Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: War, Drama Duration: 130 mins Director: Joseph Sargent Stars: Gregory Peck, Dan O’Herlihy, Ed Flanders
Joseph Sargent’s little recognised account of General Douglas MacArthur’s career from the beginning of WWII to his retirement is a rather compelling and fully engaging military drama. Gregory Peck takes on the role of the larger than life figure and imbues him with all the self-certainty and military vision that have come to be associated with him but balanced that with a healthy dose of sadness at the passing of time, and a complicated look at the self-proclaimed pacifist’s contradictory craving for war.
As much as Franklin J. Schaffner did with Patton, Sargent captures the point at which myth and reality meet and seems to paint the entire picture with that theme. At all times, we feel we are witnessing something epochal. Befitting the name and the myth, there’s a majesty to the tone of the film and there’s nobody better to shoulder any accompanying stress points than Gregory Peck. Such stress points take the shape of necessary omissions of key occurrences that would give more accurate shape to the political and military incidents MacArthur is otherwise given full credit for. But through Peck’s ownership of the role, he gives one the impression that such cracks in the story don’t exists – just like the General himself did! In its place, is a very elegant progression of events as Sargent unfolds a rather substantial history of the man and America’s contemporaneous international concerns.
The look of the movie can impress at times but, at others, it has a distinct TV movie feel. The wide staging of some of the battle sequences for example is magnificent but when up close with the soldiers, it all gets a little artificial. But unlike say The Longest Day, this isn’t about the knitting together of the large and small scale realities of war. Instead, it follows the likes of Patton, by using the latter as dramatic filler between the more dramatic scenes. Just not as substantially as was done in Patton.
Unfortunately, MacArthur has been forgotten by everyone but the strictest of war movie buffs. Peck always walked a tightrope between stoic brilliance and wooden delivery but such an affectation seems very befitting of the blood-military “General’s General”. Like the film as a whole, it’s a delicate balance that comes out firmly on the right side and deserves a wider audience.
Rating: The Good – 82.5 Genre: Adventure Duration: 116 mins Director: John Huston Stars: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Leo Genn
Epic adventure on the high seas as Herman Melville’s seminal novel is given the cinematic treatment by the great John Huston. This is proper Sunday matinee fare as Richard Basehart’s Ishmael and Friedrich von Ledebur’s Queequeg follow their Captain Ahab into the mouth of darkness. The two aforementioned are fine as too is Leo Glenn’s Starbuck but in acting terms this film belongs to the great Gregory Peck as the obsessed captain whose soul is poisoned by the thirst for vengeance. Peck nails the part and the film gravitates around his presence. The naval action scenes work very well also and given that this was made over 50 years ago, the visual effects responsible for bringing Moby Dick to life are quite impressive.
Rating: The Good – 95 Genre: Drama Duration: 129 mins Director: Robert Mulligan Stars: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, John Megna, Robert Duvall
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.” To Kill a Mockingbird is cinematic power exemplified as Robert Mulligan brings Harper Lee’s spellbinding novel to the screen and does every word of it justice. Gregory Peck takes on the role of Atticus Finch, the dignified lawyer and father of two whose defence of a black man accused of raping and beating a white woman brings him and his family face to face with the ugliest side of their southern town. Mary Badham and Philip Alford play Scout and Jim, Finch’s two children and it is through their eyes the story is told. Telling this particular story through the perspective of children is surely one of the most ingenuous devices employed in modern story telling as their perspective becomes the soul of the story. Watch out for the scene where the angry mob are shamed into retreat by the mere presence and innocent conversation of the children. If the children are the soul of the film, Peck’s performance is truly its heart and he is utterly tremendous as Finch. Any number of action stars from John Wayne to Arnold Schwarzenegger on their best day didn’t and couldn’t project the strength and force of integrity that Peck did here. In what must be one of the best acting accomplishments in the history of the medium, he gives a masterclass in the power of simplicity as he allows Finch’s disciplined modesty to be the lawyer’s loudest weapons. Through the seminal acting, directing, Elmer Berstein’s beautiful score, and of course its majestic writing the film is completely captivating and has remained the definitive cinematic exploration and indeed explanation of the psychology of racism, fear, cowardice, self-deception, and self-loathing. It is a haunting film that will stay with you on both an emotional and intellectual level for as long as you live.
The original (and yes the best) Cape Fear sees Robert Mitchum give a masterful performance as Max Cady, the recently released convict who is intent on terrorising the man who put him away (Gregory Peck) by targeting the dearest thing to him, his family. Peck is (as usual) a great central character, his large frame and piercing stare saying more about his character than than any amount of dialogue could. However, this film is all about Mitchum’s insatiably cruel Cady, who really does send chills down your spine. Not nearly as caricatured as De Niro’s subsequent interpretation, his nastiness seems much more real and cold. J. Lee Thompson captures the action extraordinarily well slowing it down in classic shadowy noir style at times (such as when Cady attacks his date) and dialling it all the way up at others (such as during the climactic river sequence). James R. Webb’s screenplay is perfectly adapted from John D. McDonald’s novel “The Executioners” and on top of all that you have one of the all time great scores by the legend Bernard Herrmann which Scorsese wisely kept in his remake.
Rating: The Good – 69.3 Genre: Thriller Duration: 125 mins Director: Franklin J. Schaffner Stars: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason
The premise which Ira Levin’s novel worked off was that a group of exiled Nazi’s attempted to create another Hitler not only by cloning him but by ensuring that the clones experienced the same chronologically synchronised socio-environmental and personal episodes as Hitler himself did. This was and still is a fascinating premise. However, it’s also very far-fetched and to prevent any film adaptation from seeming slightly absurd, some very clever adapting was needed. So did director Franklin J. Schaffner (him behind Planet of the Apes and Patton) and script-writer Heywood Gould pull it off? Well, yes and no. The script is economic and tight so while the movie is playing, the audience isn’t given much time to dwell on some of the logical stretches. There are also a couple of genuine heavy-weight actors on show with Lawrence Olivier as a famous Nazi hunter and Gregory Peck in an against-type turn as Dr. Mengele and that presence alone adds an air of credibility to the movie. On the other hand, Olivier (being a theatre actor first and foremost) does over-act in many of his scenes and because Peck is so far away from his most famous roles, his performance seems all the more conspicuous. Moreover, there’s the clunky performance of Steve Guttenberg who drags the drama down to the level of goofy in the earlier parts of movie. That said, when the film really clicks it’s quite thrilling such as when the boy clones are on screen, or when we catch glimpses of the local Brazilians whom Mengele was experimenting on, or during that final showdown between him and Olivier’s Nazi hunter. Overall therefore, The Boys From Brazil is definitely worth watching whether you are fan of science fiction movies or those paranoid thrillers the 70’s produced so easily.
Rating: The Good – 90.5 Genre: War Duration: 132mins Director: Henry King Stars: Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill
Glorious testament to the potential importance and power of cinema, Twelve O’Clock High is a deeply moving and magnificently crafted WWII drama which recounts the early US bombing missions over the heart of industrial Germany. Under-staffed and under-equipped, these men represented the first phase of US involvement in the European theatre at a time when Germany was at the peak of its might. Flying against near impossible odds, the men went up day after day slowly but surely picking away at the German munitions factories. It was through their courage that the German war machine was slowed down enough for its US and British counterparts to catch up and eventually overtake it in superiority.
The immortal Gregory Peck plays General Savage, a caring but highly professional officer who is asked to return to flight duty so that he can organise a unit, the men of which, have succumb to the brutally demoralising strain of such combat. Through self and military discipline alike he begins to hone his new charges but at the cost of his own emotional and physical well-being. Peck is extraordinary in the lead role and plays the two sides to his role intuitively and flawlessly. At all times, he’s both genial and stern, composed yet emotional. It’s another majestic tour de force from an actor who registered plenty over his career. Henry King’s directing is just as impressive as his unobtrusive lens constantly brushes the exterior of the emotional context resisting the temptation to dive in until that one moment when everything comes down. The understanding between him and his lead is palpable and they have us in the palm of their hands. The remainder of the cast are all on top form and, in truth, there’s not one who steps out of sync throughout its two hours.
Of course, we cannot forget Sy Bartlett’s and Beirne Lay Jr’s immensely perceptive screenplay which does justice to every bit of what those pilots and their crew went through. Even more interesting is its portrait of the generals and other army brass. Far from the cold-hearted game-players of movies like Paths of Glory (different war, different army, different context), these are conflicted and heavy-hearted men who know all too well what they’re asking of their charges but also know what the repercussion would be if they didn’t. Twelve O’Clock High is a spellbinding achievement and one that has rightly gone down in the annals of cinema as such. It should be required viewing by all with a love and passion for cinema and everyone other living person too.