THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) stars Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston but the story that drives this William Wyler western is of the locked in hatred Major Terrill (Charles Bickford) and Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives) have for each other. Their history is never fully disclosed but their mutual vendetta dominates their lives and the people around them.
Towards the end of this fine western, rancher Terrill wants a final showdown with Hannassey and expects his men,led by foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) to follow him and fight his fight.
Terrill now has an excuse to go in force to Hannassey’s place – Julie (Jean Simmons) is being held by Hannassey. Terrill intends to ride through Blanco Canyon and Leech knows they could be ambushed in the canyon.
As this scene unfolds, for the first time ever,Steve hesitates,though he is used to carrying out the Major’s orders without question.
Steve says, “This is bound to cost us half our men. It’s not necessary. I’d walk into hell for you.You know that,Major.I just cant hold with you on this.”
Terrill calls him a coward. Steve continues, “I’m not beatin’ up any more men for you – or shootin’ any more Hannasseys for you.You ride in there if you want to.I’m finished.”
Terrill’s obsessive determination to confront his nemesis is such that he just looks down at Steve (who has been like a surrogate son to him) and says bluntly, “I dont need you on this trip.” He turns to the rest of the men and says, “Alright,men,mount up.”
But the men have been listening to their foreman and don’t move.
Terrill doesn’t flinch, “I see. I’m all alone in this. Alright, I’ve been alone before.”
He leaves the shelter of the rock outcrops and rides out onto the vast plain, with Steve calling out,”Major,Major.”
Steve knows his boss is wrong but he cant help himself,he puts on his hat ,saddles up and rides after the Major.
Terrill is seen riding slowly in the foreground ,with the massive red sandstone cliffs to his left. Jerome Moross’s main title theme starts up slowly.
Steve is seen in the distance behind the Major,galloping up until he is alongside Terrill – who doesn’t look at him.
The stirring music rises as the rest of the men,first a few riders,then the rest of them,also gallop towards Steve and the Major.
.Again, Terrill doesn’t look back,but as he hears them,there is a slight smile on his face.
What follows is the inevitable conclusion of the fateful animosity between Terrill and Hannassey.
Jerome Moross’s fantastic score for The Big Country plays such a pivotal part in this memorable scene . And that fabulous setting.