Douglas Battles The Tree Huggers
Whilst generally I feel older movies are superior to modern movies when it comes to focus on story telling, there were still movies which had the feeling that they were made as almost stop gaps. Movies which had nothing major about them and were made on the back of a star name, knowing that they would turn a reasonable profit and put bread on the table so to speak. One such movie is "The Big Trees" which stars Kirk Douglas, a movie which whilst focuses on its storyline is to be honest quite dull as it relies on Kirk Douglas's star power to carry it.
Following a new law passed by Congress in 1900, ambitious and unscrupulous timber man Jim Fallon (Kirk Douglas - Young Man with a Horn) takes advantage of the new law and heads to California where he plans to take exploit various legal loopholes and acquire land that has some of the biggest Redwoods ever. What Fallon doesn't account on is the Quakers who feel that the trees are sacred and don't want anyone, let alone Fallon cutting them down. Nor does he account on his right hand man Frenchy (John Archer - Blue Hawaii) turning on him when Fallon starts to fall for Sister Chadwick (Eve Miller - April in Paris) one of the overtly religious Quakers and decides against felling the trees.
Strangely the storyline to "The Big Trees" isn't that bad, if a little predictable. Well you don't really expect Kirk Douglas to be a bad guy so his change of track from opportunist to tree hugging saviour is shall we say unsurprising. But it has all the components you would expect, bad guys, danger, romance, beautiful women and fights. In fact it almost have every single movie element going with the addition of a couple of moments of humour. But none of it is overly memorable and that is where "The Big Trees" struggles, it works but I doubt you will remember much more than it stars Kirk Douglas a few weeks after watching it.
It also doesn't help that many of these elements the romance, the fights, the bad guys all has a routine aspect to them. Watching Fallon and Frenchy come to blows has no excitement because the brawls are short, overly choreographed and look tacky. The same can be said of those scenes of supposed danger, such as Fallon running on the top of a moving train, it looks false, especially by today's standards but doesn't really look that much better when taking into account for when "The Big Trees" was made. And so it goes on with pretty much everything about it feeling stereotypical.
What is sort of a saving grace is the occasional shot which focuses on these magnificent Redwoods, and I don't mean the various stock footage used for showing tree trunks being transported down the rivers. There is a really good shot of Fallon measuring the circumference of a tree and as he works his way around with a tape measure the camera follows but shooting from below so you not only get a sense of how wide these trees are but also how tall as they go on and on into the distance. It's just a shame that the rest of "The Big Trees" isn't full of equally great camera shots.
One thing is for certain and "The Big Trees" relies on Kirk Douglas to carry things and to be honest whilst doing similar things we've seen him do before and since his performance at least makes you want to watch. In the early scenes where we watch him deviously fool not only his workers but also his creditors the Douglas quick talking charm is in full effect and a joy to watch. And whilst the fights are tacky and over choreographed Douglas always looks good in them.
Aside from Kirk Douglas well the rest of the cast fail to leave any impression. Eve Miller is lovely as Alicia Chadwick, Patrice Wymore is sort of amusing as Daisy Fisher/ Dora Figg, Edgar Buchanan is solid as Walter 'Yukon' Burns and John Archer is devious as Frenchy but none of them really excel leaving it to Kirk Douglas to carry "The Big Trees".
What this all boils down to is that "The Big Trees" is not a bad movie, just one which simply feels routine, made purely for the purpose to turn a quick profit. Kirk Douglas leads things nicely, and the occasional shot of the giant Redwoods works to show their impressiveness but then everything else is for the most stereotypical, pleasant but unmemorable.