Sunday 19 May 2013

Movie Review: The Big Trees (1952)

Loggers against conservationists in the redwood forests of California, The Big Trees is as ordinary as its title.

Jim Fallon (Kirk Douglas) is a smooth talking entrepreneur lumber baron looking to make a large profit from the release of government land for logging. Teaming up with gruff but resourceful former prospector Yukon Burns (Edgar Buchanan), he makes his way to northern California, where the large redwoods could yield handsome returns.

But a local religious community lives in the forest and treats the soaring trees as divine. Elder Bixby (Charles Meredith) is their spiritual leader, and his feisty daughter Alicia (Eve Miller) leads the charge to make life difficult for Fallon and his men. However, a romance nevertheless ignites between Alicia and Fallon, as a rival team of evil timber harvesters spark a violent war in the forest.

Douglas agreed to star in The Big Trees for free in exchange for being released from his long-term contract with Warner Bros. And a general sense of ennui pervades the project. The film feels rushed, underdeveloped, and in many instances plain silly.

Douglas lends undeniable star power and no shortage of charisma, but the supporting cast is strictly C-list. The plot is initially halfway passable, but gets lost in plenty of incomprehensible talk about land deeds and property tights. The narrative then starts to creak in worrisomely wrong directions when the tree worshippers show up, quickly followed by a contrived romance and then faceless nasty bad guys whose sole intent is to make Fallon appear less heartless in comparison.

In quick succession, The Big Trees ends with a rail bridge disintegrating, a dam exploding, and a damsel in distress being saved in the nick of time, and all three events come across as randomly placed action highlights thrown in by director Felix E. Feist in a desperate attempt to enliven a fairly fustian affair. The Big Trees survive, but some reputations do get cut down to size.

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