The Big Land

The Big Land is a 1957 American Warnercolor Western film directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien

The Big Land
Directed byGordon Douglas
Produced byGeorge C. Bertholon
Screenplay byDavid Dortort
Martin Rackin
Story byDavid Dortort
Based onthe novel Buffalo Grass by Frank Gruber
StarringAlan Ladd
Virginia Mayo
Edmond O'Brien
Music byDavid Buttolph
CinematographyJohn F. Seitz
Edited byThomas Reilly
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • February 23, 1957 (1957-02-23) (Los Angeles)
  • March 1, 1957 (1957-03-01) (New York City)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States


Back home in Texas following the Civil War, former Confederate officer Chad Morgan (Alan Ladd) leads a cattle drive to Missouri, assuring fellow ranchers that their stock will bring $20 a head at auction. Instead, ruthless cattle baron Brog (Anthony Caruso) has scared off all competition and offers much less.

Blamed for what happened, Morgan chooses not to return to Texas. He spends a night in a livery stable and meets town drunk Joe Jagger (Edmond O'Brien), who is nearly lynched for trying to steal whiskey. Chad helps keep Joe sober after they leave town.

They meet farmers who need a better way to sell their wheat, so Chad and Joe ride to Kansas City to meet Tom Draper (Don Castle), a railroad man who is engaged to Joe's sister Helen (Virginia Mayo), a singer in the saloon. Tom likes the idea of a railroad spur to aid the farmers.

Helen is pleased at the change in her brother and thanks Chad, which brings out some jealousy in her fiancé. Brog and his henchman disrupt the town's construction attempts while Chad is out of town. Joe tries to stand up to him, resisting the strong temptation to drink, but when he does, Brog guns him down.

Her brother's death causes Helen to turn on Chad upon his return. Brog stampedes cattle through the town. He and his henchman then attempt to ambush Chad, who kills them both in self-defense. Helen embraces him and Tom realizes he has lost her for good.



The film was based on the novel Buffalo Grass which was published in 1955. Alan Ladd's Jaguar Productions bought film rights prior to publication for a reported $100,000.[1][2] The movie was meant to be the first in a revised four-year production deal between Jaguar and Warner Bros.[3] Frank Gruber himself was hired to write the script and Eleanor Parker and Robert Ryan were discussed as possible co-stars to Ladd.[4] Eventually, Edmond O'Brien - who had just made A Cry in the Night for Jaguar - and Virginia Mayo - who was under contract to Warner Bros and who had acted opposite Ladd before - were cast.[5][6]

The movie was shot near Sonora, California, a location not far from Yosemite National Park over four weeks in June 1956.[7][8] The unit then moved to the Warner Bros backlot. Four different sets for the township were created - to show the town being built, after it had been burnt, to film the burning sequence, and to show the town being completed.[9]


The Los Angeles Times said the film "is about as plodding as a western can get and still be called one."[10]

Before the film was made a possible follow up The Dry Lands was mentioned in the press.[11]

See also


  1. Louella Parsons: Gary Set for Railroad-Building Role The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959) [Washington, D.C] 28 Dec 1956: A11.
  2. FILM TOUR GROUP DISBANDS IN WEST: Hollywood Coordinating Unit, Which Arranged Shows for Troops, Dissolved By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 30 Dec 1955: 14
  3. GENE KELLY ENDS ONE METRO PACT: Actor's Exclusive Service Contract Is Replaced by Five-Year Agreement Shaw Screen Play Due Of Local Origin By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 09 Jan 1956: 19.
  4. Drama: Boys Town Will Figure in Korean Lad's Story; O'Connell Joins 'Women' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 19 Jan 1956: B9.
  5. CAGNEY TO HEAD 'BON VOYAGE' CAST: Actor Signs for Third Film at Universal--Columbia Plans 'Wackiest Ship' Ladd Firm Buys Story By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 15 July 1957: 15
  6. A.F.L. UNIT URGES BOYCOTT OF FILM: Council Says 'Daniel Boone' Was Made Outside U.S. to Flout Union Control Of Local Origin By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 13 Feb 1956: 24.
  8. Producer Will Seek Film Ideas Abroad Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 May 1956: 19.
  9. Burning Tale Of Four Cities The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959) [Washington, D.C] 05 Aug 1956: H9.
  10. Big Land' One More With Ladd Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 Feb 1957: C9.
  11. Drama: Film Stars to Launch Stage Venture; Colbert May Do 'Smashup' Lead Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 06 Apr 1956: 19.
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