Greatest Film Scenes
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The Big Sky (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Big Sky (1952)

In Howard Hawks' least-known adventure-western (his second), a slow-moving episodic story based upon A.B. Guthrie Jr.'s best-selling 1949 novel of the same name and scripted by Dudley Nichols; its beautiful black and white cinematography showcased the grandeur of Grand Teton National Park, and the camaraderie of men heading into frontier territory danger; two other Guthrie novels (part of a trilogy) were also made into films: director Andrew V. McLaglen's The Way West (1967) (again with Kirk Douglas), and director Richard Fleischer's These Thousand Hills (1959); controversy arose over the studio's excising of the original 140 minute film down to 121 minutes:

  • in 1832, frontiersman-trapper Jim Deakins (Kirk Douglas) departed from his Kentucky farm home en route to Louisville and then westward to St. Louis. In the wilderness, Jim partnered with racially-prejudiced, impetuous drifter Boone Caudill (Dewey Martin), a brawling fugitive who had been falsely accused of a crime. Becoming friends, they continued together, crossed the Mississippi River (not the Missouri River - a geographical goof in the film), and entered St. Louis.
    [Note: Boone exhibited a hatred for Indians due to a lie he was told that his older brother Ben was killed by a Blackfoot Indian, and subsequently kept the scalp of the Indian who was responsible; in the film's final moments, it was revealed that Boone's brother had fallen in a river and drowned.]
  • Boone was searching for his alcoholic, grizzled, old-timer trapper-uncle Zeb Calloway (Arthur Hunnicutt) (a half-Indian) - the film's narrator. In St. Louis in the office of the Missouri River Company (a fur trading enterprise), Boone met the company's owner Sam Eggleston (Fred Graham) who claimed that Zeb was in debt to him for the lost delivery of two barrels of whiskey
  • Boone and Jim were jailed for instigating a barroom brawl with Eggleston and some of his workers, and were surprised to find Zeb lying in the upper bunk of their jail cell. Zeb explained how Eggleston's business had been threatened by competition from him and his murdered partner in trade with the Indians

(l to r in Jail): Zeb, Jim and Zeb's Nephew Boone

'Frenchy' Jourdonnais (Steven Geray)

First View of Teal Eye (Elizabeth Threatt)
  • that evening, the group of jailbirds was bailed out by 'Frenchy' Jourdonnais (Steven Geray), the owner of a keelboat (named 'Mandan'), who paid their fines and immediately hired them; Boone and Jim joined with Zeb and 'Frenchy' to leave town before daylight on his boat; they were headed westward on a 2,000 mile treacherous expedition (with a crew of about 30 fur trappers-traders) to explore the "wild and unexplored" upper Missouri River (and Yellowstone River) and enter dangerous Blackfoot Indian territory in Montana where white men had never penetrated ("white men never go so far")
  • during the first day of the trip, 'Frenchy' described how he had brought along young Indian princess-female Teal Eye (Elizabeth Threatt, a half-Cherokee in her sole film), the daughter of a Blackfoot chief; she had been captured 3-4 years earlier by the rival Crow Indian tribe, and rescued by Zeb (who spoke the Blackfoot dialogue); she would help them to open up negotiations with the Indians at their destination and establish fur trade with them - in competition with the Missouri River Company
  • Zeb told Jim and Boone during their months-long journey that the only thing the Indians feared was the white man's enormous covetous greed: ("The only thing they're 'a feared of is a white man's sickness...grabs. White men don't see nothin' pretty unless they wanna grab it. The more they grab, the more they wanna grab. It's like a fever and they can't get cured. The only thing for 'em to do is to keep on grabbin' until everything belongs to white men and then start grabbin' from each other. I reckon Injuns got no reason to love nothin' white")
  • the expedition's journey was plagued by dangerous white water rapids (that required the rescue of Teal Eye by Boone when she fell in); during Teal Eye's rescue efforts, Jim mangled one of his left hand's fingers on a tree branch, and had to be liquored-up before having it amputated - it was a symbolic castration that foreshadowed romantic heartbreak with Teal Eye
  • as they trekked along a few weeks later, Jim provided the film's title when he observed: "Sure is big country. The only thing bigger is the sky. Looks like God made it and forgot to put people in it"; Boone slapped at a mosquito and quipped: "Didn’t forget to put skeeters in it"

Teal Eye With A Knife To Protect Herself at Night

Teal Eye Stealing Boone's Blackfoot Scalp While He Slept

Boone Wrestling with Teal Eye

Boone Tempted to Kiss Her

Teal Eye Contemplating Knifing Boone

After Striking Boone With a Knife
  • one night while Boone was sleeping, Teal Eye snuck up to him and stole his Blackfoot scalp; he followed her as she tried to bury the scalp and wrestled her for it - he was tempted to kiss her; afterwards as they talked, she lunged for a knife and partially stabbed him before being subdued
  • other dangers for the group included competing rival fur traders headed by ruthless company boss Louis MacMasters (Paul Frees); their camp was attacked by a hired group of mercenary saboteurs; Teal Eye was abducted, and there was a failed attempt to set fire to their keelboat; with the help of a second, half-crazed Blackfoot Indian tracker named Poordevil (Hank Worden), Teal Eye was located and rescued, and the lead member Streak (Jim Davis) was confronted and questioned, and his men were disarmed; the keelboat arrived at the company fort where Zeb confronted MacMasters about the unprovoked attacks
  • further challenges included a deadly attack by hostile Crow Indians on the warpath who then followed their progress on the shore for three days; shortly later, the natives assaulted the keelboat when it was in shallow waters; when the fighting stopped at night, Boone (who was followed by Teal Eye) went looking for Jim who had become separated from the group; they found him - he had been shot in the left thigh by an unidentified attacker; Teal Eye hugged Jim to give him warmth instead of lighting a fire during the night, and then the group hid out in a waterfall-cave for a week while Jim recovered before attempting to return to the keelboat during night-travel

Boone with Teal Eye Looking for Jim

Wounded Jim Hugged by Teal Eye for Warmth

Jim Helped to Walk
  • when they eventually returned to their camp, they discovered that Streak (who appeared to be in cahoots with the Crows) was negotiating to buy Frenchy's keelboat; after the bullet removed from Jim's leg matched Streak's bullet shells, he was confronted and killed during a shootout
  • once the expedition reached its destination, Teal Eye escaped to her tribe and to her father Blackfoot Chief Red Horse (Theodore Last Star), and then summoned the tribe to greet the keelboat; he approached with his tribe on horseback with a friendly peace sign, to help pull the keelboat out of shallow waters
  • at the Blackfoot village, the natives were eager to trade fur pelts for three full days; meanwhile, a rival love triangle had obviously developed between Teal Eye, Jim and Boone; Zeb watched as Teal Eye approached the two men and gave Jim a gift - regarding him and loving him like "an adopted brother"; Boone followed Teal Eye to her teepee where she lowered the canvas entrance; she chose to spend private time with him; as he later exited her teepee to the noisy sounds of a tribal ceremony, Zeb announced to him: "You're a married man now"
  • Boone was obligated to negotiate with Teal Eye's father to purchase her - as was the local custom, so that he would be free to leave with her; the Chief accepted Boone's rifle "for starters"; as winter was coming on, there were plans for the group to leave and travel southward down-river back to St. Louis; Boone chose to leave with the other men and left Teal Eye standing on the shore
  • as they pushed off, Zeb noted (in narration) how conflict had developed between the two friends: "Ain't it funny. Two men is friends. Then a girl comes along and, and pretty soon they ain't friends no more. And now with one of 'em walkin 'out on what the other'n would give his right arm for, I kept wonderin' what they would do to settle it"

Goodbyes as the Group Planned to Leave

Boone Changing His Mind - Before Returning to Teal Eye

Two Friends Saying Farewell
  • in the film's final moments during camp the first evening, Boone changed his mind (after burning the scalp he had always vengefully carried) and decided to return to the Indians to be with Teal Eye, to live with her amongst the Blackfoot; he told his buddies: "I ain't goin' down-river. I'm goin' back. Could be she won't have me, but I'm sure I'll find out"; Boone and Jim exchanged a heart-felt farewell before parting ways

Frontiersman Jim Deakins (Kirk Douglas)

Drifter Boone Caudill (Dewey Martin)

Jim and Boone - Buddies in a St. Louis Bar Before Instigating a Fight

Zeb Calloway (Arthur Hunnicutt)

Zeb's Speech About the White Man's Covetous Greed ("Grabs")

The Keelboat in the White Water Rapids

The Amputation of Jim's Mangled Finger

The Capture and Questioning of Streak, Working for Rival Fur Company

Arrival of the Keelboat at the Rival Company's Fort, Headed by MacMasters

Zeb Confronting MacMasters

Main Expedition Leaders: (l to r): Jim, Zeb, Poordevil, and Boone

Greeted by Blackfoot Indians

Teal Eye Gave Jim a Gift - A Token of Their Friendship as an "Adopted Brother"

Boone in Teal Eye's Teepee


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