and says he only had one king. They captured the city in his name. ¬†Finally, the honor, courage, and fortitude that El Cid displayed completely changes the king’s heart, and he even begged for El Cid’s forgiveness.

Takeaway 1: If more people acted with honor and civility toward their leaders, this world would be a better place. Look at the gridlock in Washington and you can easily see how partisan politics has soured the landscape. What would an ‘El Cid’ look like today, in our culture? He would honor the office of the presidency, even if he didn’t agree with the methods or politics of the president. He would show respect to others, and would not try to navigate the political waters to get ahead. His humility would be a lesson, a reflection for others to see their own faults. An El Cid of today wouldn’t have to bad-mouth every politician of the other party on the 24 hour news networks because they could expect cooperation and respect, even in disagreement. An El Cid of today would allow our leaders to see their faults, and ask for forgiveness and reconciliation when they messed up. And El Cid would forgive. Yes, if it seems like El Cid would be the perfect unrealistic person, perhaps so. But we all could use a little more honor, respect, and courage in our lives. It could only make the world a better place.

(Tomorrow, I’m going to look at what El Cid has to say about Christians and Muslims. If you haven’t watched it, please check it out!)