Joe played bridge in LaJolla, California last week, and naturally thought of the town’s native son and biggest film star, Gregory Peck. He wondered how much Frank knew about Peck, and in turn we both wondered how much our readers know.
Robert Mitchum, an actor we much admire, once referred to Peck (his costar in the superb 1962 thriller, Cape Fear) as the dullest actor in Hollywood.
As British author-critic David Thomson puts it: Peck’s one besetting failure as an actor — that he is dull — is excused because it confirms the aura of responsibility and commitment to proper causes that surrounds him.
In this regard, think of Peck as the upstanding dad in 1946’s The Yearling; as the reporter uncovering anti-Semitism in 1947’s Gentlemen’s Agreement; or as the valiant guerilla fighter in his 1944 debut film, director Jacques Tournier’s Days of Glory. (We are reluctant to even mention the virtue that oozes from Peck’s liberal country lawyer in 1963’s To Kill a Mockingbird.)
To put it simply, we prefer the “bad” Gregory Peck: as the mentally frazzled Air Force officer in 1949’s Twelve O’Clock High (a superb World War II combat film); as the medical poseur in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 melodrama, Spellbound; as Jennifer Jones’ sexual dancing partner in 1946’s Duel In The Sun; as the harried ambassador in 1976’s The Omen; or even as the gruff Nazi in 1978’s The Boys From Brazil.
Then there is Twentieth Century Fox’s underrated 1950 “oater,” The Gunfighter, starring Peck as a hardened killer (see photo below).
John Griggs in The Films of Gregory Peck says that The Gunfighter actually was the landmark western that marked the turning of the genre from shoot-em-ups to psychological drama (with Shakespearean undertones.)
Griggs concedes that most people think High Noon (director Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic starring Gary Cooper) is that landmark film. But he reminds us that the Nunnally Johnson-Henry King production actually got there first — complete even with the wall clock ticking away the minutes to heighten suspense and reinforce the tension with its unrelenting countdown to a fateful conclusion.
In short, a sterling example of the “bad” Gregory Peck. Now on to our Quiz. Questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: One of Peck’s more self effacing and charming roles came in 1953’s Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn. What role did he play in the picture? a) an American journalist in Europe; b) a diplomat; c) a news photographer; or d) a carefree heir to a fabulous fortune.
2) Question: In 1977, Peck portrayed one of America’s most acclaimed military figures. Which one? a) Dwight Eisenhower; b) Ulysses S. Grant; c) George Patton; or d) Douglas MacArthur.
3) Question: Peck was a box office draw almost from his first movie. But which one of the following pictures earned him the most money? a) 1961’s The Guns of Navarone; b) 1963’s To Kill A Mockingbird; 1978’s The Boys From Brazil; or d) 1976’s The Omen.
4) Question: Besides Spellbound, Peck starred in one other picture for Alfred Hitchcock. Which one? a) Lifeboat; b) Rebecca; c) The Paradine Case; or d) Saboteur.
5) Question: As mentioned in our intro, one of Peck’s finest films in 1962’s Cape Fear, which was remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese, also with Peck in the cast. What role did he play in each version?