The Other Gregory Peck

By Barra, Allen | American Heritage, October 2003 | Go to article overview

The Other Gregory Peck


Barra, Allen, American Heritage


WHEN GREGORY PECK DIED THIS PAST June, he was mourned and praised as the actor who created the archetypal father and husband figure, exemplified by his idealistic lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. But earlier in his career there was another Gregory Peck, one with the range to illuminate a wide range of American types from the simple to the sardonic to the sinister.

Spellbound (1945)--Peck reportedly wasn't enthusiastic about Alfred Hitchcock's cold and calculating directorial techniques in this thriller, which Hitch later derided as "just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis." Well, yes, just another one, but one directed with Hitchcock's style and flair, enlivened by dazzling and amusing special effects from Salvador Dali, and anchored by the chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and the 29-year-old Peck, whose stern chin and chiseled profile conceal undercurrents of fraud. Hitchcock and Peck were both wrong: Spellbound is terrific fun.

Duel in the Sun (1946)--Or Lust in the Dust, as some critics mocked it. The pretensions of King Vidor's sprawling, self-important epic are undermined by the heavy breathing every time Jennifer Jones's half-breed bad girl and Peck's licentious bad brother narrow their eyes at each other. (Joseph Cotten plays the good brother, the role Peck would have gotten had the film been made 10 years later.) It's an overwrought, half-baked, thoroughly enjoyable Western with Peck having what appears to be the time of his life in the role of a total wastrel.

The Yearling (1946)--This film, directed by Clarence Brown from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's great novel--perhaps the consummate coming-of-age story in American literature--is a too-littleseen masterpiece. …

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