pseudopodium
. . . Big Sky

. . .

My fellow movie loons should do their utmost to preserve Turner Classic Movies' upcoming broadcasts of Howard Hawks's The Big Sky. Which is to say, Howard Hawks's The Big Sky. Here's how Hawks told the story:

It opened in Chicago at a very good theater and was doing fabulous business. They asked me to fly back there and we looked out the hotel window to the theater and there were lines that went clear around the corner and down the street. They said, "We wanted you to see this because if you'll take twenty minutes out of it, we can get another show in." And I said, "You take twenty minutes out and I don't think you'll have a show. You can't do it and have the same picture." But they had the right to cut it and they did. Within a week, those lines dropped to nothing. The picture did, too.... The scenes that made the relationships good were gone, so all of a sudden you were hit with this strange relationship and you didn't know where it came from.
As befitted his producer-director position, Hawks tended to be a bit of a blame-passer, so I had my private doubts about just how much he could have overcome the central miscasting of Kirk Douglas, always more convincing as slinking creep than as virile life-force. But that was before, without any fanfare whatsoever, TCM's wonderful researchers found a copy of Hawks's original cut and used it to add 17 minutes to the film.

Non-fellow-movie-loons should be aware that this isn't so much a restoration as it is a series of insertions: the footage from the rare print is in noticeably unpristine shape, and it repeats some voice-over narration that was re-recorded for the trimmed version. But Hawks was a master of rhythm, and with the original rhythm of the storytelling back in place, the movie is transformed. What was a muddled collection of wannabe-big scenes is now an organically structured oral history shading into folktale. What was an artificially inserted romance turns real and necessary. And the laughably tough heroes gain vulnerable Hawksian flesh: now it seems to take months for these guys to heal.

 

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