Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Big Country (1958)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Big Country (1958)

In William Wyler's widescreen Western epic:

  • the memorable credits sequence including Jerome Moross' sweeping thematic score
  • the confrontational scene over access rights to water at Big Muddy between Rufus Hannassey (Oscar-winning Burl Ives) and his rival patriarchal enemy, landowner Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford), when Rufus visited in Terrill's house (during a party to announce an engagement), berated Terrill, and delivered an ultimatum: ("This is a mighty fine house, Major Terrill: a gentleman's house. Those are mighty fine clothes you are wearin'. Well, maybe you've got some of these folks fooled, but you ain't got me fooled, not by a damn sight! The Hannasseys know and admire a real gentleman when they see one, and they recognize a high tone skunk when they smell one. Now, I'm not here complainin' about twenty of your brave men who beat three of my boys 'til they couldn't stand. Maybe they had it comin'. Anyways, they're full-growed and can take their lickin's. And I'm not here complainin' because I know that you're tryin' to buy the Big Muddy to keep my cows from water. Though it galls me sore to see the granddaughter of a genuine gentleman like Glenn Maragon under this roof. I'll tell you why I'm here, Major Terrill! When you come a-ridin' roughshod over my land scarin' the kids and the women folks, when you invade my home, like you was the law or God Almighty, then I say to you, I've seen every kind of critter God ever made, and I ain't never seen a meaner, lower, more stinkin', yellow, hyprocrite than you! Now you can swallow up a lot of folks and make 'em like it, but you ain't swallowin' me. I'm stuck in your craw, Henry Terrill, and you can't spit me out! You hear me now! You rode into my place and beat my men for the last time and I give you warnin'. You set foot in Blanco Canyon once more and this country's gonna run red with blood 'til there ain't one of us left! Now I don't hold mine so precious, so if you want to start, here, start now! What's the matter? Can't you shoot a man a-facin' ya? I'll make it easy fer ya. Here's my back")
  • the marathon pre-dawn fist-fight without witnesses (sometimes filmed in long-shot) between non-violent, transplanted Eastern ex-sea captain James McKay (Gregory Peck) and Terrill's cocky foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) ending with McKay's question about the futility of their fight: "Tell me Leech. What did we prove? Huh?"
  • the gentlemen's duel between McKay and Hannassey's own no-good son Buck (Chuck Connors), when Buck fired early and was reprimanded by his father Rufus (who was officiating) - ending with cowardly Buck's death by his own father, when Buck stole another man's gun and was about to kill the unarmed McKay: (Rufus: "I warned you, you dirty little...I told ya! I told ya I'd do it. I told you, but you wouldn't believe me! Damn your soul, I told you!")
Gun Duel Face-Off Between McKay
and Hannassey's No-Good Son Buck
  • the final stalking in Blanco Canyon between the two sole protagonists: Terrill and Hannassey - ending with both men squaring off against each other and killing each other - one lying on top of the other (filmed from a high-angle long shot)

An Ultimatum Between Hannassey (Burl Ives) and Terrill (Charles Bickford) Regarding Big Muddy Water Rights

Pre-Dawn Fist-Fight Between James McKay (Gregory Peck) and Terrill's Foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston)

Final Stalking Scene in Blanco Canyon Between Terrill and Hannassey


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