A Ranch, a Swamp, and an Oil Field: Movies Celebrate Achievement
by Ari Armstrong, December 8, 2004
Recently I've seen four very nice films on video, ones that might make for enjoyable holiday viewing. All feature strong characters of moral force.
The Big Country
Gregory Peck plays an easterner who travels west to be with his fiance. She is the daughter of a rancher in -- you guessed it -- The Big Country. The rancher is in the middle of a long-running feud with another rancher up the canyon.
Peck's character encounters resistance from all sides. Both ranching clans ride him for his eastern looks and mannerisms. His fiance wants him to prove himself, but he has no need to impress others -- only himself. And so the feud and the romance become the central stories. Both come to involve a property owned by a single, educated woman.
The glory of the 1958 move is Peck's character, who is strong and independent, intelligent and beyond the criticism of anyone. While the story sometimes wears a little thin, Peck's character proves he has a big soul.
So what's a 1996 French-language film about the pre-revolutionary aristocracy doing on the list?
A landowner (Charles Berling) has a problem: his land is a big swamp ("wetland"), so the people working the land often die of disease. He wants to clear the swamp but lacks the resources to do it. So he decides to go to court and try to convince the king to help. But the king is swayed by wit, not reason. And so the landowner and engineer falls into caustic one-upsmanship with other "suitors." It is a corrupt society.
Thankfully, the landowner falls in with a benevolent doctor (Jean Rochefort), whose lovely daughter likes the landowner but is tempted to marry for money so that she can fund her scientific pursuits. Judith Godreche is excellent as the daughter. Charming.
The fundamental struggle is whether the landowner will keep his integrity or sell his soul for the favor of the king. I don't want to reveal the ending, but the fact that I loved the film indicates generally how it turns out.
This 1968 John Wayne film contains a lot of boring filler, but its central story is a salute to Red Adair, the real-life fighter of oil-well fires on whom Wayne's character (Chance Buckman) is based.
The writers weren't able to create a complete movie out of oil fires, so they included two uncompelling romances, one involving Buckman and another his daughter. But it's nice to see defenders of commerce as the heroes. And the whole point is to save oil! So invite your greenie friends.
There's a fascinating regional connection: Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz contributed to the movie. When his Wyoming oil wells caught fire in 1966, he sold the filming rights.
Ayn Rand wrote the screen play for this 1945 film, even though she didn't think much of the original story.
The characters are engaging -- and in many respects vintage Rand. The basic story is a love triangle that adapts the central device of Cyrano de Bergerac. A military man meets a woman and convinces his friend to write letters to her. The woman falls in love with the author of the letters, but of course she marries the other man.
The letter writer (Joseph Cotten) is a ponderous man who longs for a simple yet rapturous life. His buddy (Robert Sully) is a mindless thrill seeker who enjoys mocking principles. The woman (Jennifer Jones) is innocent and adorable, drawn to passionate love. The story evolves along the lines of a mystery. The story is adequate, and the characters are delightful.