“The Big Sky” is one of the most unique and entertaining adventure films ever made. Set in the American frontier of the early 1800s, it’s the story of an ambitious party who pole their keel boat up the Missouri River into new territories, far beyond where other white men have ventured, to trade for furs with the Blackfeet Indians.
“The Big Sky” was filmed on location, and this alone makes the film worth watching, for the splenor of the Snake River and Grand Tetons, where the film was actually shot, is breathtaking.
But “The Big Sky” has other virtues which raise it far above the average “scenic”. First, is the multi-layered plot. Besides the story of an enterprise, “The Big Sky” is about how men, in a time long past, interacted, when their differences were subordinated to a higher purpose. Second, is director Howard Hawks, whose trademark “naturalistic dialogue” technique is put to wonderful use here. Hawks works on complex relationships – male and female, “Frenchie” and Anglo backwoodsmen, Native Americans and whites – like a conductor a symphony. Third, and perhaps most touching, is the tale of male bonding not only among the group of men, but one-on-one between Jim Deakins, played by Kirk Douglas, and Boone, his young sidekick, played by Hawks protegé Dewey Martin. There’s a nice, touching story toward the end.
This is a shamefully underrated film. Superb cinematography (Oscar nominated), rich plot, flawless casting (Arthur Hunnicutt nominated for Best Supporting Oscar), masterful direction, make “The Big Sky” a true classic.