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The Big Sky

Screening on Film
Directed by Howard Hawks.
With Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt.
US, 1952, 35mm, black & white, 122 min.
Print source: Warner Bros.

Like Red River,Hawks’ second spin with the Western concerns a linear pilgrimage—a cattle drive in the earlier film, a row up the choppy Missouri River here—during which relationships and rivalries are molded over the course of an ambling, episodic structure. Conflict develops in the form of a spat between the heroes, a band of adventurers led by the brawny Jim Deakins (Kirk Douglas), and the local communities that they brush up against in their travels north, whether it be a local fur company that doesn’t welcome the competition or a tribe of Blackfoot Indians. Beyond its modest pleasures as an action film, though, The Big Sky functions as a paean to the daring spirit of early frontier life, capturing the raw, untamed majesty of the landscape and the serene evenings spent camped out under the stars, singing songs and imagining what lies ahead. Eventually, a typically Hawksian love triangle forms between Jim, his best friend Boone (Dewey Martin) and a Blackfoot princess (Elizabeth Threatt) who the men intend to return to the locals, but even this gesture toward narrative convention takes a backseat to the leisurely pace of day-to-day exploration.

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