Gregory 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 movie schedule further below.) (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.
'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.
3:00 AM DAYS OF GLORY (1944). Dir.: Jacques Tourneur. Cast: Gregory Peck, Lowell Gilmore, Maria Palmer. Black and white. 86 min.
4:30 AM PORK CHOP HILL (1959). Dir.: Lewis Milestone. Cast: Gregory Peck, Harry Guardino, Rip Torn. Black and white. 98 mins. Letterbox Format.
6:15 AM THE VALLEY OF DECISION (1945). Dir.: Tay Garnett. Cast: Greer Garson, Gregory Peck, Donald Crisp. Black and white. 119 min.
8:15 AM SPELLBOUND (1945). Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, Bill Goodwin, Norman Lloyd, Steve Geray, John Emery, Donald Curtis, Art Baker, Wallace Ford, Regis Toomey, Paul Harvey, Jean Acker, Irving Bacon, Jacqueline deWit, Edward Fielding, Matt Moore, Addison Richards, Erskine Sanford, Constance Purdy. Black and white. 111 min.
10:15 AM DESIGNING WOMAN (1957). Dir.: Vincente Minnelli. Cast: Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Gray, Sam Levene, Jesse White, Mickey Shaughnessy, Chuck Connors, Tom Helmore, Edward Platt, Alvy Moore, Carol Veazie, Jack Cole, Ruth Clifford, Richard Deacon, Stuart Holmes, Dean Jones, Donald Kerr, May McAvoy, Matt Moore, Benny Rubin, Jack Shea, Max Showalter, Geraldine Wall, Sammy White, Harry Wilson. Color. 118 mins. Letterbox Format.
12:15 PM THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961). Dir.: J. Lee Thompson. Cast: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, James Darren, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Gia Scala, James Robertson Justice, Richard Harris, Bryan Forbes, Allan Cuthbertson, Percy Herbert, Michael Trubshawe, George Mikell, Walter Gotell, Tutte Lemkow, Albert Lieven, Norman Wooland, Victor Buono, Carl Duering. Color. 157 mins. Letterbox Format.
3:00 PM CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER (1951). Dir.: Raoul Walsh. Cast: Gregory Peck, Virginia Mayo, Robert Beatty. Color. 117 min.
5:00 PM THE MACOMBER AFFAIR (1947). Dir.: Zoltan Korda. Cast: Gregory Peck, Joan Bennett, Robert Preston, Reginald Denny, Jean Gillie, Vernon Downing. Black and white. 89 min.
6:45 PM THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT (1956). Dir.: Nunnally Johnson. Cast: Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March, Marisa Pavan, Ann Harding, Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn, Gene Lockhart, Gigi Perreau, Portland Mason, Henry Daniell, Arthur O'Connell, Connie Gilchrist, Joseph Sweeney, Mickey Maga, Dorothy Adams, Ruth Clifford, Johnny Crawford, Nan Martin, Joy Harmon, DeForest Kelley, Kenneth Tobey, Frank Wilcox, Dorothy Phillips. Color. 153 min.
9:30 PM DUEL IN THE SUN (1946). Dir.: King Vidor. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, Herbert Marshall, Walter Huston, Charles Bickford, Harry Carey, Tilly Losch, Joan Tetzel, Butterfly McQueen, Sidney Blackmer, Otto Kruger, Scott McKay, Charles Dingle, Lane Chandler, Victor Kilian, Lee Phelps, Bert Roach, Francis McDonald. Narrator: Orson Welles. Color. 144 min.
12:00 AM HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962). Dir.: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall. Cast: Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Brigid Bazlen, Walter Brennan, David Brian, Andy Devine, Raymond Massey, Agnes Moorehead, Harry Morgan, Thelma Ritter, Mickey Shaughnessy, Russ Tamblyn, Rodolfo Acosta, Walter Burke, Ken Curtis, Jay C. Flippen, William Henry, Jack Lambert, Cliff Osmond, Joe Sawyer, Karl Swenson, Harry Dean Stanton, Lee Van Cleef, William Wellman Jr, Carleton Young. Narrator: Spencer Tracy. Color. 165 mins. Letterbox Format.
Gregory Peck movie schedule via the TCM website. Gregory Peck Duel in the Sun photo via Doctor Macro.
Photo: Gregory Peck publicity shot ca. 1950.