0263: The Big Sky (1952)

The Big Sky

Rating: 6.5/10

You know what I like about voice-over narration? It gives your movie a chance to convey a lot of information really fast. Say you want to start your movie in the second act (essentially), then you can use VO to describe what happened in the “first act” that you missed, or you can use a text scrawl like in Star Wars. In either case, you shouldn’t use a text scrawl, then VO, then have the slow-ass first act that proves you didn’t need VO or a text scrawl. Also, pick either VO or text scrawl, not both. Never use both.

Anyway, for some reason, purely because of the title, I thought this would be about pilots, maybe in WWII or around that time. Instead it’s a Western. That’s not really a problem, though if you know about westerns of this time, or you’ve ever seen Bonanza or similar shows, you’d probably recognize the style and tropes immediately. This isn’t the Spaghetti Western from twenty years later filled with realistic violence, rape, or all sorts of other nasty stuff. This is an old-school western where first and foremost we’re shown that cowboys were heroes. They protected the people around them and only resorted to violence if they had to. It’s interesting watching something like this now, where the antihero is what most people look up to and wish to be, one reason why noirs were so popular just before this era was all the heroes were just as bad or worse than the villains and it reflected the world during the Great Depression where everything was dark and gloomy. Here, at the age of American Idealism, we wanted to watch more heroic types, people who were basically Jesus but not scared to shoot somebody in the face every once in a while (as long as they deserved it of course).

Westerns themselves, much like noir, kind of faded out of existence, though every once in a while a really good one will get made, like Unforgiven or Django Unchained. But I think what happened at this time period was everyone just got tired of the whole thing. They explored every aspect they could in the genre without getting more realistic, and that’s why it became popular again when spaghetti westerns started getting made and they showed things that were closer to how things were back then.

Well, that’s your history lesson for the day. More complaints: the VO narration throughout the movie just confuses me, you could cut all of it and it wouldn’t change anything about the movie. It just explains things that are unimportant or come up later in character dialogue so it’s really unimportant.

Another thing that bugs me about this movie is that everything is just soooooo cliche of cowboy movies of this era, and I haven’t even seen that many 50s westerns, but it has pretty much everything you would expect from a movie like this: Cowboys sitting around a campfire talking about the past, a song sung in a bar about drinking, American Indians are involved and people only refer to them as “Injun” and are generally racist towards them. I’m sure people are just like “that’s just how things were” yet there isn’t a black person in the entire movie, if you want to talk about how things were… Anyway, the cliches throughout the film make me just want to start laughing despite it trying to be entirely serious. I’m sure at the time it wasn’t cliche at all, more a case of Hollywood saying, “If you’re going to make a Western you have to have a *BLANK* scene!” over and over again, but that’s exactly what makes it cliche and why so many genres keep “dying” according, again, to Hollywood. Anyway, I can’t really blame this movie entirely for the death of the American Western, but I know it didn’t help anything.

As a final complaint, this movie is so slow-paced I kept finding myself drifting away from it mentally, only to “come back” and see that I hadn’t missed anything.

The movie does get more exciting about 45 minutes in when Kirk Douglas’ character needs a finger amputated and there’s actual conflict in the story. It’s still fairly cliche after that but the cliches start to work for the story a bit better than they do in the first half of the film. Indicating to me that this is probably when the movie should have started, or even ten minutes before this scene just to set things up a little bit, but pretty much nothing happens before this, not in terms of plot, conflict, or character development.

I did just hate on this movie a lot, but by the end I thought it was fairly enjoyable. I like that it’s a Western but takes place on the American Frontier rather than the old west. I like the acting throughout, though I wish there was more women and maybe some African Americans but whatever, it was the fifties, they didn’t know any better.

Why you should watch it before you die: If you’ve never seen a western from this time period before you could watch this one and get a general sense of the whole genre, or if you’re just a fan of old-timey cowboy movies I would recommend it.

SCORING:

+7: Pretty good cowboy flick

-1: Pointless VO narration

-1: Useless first-act

+1.5: Good acting and decent story after 1st-act

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