Arthur Hunnicutt received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Zeb Calloway in The Big Sky.
I must say I expected little of this nomination beforehand. I have watched many performances of character actors, who received an Oscar nomination seemingly for nothing more than their consistent career. I was very happily to see that Arthur Hunnicutt actually gives a pretty good performance. He portrays Zeb Calloway an old fashioned trapper sort of guy. Zeb is actually a pretty smart guy though, more than I expected him to be, who leads and sort of teaches two youthful men on the expedition.
Calloway acts as a guide for the two younger men, and the audience. Hunnicutt makes the knowledge of old Calloway a natural, old timer intelligence, rather effective in the film actually. I really enjoyed his performance, and the rather relaxed fashion he teaches these men the ropes, as well as help them grow as men as well. He really shows the history of the character's knowledge of his field, through just his natural performance. Hunnicutt never really pushes this aspect of the character but it really comes natural through his intelligent, but at the same time simple performance.
This sort of character is sort of common in westerns but really they tend to be dumber than Hunnicutt's character, or at least his portrayal of Calloway. They are usually used as comic relief, and can be rather hokey characters to say the least. I will say the film does use him in the comic respect, but Hunnicutt manages to avoid a lot of the hokiness that usually comes with a character. Yeah he has some comedic aspects but Hunnicutt manages them well enough to be an actual part of the character rather than an artificiality that can be involved with over acting of similar characters like say Chill Wills in the Alamo. Overall Hunnicutt gives a good honest, and warm performance, that I was, pleasantly and thoroughly surprised by.