AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Big Sky
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 1952
Premiere Information:   Chicago premiere: 29 Jul 1952; New York opening: 19 Aug 1952
Production Date:   late Jul--mid-Nov 1951
Duration (in mins):   122
Duration (in feet):   10,975
Duration (in reels):   16
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Cast:   Kirk Douglas (Jim Deakins)  
    Dewey Martin (Boone Claudel)  
    Elizabeth Threatt (Teal Eye)  
    Arthur Hunnicutt (Zeb Calloway)  
    Buddy Baer (Romaine)  
    Steven Geray (Jourdonnais)  
    Henri Letondal (Labadie)  
    Hank Worden (Poordevil)  
    Jim Davis (Streak)  
    Robert Hunter (Chouquette)  
    Booth Colman (Pascal)  
    Paul Frees (MacMasters)  
    Frank De Kova (Moleface)  
    Guy Wilkerson (Longface)  
    Cliff Clark (Jailer)  
    Fred Graham (Sam Eggleston)  
    George Wallace (Friend)  
    Max Wagner (Friend)  
    Charles Regan (Friend)  
    Sam Ash (Singer)  
    Abe Dinovitch (Singer)  
    Don Beddoe (Horse trader)  
    Jim Hayward (Trapper)  
    Anthony Jochim (Trapper)  
    Jay Novello (Trapper)  
    Bill Self (Trapper)  
    Frank Lackteen (Indian)  
    Nolan Leary (Storekeeper)  
    Sherman Sanders (Dance caller)  
    Ray Hyke (Bartender)  
    Eugene Borden (Proprietor of tavern)  
    Viola Vonn (Bar maid)  
    Pete Vigue (Riverman)  
    Dan Carson (Riverman)  
    Ernest Altmiller (Riverman)  
    Albert D'Arno (Riverman)  
    Gordon Clark (Riverman)  
    Peter Camlin (Riverman)  
    Ben Larson (Riverman)  
    John McKee (Riverman)  
    Crane Whitley (Henchman)  
    Dennis Dengate (Streak man)  
    Ray Bennett (Streak man)  
    Rory Mallinson (Streak man)  
    Gil Warren (Streak man)  
    Theodore Last Star (Chief Red Horse)  

Summary: In 1832, trapper Jim Deakins leaves his Kentucky home to look for work in St. Louis. En route, Jim meets Boone Claudel, a quick-fisted fugitive who has been falsely accused of a crime. Boone and Jim become fast friends, and Boone joins Jim on his journey. Soon after the two arrive in St. Louis, Boone strikes an innocent Indian crossing his path and tells Jim that he dislikes all Indians. It eventually becomes clear to Jim that Boone's prejudice against Indians stems from the poor opinion he holds of his alcoholic uncle, Zeb Calloway, who is half Indian. While searching for his uncle, Boone meets Sam Eggleston, the ill-tempered owner of the Missouri River Co., who tells Boone that Zeb owes him money for a missing delivery of whiskey. Later, Boone and Jim are thrown in jail for starting a barroom brawl with Eggleston and his men. To their astonishment, Boone and Jim discover that their cellmate is none other than Zeb. Zeb tells Jim and Boone that Eggleston and his company dislike him and that they killed his partner because as a free trader he was too much competition for the Missouri River Company. Following their release from jail, Boone and Jim decide to join Zeb on a keelboat expedition up the Missouri River and into dangerous Montana Indian territory. The head of the expedition, Jourdonnais, warns his men that they are about to embark on a 2,000-mile journey into the heart of the Blackfoot Indian territory, a region that has never been traversed by white men. To quell the trappers' fears, Jourdonnais explains that their safety will be ensured by the presence of Teal Eye, a young Indian woman, whom they will be escorting to her Blackfoot chief. Once the expedition gets underway, Zeb tells Jim and Boone that the Indians fear the white man's presence in their territory because of what they call the "grab," the white man's habit of grabbing everything in sight. Many months into the journey, the expedition, having survived the perils of white water rapids and Indian attacks, is beset upon by a group of white men, who attack their camp and abduct Teal Eye. The attackers, who are all in the employ of rival fur trader MacMasters, then try to sabotage the traders' effort to reach the Blackfoot territory by setting fire to their ship. The ship is saved just in time, and two of the saboteurs are captured by the traders and later confess to working for MacMasters. Teal Eye is eventually rescued and rejoins the expedition as it enters Blackfoot territory. Once the traders reach their destination and pick up their furs, Boone announces that he has decided to marry Teal Eye and live among the Blackfoot. 

Production Company: Winchester Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
  William McGarry (Asst dir)
  Arthur Rosson (Unit dir)
  Christian Nyby (2d unit dir)
Producer: Howard Hawks (Prod)
  Edward Lasker (Assoc prod)
Writer: Dudley Nichols (Scr)
Photography: Russell Harlan (Dir of photog)
  Harold Stine (2d unit photog)
  Robert Martin (2d unit photog)
  George Marsh (2d unit photog)
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino (Art dir)
  Perry Ferguson (Art dir)
Film Editor: Christian Nyby (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  William Stevens (Set dec)
Costumes: Dorothy Jeakins (Cost des)
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin (Mus comp and dir)
  C. Bakaleinikoff (Mus coordination)
  Richard Harris (Mus ed)
Sound: Phil Brigandi (Sd)
  Clem Portman (Sd)
Special Effects: Donald Steward (Spec eff)
  Walter G. Elliott (Sd eff)
Make Up: Mel Berns (Makeup artist)
  Don Cash (Makeup artist)
  Larry Germain (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Arthur Siteman (Unit mgr)
  Walter Daniels (Prod mgr)
  Harvey Clermont (Casting asst)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "The Big Sky," words by Stan Jones, music by Dimitri Tiomkin; "Oh Brandy Leave Me Alone," words and music by Josef Marias; "Buffalo Gal," words by Gordon Clark, music by Dimitri Tiomkin; "Charlotte," French words by Gordon Clark, music by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Composer: Gordon Clark
  Stan Jones
  Josef Marias
  Dimitri Tiomkin
Source Text: Based on the novel The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. (Cleveland, 1949).
Authors: A. B. Guthrie Jr.

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 29/7/1952 dd/mm/yyyy LP1938

PCA NO: 15447
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System

Genre: Adventure
Sub-Genre: Historical
  with songs
Subjects (Major): Business competition
  Fur trappers
  Siksika Indians
Subjects (Minor): Abduction
  Indians of North America--Mixed blood
  Indians of North America
  St. Louis (MO)

Note: The following acknowledgment appears onscreen after the opening credits: "Grateful acknowledgment is made to The National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior for their assistance in photographing the natural beauty of Grand Teton National Park." According to contemporary news items, the film rights to the A. B. Guthrie, Jr. novel on which this picture is based were purchased by Howard Hawks in Mar 1950 for approximately $40,000. A NYT article noted that Guthrie retained the film rights to the unused portions of his novel for a possible sequel. Guthrie's novel The Big Sky was the first of a trilogy. The second book, The Way West , won a Pulitzer Prize and was filmed by United Artists in 1967 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). The third book, These Thousand Hills , was filmed by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1959 and was directed by Richard Fliescher and starred Don Murray and Richard Egan (see below).
       According to information contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in Aug 1950 the PCA raised objections to "three major items" in the script. In addition to scenes depicting what the PCA believed to be gratuitous "brutality and gruesomeness," it criticized the excessive drinking in the script and "the suggestion that one of the principals, Boone, sleeps with the Indian girl, Teal Eye, only to wake up the next morning and find that he has married her." The PCA called this sequence "unacceptable under the [Production] Code," and demanded that the script be re-written to have Boone married to Teal Eye in a way that "does not involve his having pre-marital experience with her."
       HR news items note that production on the picture was set to begin in Aug 1950 in Jackson Hole, WY, but because of excessive snowfall in the area, shooting was delayed for a year. According to a 13 Nov 1951 HR news item, The Big Sky marked the first time in Hollywood history that a "$2,000,000 outdoor drama has been completed without using a single frame of process photography." The news item also noted that nine weeks of shooting by the first unit was followed by twelve weeks of second unit shooting at Jackson Hole, WY, and eight weeks of interior shooting at the RKO Pathe lot. Second unit footage also included a Crow Indian buffalo kill, shot in Big Horn, MT, according to an Oct 1951 HR news item. Although the film's preview running time was 140 minutes, the picture was cut to 122 minutes before its general release. The Big Sky was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and Arthur Hunnicutt was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Modern sources add Cactus Mack to the cast. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   12 Jul 1952.   
Box Office   19 Jul 1952.   
Daily Variety   9 Jul 52   p. 3.
Film Daily   14 Jul 52   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Aug 50   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 51   p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jul 51   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 51   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Oct 51   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Nov 51   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Nov 51   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jul 52   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jul 52   p. 5.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   12 Jul 52   p. 1441.
New York Times   19 Aug 52   p. 19.
New York Times   20 Aug 52   p. 21.
Variety   13 Mar 1950.   
Variety   9 Jul 52   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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