I attribute my not posting the past couple of days solely to my attempts to get through this film. I could’ve switched to a different one, but I decided to be stubborn and stick it out, and it ended up taking me three whole days to get through, watching in intermittent bursts. It’s not that The Big Sky is bad, or even that it wasn’t good enough; it just failed to interest me in any way. I know I’ve pretty much written off the rest of the westerns on the list that I have yet to get to, but I at least expected a satisfactory western experience. The Big Sky, directed by Howard Hawks, seems to be another film entirely that’s just in the skin of a western; a whole different genre that has western conventions tacked onto it to qualify the definition.
The plot is basic enough; the intrepid Jim Deakins (played by Kirk Douglas) meets a rough customer named Boone, who punches him twice in the face, which of course means the two become fast friends. They meet up with Boone’s uncle Zeb, who takes them along a keelboat journey to trade furs with some Injuns way past the borders of the trading company and their monopoly on such transactions. As insurance they won’t be killed by the wild Injuns, Zeb has a Native American woman on the boat with him, and wouldn’tcha know it, Boone just hates, hates Injuns. Of course, the two are destined to fall in love, and there’s a small bit of a love triangle aspect with Deakins that isn’t explored all that much. Now, because it’s a western, The Big Sky is expected to pour out its love for the landscape of where it is set, For instance, the film opens with a declaration of thanks to the US. Dept. of the Interior for their assistance in photographing the “natural beauty” of Grand Teton National Park, so one is immediately put on notice to expect some pretty breathtaking visuals. Well, I’m sorry to say, you’ll probably be disappointed; there isn’t a whole lot of showing off the landscapes at all, and there isn’t really a whole lot of landscape to be had. What there is to be had is a lot of milling about, talking… existing. The concept of “action” seems to have escaped this film; what there is is barely to be found, and is often fleeting; once you’re aware you’re in an action sequence, it’s already over, and the film retreats back to talking and milling around.
I can usually tell when a film has that special movie magic that makes it a truly great film, mostly because it grabs me and my attention and doesn’t let it go until the film is over; otherwise, depending on my mood, I get bored quite easily, and it takes a couple attempts or so before I finally get through the film proper. The Big Sky was like that; whatever movie magic there is to be found, I didn’t find it with this one. Even the Wikipedia article for the film acknowledges it as not being among Howard Hawks’ best-regarded works, and I’d have to agree; I was a big fan of The Big Sleep, for instance, but this just did nothing for me. It was standard at best, and I’m not on this quest for standard; I expected more out of The Big Sky, and I didn’t get it. I’m probably being a little too harsh on the film at this point; give it a try yourself, and see if you find something you might like. You’d be more fortunate than I was, though.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10