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|Index||17 reviews in total|
I saw this movie when it originally came out and I took more people to see it in at least two successive trips to the old Crawford Theater. It is touching and worthwhile and depicts an America that all should see. Ethel Barrymore gives one of the best performances of her career. The preacher to the President is another vignette that stands out. There are memorable performances by Gary Cooper, Van Johnson, Gene Kelly, and Marjorie Main. Each vignette is a memorable one and all touch your heartstrings and provoke thought. It would be nice if it were available on DVD or even tape. What a delightful anthology this is. I recommend this to all. It is a movie you will enjoy.
I doubt if a film like It's A Big Country could be made in and about
the America of post Vietnam and Watergate. A whole lot of the clichés
presented here just aren't bought any more by large segments of the
population. For whatever it's worth the film is a presentation of what
we thought about ourselves in 1951.
It's a film with several different segments, some serious some pretty funny about every day Americans in all walks of life, in all parts of the then 48 states.
The two I liked best were those that ironically starred the two men who were not MGM contract players, Gary Cooper and Fredric March. Gary Cooper plays a Texas cowboy talking about his state and disillusioning us with a tongue in cheek delivery about the way Texans and Texas are perceived by the other 47 states. Of course Cooper's humor and the whole premise behind this segment was that Texas was our largest state in land mass. That ended in 1959 when Alaska became the 49th state, still it's the highlight of It's A Big Country.
Fredric March plays an Italian American father who's opposed to his son, Bobby Hyatt, getting needed glasses even after teacher Nancy Davis tells him it's necessary. He's got some old world ideas that need a bit of adjustment. March plays the role with dignity never do you feel he's a caricature.
Another episode that is nicely done involves Gene Kelly, Greek American boy falling for Janet Leigh, Hungarian American girl. They've got a problem though, her father played by Hollywood's number one Hungarian S.Z. Sakall. In the past 20 years we've seen a whole lot of stories about ancient ethnic hatreds coming out of Eastern Europe. Sakall is carrying some old grudges against Greeks though he really isn't sure why. Point being that here in America you're supposed to leave that all behind. That segment is still very much relevant.
Could we make It's A Big Country today? Not at this time, maybe at some future point when we've reached a national consensus that despite all our problems, America's a pretty good place after all.
WARNING: These comments may reveal portions of the film's
I had thought that the "episodic" film format was an invention of the 1980's art film. "It's a Big Country" killed that myth by presenting a film about the USA that is built on eight different episodes. The episodes are drawn together by a common narration, their focus on different ways of looking at the USA, and the introductory episode which lays out the concept for the film.
In the opening segment, James Whitmore rides a commuter train and tells another rider, "I love this country?" The other rider's response catches Whitmore off guard. "Which country?" He then points out that the USA is many countries -- political, military, religious, industrious, urban, rural, and many others. Each of the following seven segments of the film then focus on various ways of looking at the USA.
The actors in those seven segments are a "Who's Who" of 1950's film. The already mentioned Whitmore, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, Gary Cooper, Janet Leigh and Keenan Wynn share the screen along with many others, including legends Ethel Barrymore and Fredric March. If you are a classic film lover, check out the list of credits and you'll find at least one favorite among the actors.
The film overall only comes across as average however -- it seems rather "preachy" on the concept of acceptance, and the happy endings of the segments come across too sugary. Fortunately the great acting in some of the segments pull them to the top of the heap. Gary Cooper's deadpan delivery combined with his Texas drawl in the one true comedy segment work's well. And the final segment in which a young immigrant boy finds he must wear glasses at the risk of ridicule of his father as well as his friends at school is equally appealing.
There is one glaring inconsistency in the film. The overall point seems to be that we must drop our racial stereotypes. To that end virtually every racial stereotype is presented and cut down. Each of the episodes of the film is presented as independent stories within the film -- little stories within the story. But when they presented the segment focusing on African American's, no story is given, only a narrated segment with stock shots of black America are presented. Not one known American actor of African descent is included. In this respect, Hollywood seems to have been unable to overcome it's own prejudice and exclusionary practices of that time.
You might enjoy portions of this film, but most persons will either stop part way through or fall asleep during this average film.
"It's a Big Country" is a significant film. Created only a few years
after the victorious effort of WWII, it was delivered to an American
public that was exercising newfound powers, economic and political. It
was a society undergoing rapid change for the same reasons and also due
to changing mores in gender and race relations (caused by war
experiences) and due to changes in technology and infrastructure (the
car, interstate highways, etc.). The film fairly pleads for factions of
the country to remain united despite their tendency to seek their own
This film feels like a moving representation of Norman Rockwell paintings, displaying a homespun, good-natured respect for traditions and the values that drove the United States to become successful. From the viewpoint of the 21st century, some of these values seem naïve. In our post-Watergate world, fewer Americans see government authority and other established authorities as innately benign. But it is simplistically easy to view this film as merely propaganda or naïve.
Most of the episodes in this collection of vignettes champion values that were and are important to embrace: Racial understanding. The American melting pot. The Constitutional freedoms. But reading some reviews of the film, it is clear that some viewers also see the film as a documentary on American exceptionalism. And it's a subtext that cannot be ignored. Various individuals have always promoted the idea that America is the greatest country that ever existed--teachers, politicians, the military, the clergy.
The thing that is exceptional and unique about the U.S. is its Constitution. Sometimes that message is lost in the nationalistic clamor.
The film has an exceptional cast (Frederic March continues to amaze), exceptional writing that stirs the heart and summons tears, and solid production values. For those of any age, it can serve as a marker designating the state of the country circa 1950. So many complex factors have affected the evolution of the U.S. from what it was to what it is now. I like being reminded of the optimism of that time, however naïve. And it can remind us of the values we need to preserve and the viewpoints we have thankfully left behind.
Collection of stories to show the melting pot aspect of the USA. The
film is blessed with an array of talent that only could be pulled
together in Hollywood at its peak.
Episodic by nature and all the vignettes have their charm but the first three are really the best.
William Powell and James Whitmore breeze their way through a lively discussion of the ever evolving nature of the country. Their reactions to each other are what makes the skit.
Next up is a little story about not being lost in the crowd made charming by Ethel Barrymore's gentle performance.
The next segment is a tribute to notable African Americans which is nice in and of itself but that's also why it's a bit problematic. Considering the time it was made the isolated state of the short would have made it easy to snip out in the South. Of course the same could be said for any of the stories but since their are not people of color in any of the other segments it's rather obvious that was the intention at the time. Still it's a nice opportunity to see the significant Americans it spotlights.
The other sections all showing various slices of life, aside from Gary Cooper's star bit simply representing Texas, are pleasant but are on the sticky side of sweet.
Well-intentioned anthology film from MGM that lacks a clear focus. It's a collection of short stories that don't seem to have any other point except, I suppose, that the United States is a melting pot and how swell that is. Absolutely nothing wrong with that idea but I feel like more effort could have been put into (a) writing better stories and (b) having the stories connect better to drive home the "we're all different but we're all together" theme. The best anthology films tend to connect their stories and this just doesn't do that well. Still, it's full of old stars and the stories themselves, while not the strongest, are enjoyable enough. Worth a look for classic film fans. Probably kryptonite to cynics.
This par excellence a film only the American could make.I cannot
imagine a French,English or Italian director making a movie to glorify
Wellmann and co tell us that America is a big country ,with big differences but where everybody has his place in the sun: in the "celebrities" segment,there are plenty of black artists such as Armstrong ,but the civil rights were ignored in 1949.
What saves this naive film containing more finer feelings than a Capra movie,is some kind of humor .Take the first scene on a train and the last sentence of the baffled traveler or the Hungarian daddy who does not want his daughters to marry a Greek,cause we are "enemies" .How great the melting pot is!And so are Gene Kelly and Janet Leigh.
Some stars only appear a few minutes:Gary Cooper tells us what a wonderful state "Lone Star" Texas is where oil spurts out everywhere under your feet;Ethel Barrymore plays a delightful old lady who is cross cause she was not counted when they took a census of the population.
The last sketch ,about glasses ,was perhaps not a very good choice to conclude the movie.
It was,is and will always be a big country.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sociologists would have a ball with this 1952 anthology film describing
the different facets of American life- it's various forms of culture
whether they be religious, social, political, etc.
The anthology is made up of 8 straight stories,vignettes, if you don't know and has quite an array of movie talent in the film which is narrated by Louis Calhern.
Even Nancy Davis shows up as a prim and proper schoolteacher who runs into conflict with a student's father when she tells him to have his son's eyes checked for glasses.
Gary Cooper salutes Texas and there is an effective display of contributions of African Americans. Ethel Barrymore is upset in her story that she wasn't counted in the census and S.Z. Sakall portrays a bigot against Greeks whose daughter, Janet Leigh, quickly weds Greek Gene Kelly.
The problem with the film is that each segment only lasts for about 20 minutes or so and therefore there is little time for character development. Marjorie Main steals her vignette as the mother of a dead Korean War soldier who gets a visit from Keith Brasselle, a fellow serviceman, who reads a letter that his friend sent just before his death. This was poignant, but too brief as well.
The film depicts various forms of Americana.
Expensive and all-star and in production for most of 1950 and 51, this MGM anthology reflects what patriotism looked like in the Cold War era, and uncertainly jumbled together comic and dramatic episodes. A couple just pass muster: There's one where Ethel Barrymore is a sad Boston matron dismayed to learn she hasn't been counted in the census, and in another, Marjorie Main is excellent as a grieving mother visited by her dead son's war buddy. Most of the stories just aren't interesting, and there's some amazing miscasting: Gene Kelly as a Greek entrepreneur making goo-goo eyes at Janet Leigh (and S.Z. Sakall rattling his cheeks as her father), Fredric March (in a rare bad performance) as a stupid Italian immigrant arguing with schoolteacher Nancy Davis over whether his son should have eyeglasses, Gary Cooper over-drawling as a Texan mis-explaining the Lone Star State. There's a welcome but perfunctory documentary about great African Americans, and William Powell is elegant in the opening segment. There's also a lot of narration, and if I'm not mistaken, it's Louis Calhern. It was understandable that MGM wanted to celebrate America in the early '50s, but couldn't they have come up with some better plots?
I'm not quite sure who IT'S A BIG COUNTRY was aimed at. And given the
fact that it was a box office flop, I'm guessing that the general
audience didn't think it was aimed at them. It purports to show the
diversity of America by offering seven segments promoting different
aspects of life in postwar America, but it still traffics in
stereotypes and Hollywood conventions. For instance, there are two
segments involving immigrant fathers with children assimilating in ways
they don't like. One immigrant father from Hungary hates Greeks and is
appalled when his cherished oldest daughter falls in love with one. The
other immigrant father, from Italy, refuses to let his son wear glasses
because they're not manly even though the boy's teacher insists he
needs them to be able to read the blackboard. In each case the
immigrant, in a film supposedly pro-diversity, behaves in a most
backward fashion. At least the Hungarian is played by an actual
Hungarian immigrant actor, S.Z. Sakall, so there is some authenticity
there. However, the Italian immigrant is played by Fredric March, of
English, German and Scottish heritage, and the performance seems highly
exaggerated. Surely, they could have gotten an Italian actor or even J.
Carrol Naish, who did that kind of role effectively plenty of times in
his career. It's the final sequence in the film and left me with a
distinctly uneasy feeling. In the Hungarian sequence, Janet Leigh plays
the oldest daughter and Gene Kelly plays the Greek she falls in love
with. I guess this is what is meant by "ethnically blind" casting.
The first sequence goes so far as to dissect the notion that America is a "great country" when a traveling salesman (James Whitmore) on a train ride buttonholes a college professor (William Powell) to tell him that America is a great country and the professor then responds with "Which America?," and starts pointing out how different America is depending on where you are in its vast domain. So it looks like there will be some critique of blind patriotism, a direction then completely ignored in the rest of the film.
The segment on African-Americans doesn't even mention the race of its participants in the narration (by Louis Calhern) accompanying it, preferring to use the phrase, "other Americans." Instead of a fictional story, it offers a documentary sequence on prominent blacks in the postwar era, including Nobel Prize winner Ralph Bunche, then the ambassador to the United Nations, General Benjamin O. Davis, and the late George Washington Carver. There are segments on sports and the arts that highlight Jackie Robinson and Lena Horne, among others. There are numerous less well-known blacks in government and business who are cited, so it's nice to see a slice of little-known history. Curiously, the military footage is all from World War II and shows a distinctly segregated military even though President Truman had desegregated the military three years before this film. I suspect that producer Dore Schary feared that any fictional story about blacks that they created for the film would get criticized for stereotypes, denounced for avoiding the topic of discrimination, or, if they chose to be bold enough to tell a proper story about blacks in the postwar era, boycotted by southern theater owners. The documentary sequence was clearly a compromise and it could easily be removed by theater owners in the south. There are no non-white characters in any other sequence of the film.
There's a comic monologue by Gary Cooper as a Texan who speaks modestly of the state's size and reputation, wondering, in tongue-in-cheek fashion, why everyone thinks Texas is so "big." It doesn't jibe with the rest of the sequences here and was clearly inserted for comic relief.
The best sequence is arguably the one in which an Irish immigrant widow, played by Ethel Barrymore, insists to a Boston newspaper editor (George Murphy) that the 1950 census did not include her, so, after a false start, the editor starts a campaign to get the Census Bureau to correct its mistake. It's about wanting to be acknowledged and recognized by the larger society, something each wave of immigrants has had to deal with in different ways over the last couple of centuries.
Another sequence focuses on a visiting minister (Van Johnson) who takes the pulpit at a church in Washington D.C. in 1944 at a time when the then-president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, attends that church. The minister tailors his carefully prepared sermon to the president every week, despite the president's absence, putting the regular parishioners to sleep until the church sexton (Lewis Stone) finally calls him on it, urging him to address the entire congregation. I'm not sure what this segment had to do with the aims of the film or what it was trying to tell us, but, interestingly, the sequence cuts from the entrance of the president (off-camera) at the very end to the next sequence where we see a school teacher at work, played by Nancy Davis, who would marry Ronald Reagan the following year and become the First Lady 30 years after this film, adding a surprisingly prophetic touch.
Curiously, the cast includes a mix of liberals and conservatives from Hollywood's ranks. George Murphy, Gary Cooper and Nancy Davis were notable conservatives, while Gene Kelly and Fredric March were outspoken liberals. I wonder what they all thought of the finished film.
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