TCM’s "Summer Under the Stars" series continues with a day dedicated to Gregory Peck, one of the most underrated performers of the studio era.
Peck frequently excelled in comedies and dramas, and was a rare (and welcome) specimen in American films: the cerebral — yet masculine and romantic — leading man. Unlike most major male stars then or now, Peck almost invariably used his brain — though, admittedly, sometimes in conjunction with his biceps and fists — to get what he wanted. In life, he was a staunch liberal. One more excellent reason for me to admire Gregory Peck.
The Peck vehicles on TCM’s schedule aren’t necessarily his best, but all of them are worth checking out even if only because Peck is in them.
The two best ones that I’ve seen are Clarence Brown’s bucolic The Yearling (1946), adapted from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ novel, in which Peck is actually quite good even if cast against type (the role had originally been intended for Spencer Tracy) as the father of a boy (Claude Jarman, Jr.) who adopts a fawn in late-19th century Florida. Jane Wyman plays the stern mother. The real star of the film, however, is Charles Rosher, Leonard Smith, and Arthur E. Arling’s Oscar-winning color cinematography.
The Yearling was nominated for a total of 7 Academy Awards, including best picture, director, actor (Peck), and actress (Wyman). Jarman Jr., won a special miniature Oscar for the best child performance of 1946.
That same year, Peck played a radically different role in Duel in the Sun, David O. Selznick’s overwrought vehicle for his paramour Jennifer Jones. Jones is majestically miscast as a fiery half-breed who pumps up the hearts and loins of two brothers — arrogant and sexy Peck; nice and dull Joseph Cotten — in the Wild, Wild West. Veteran Lillian Gish is the fighting bros’ devout mother and Lionel Barrymore their grouchy father. King Vidor received sole screen credit, despite the fact that William Dieterle and others had a hand in the film’s direction.
Though hardly another Gone with the Wind as Selznick had hoped, Duel in the Sun became one the biggest box office hits of the 1940s — what with enough steaminess to send the pious folks at the Breen Office to the emergency room.
Duel in the Sun received two Oscar nominations: best actress (Jones) and best supporting actress (Gish). A best color cinematography nod (for Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, and Harold Rosson) would have been well deserved.
A Conversation with Gregory Peck was directed by Barbara Kopple, who went on to co-direct with Peck’s daughter Cecilia Peck the well-received documentary Shut Up & Sing (2006), about the absurd controversy following the anti-George W. Bush remarks made by Dixie Chicks member Natalie Maines — remarks that would have been widely applauded today.
Schedule (Pacific Time) and synopses from the TCM website:
7:00 AM Designing Woman (1957)
A sportswriter and a fashion designer have a lot of adjusting to do when they marry in haste. Cast: Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Gray. Director: Vincente Minnelli. C-118 mins. Letterbox Format
9:00 AM Days Of Glory (1944)
Russian freedom fighters battle the Nazi occupying forces. Cast: Gregory Peck, Alan Reed, Tamara Toumanova. Director: Jacques Tourneur. BW-86 mins.
10:30 AM Pork Chop Hill (1959)
Americans take a vital hill in Korea but have trouble holding it. Cast: Gregory Peck, Harry Guardino, Woody Strode. Director: Lewis Milestone. BW-98 mins. Letterbox Format
12:15 PM Duel In The Sun (1946)
A fiery half-breed comes between a rancher’s good and evil sons. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten. Director: King Vidor. C-144 mins.
2:45 PM Yearling, The (1946)
A Florida boy’s pet deer threatens the family farm. Cast: Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, Claude Jarman, Jr. Director: Clarence Brown. C-128 mins.
7:15 PM Man With A Million (1954)
On a bet, a man tries to see how much he can get without breaking a million-pound bank note. Cast: Gregory Peck, Jane Griffiths, Ronald Squire. Director: Ronald Neame. C-89 mins.
8:47 PM Short Film: Jimmy Fund - Deborah Kerr (1956)
Deborah Kerr urges the audience to donate to the Jimmy Fund to eradicate childhood cancer. Cast: Deborah Kerr BW-3 mins.
9:00 PM Conversation with Gregory Peck, A (1999)
Gregory Peck discusses his life and career during a series of personal appearances and family outings. Cast: Interviews include Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Martin Scorsese. Director: Barbara Kopple. C-98 mins.
10:45 PM Boys From Brazil, The (1978)
A Nazi hunter tracks a mad scientist out to bring back Hitler. Cast: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason. Director: Franklin J. Schaffner. C-125 mins. Letterbox Format
12:54 AM Short Film: Action On The Beach (1964)
1:00 AM I Walk the Line (1970)
A Southern sheriff risks his life when he falls for a moonshiner’s daughter. Cast: Gregory Peck, Tuesday Weld, Estelle Parsons. Director: John Frankenheimer. C-96 mins. Letterbox Format
2:44 AM Short Film: L.B.Mayer Ceremonies (1950)
Louis B. Mayer accepts an award for his contribution to the motion picture industry. This MGM promotional short highlights some of the more spectacular works that MGM has produced under Mayer’s leadership. BW-15 mins.