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Gregory Peck Movies: Memorable Miscasting

Gregory Peck MoviesGregory Peck movies: Memorable miscasting in David O. Selznick's Western

Gregory Peck is Turner Classic Movies' "Summer Under the Stars" star today, Aug. 15, 2013. TCM is currently showing Raoul Walsh's good-looking but not too exciting Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), with Peck in the title role and Virginia Mayo as his leading lady. (See "Gregory Peck in 'Duel in the Sun': TCM movie schedule.") (Image: Gregory Peck ca. 1950.)

Next in line is Zoltan Korda's crime melodrama The Macomber Affair (1947), based on a story by Ernest Hemingway about a troubled married couple and their safari guide. This is another good-looking film – black-and-white cinematography by veteran Karl Struss, whose credits ranged from the 1920 Gloria Swanson melo Something to Think About to Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator. Unfortunately, the psychology, the romance, and some of the acting found in The Macomber Affair is – at best – superficial. Joan Bennett and Gregory Peck look great, but both did much better work elsewhere. The same goes for Victor Victoria's Robert Preston. Note: Five years later, Gregory Peck would revisit Hemingway in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, co-starring Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward.

Gregory Peck is 'The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit'

More interesting, more pretentious, and more slow-moving than The Macomber Affair is Nunnally Johnson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), which attempts (and fails) to present a portrayal of "average" American manhood in the 1950s. Gregory Peck plays an up-and-coming public relations agent, trying to decide what should come first: work and money, or family life. If that weren't all, he must also decide whether or not his wife should learn of his fling with a local Italian woman during World War II.

One of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit's key shortcomings is its stately pacing, but the film also suffers from a self-important screenplay by Johnson himself (from a novel by Sloan Wilson) that promises depth and complexity, but delivers instead platitudes. No wonder The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was a big box office hit at the time of its release. One the upside, the stellar cast – Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones as his wife, Fredric March as his boss, Marisa Pavan as the Italian girl he left behind – is generally fine, with special notice to veteran Ann Harding's brief appearance as March's wife.

And while watching The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit keep an eye out for silent film leading ladies Dorothy Phillips (Man-Woman-Marriage) and Ruth Clifford (Butterfly), by then reduced to playing unbilled bit parts – respectively, Fredric March's maid and the character "Florence," according to the IMDb.

Gregory Peck is sexy 'villain' in 'Duel in the Sun'

Now, had The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit taken itself a tad less seriously, it might have become a great campy comedy like Duel in the Sun (1946). Credited to King Vidor, but actually directed by half the filmmakers in Hollywood – Josef von Sternberg, William Dieterle, Sidney Franklin, and Gone with the Wind's art director William Cameron Menzies were all reportedly involved in the production at some point or other – Duel in the Sun was to have been David O. Selznick's Greater-Than-Gone with the Wind Gift to the World.

Although Duel in the Sun was never to achieve the popularity or critical acclaim of Selznick's 1939 multiple Oscar winner, it did become one of the biggest box office hits of the '40s, helping to cement the stardom of Selznick contract players Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck. As a plus, Duel in the Sun gave seizures to The Righteous Ones, who were deeply offended by its depiction of lust and dust in the same frame. (More on Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun.)

Now, Gregory Peck looks quite handsome in Duel in the Sun; he's also unforgettable as Joseph Cotten's wild, lustful brother – just like he's unforgettable as the Nazi Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil. In other words, Peck was terribly miscast in Duel in the Sun. His Lewt McCanles is memorable the way Jennifer Jones' Pearl Chavez is memorable; the former St. Bernadette is fascinatingly awful as a "half-caste" bred under the scalding desert sun, with sex – not sweat – oozing from her every pore.

If you haven't watched Duel in the Sun, you must. Just ask Pedro Almodóvar. By the way, Niven Busch, at the time Teresa Wright's husband, wrote the original novel.

'How the West Was Won'

TCM's last Gregory Peck movie of the evening is How the West Was Won (1963), in my humble opinion one of the very, but very worst movies ever to have received a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. Originally shot in the three-panel Cinerama format and featuring a whole array of stars in three different segments, How the West Was Won was supposed to be a Mammoth Film Spectacle. And that it is. There are wagons, more wagons, shootouts, Indians, stampedes, and Raymond Massey (once again) as Abraham Lincoln. All that during the course of nearly three never-ending hours, featuring dialogue that would have sounded ludicrous even in intertitles written in 1912. And that helps to explain How the West Was Won's Best Original Screenplay Oscar win, beating, among others, Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.

Now, had Debbie Reynolds played Abraham Lincoln and Thelma Ritter (instead of Reynolds) played Gregory Peck's love interest, How the West Was Won might have deserved its Oscar recognition and its enormous box office receipts. Sadly, that was not meant to be.

["On TCM: Gregory Peck Movies" continues on the next page. See link below.]

Photo: Gregory Peck publicity shot ca. 1950.

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