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something big

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The title of the new Dean Martin picture is "something big." The title is in lower-case letters because Dean Martin is always saying "something big" in the movie. If Dean Martin says "something big" once, he says "something big" 20 times.

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Everybody else pitches in: Brian Keith says "something big" nine times, and Ben Johnson says it seven times, and at various times it refers to a Gatling gun, a raid, a kidnapped wife, a fiancee and everything except the movie, which is something slow, something dumb and, in short, everything except something else.

That isn't to say it's a complete loss. The director is Andrew V. McLaglen, a devotee of John Ford, and he specializes in nice little vignettes making good use of character actors. So we get to see Ben Johnson, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey Jr. and a bunch of others, and that's fun.

Something else to consider is the presence of Dean Martin, a little gray and grizzled but still playing every scene with a glass of whisky in his hand. I guess people expect that.

The big problem with "something big." I guess, is that it doesn't have a single surprise in its whole two hours. We have traveled this dusty road before, you and I, past these lonesome pines and the bleached bones over there of the comedy-action-Western. This is the kind of unserious Western that Frank Sinatra made toward the end of his movie career: a film in which the personality and off-screen persona of the star is actually thought to be more important than what's going on.

Well, stars are made when they find roles they can sink into. And they don't survive long when they stop caring. I haven't seen a Dean Martin movie since "How to Save A Marriage and Ruin Your Life" where his talent was really used. A sad example is "Five Card Stud" (1968), a Western that Martin walked through, and that sleepy-eyed Robert Mitchum walked away with. Mitchum is a consummate movie actor. Martin has apparently decided not to even try, and so no matter how often he says "something big," the self-hypnosis doesn't work.

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