This post is part of Ruth's celebration of Mr. Peck's birthday, which is on April 5.
I didn't know what to talk about, because Gregory is one of those reliable actors you've always admired, but never really stopped to think about. So, that's exactly what I'm gonna do: I'll try to capture his screen essence through the twelve films I've seen from him. Hope you enjoy this little ride.
Before you throw tomatoes at me, I have to warn you, I haven't seen iconic films like Moby Dick or The Snows of Kilimanjaro. I'm sorry, I know I should.
Well, if you ask me what does Gregory represent for me, that would be confidence. For me, watching Gregory is like finding a secure, normal, down-to-earth refuge (except for Duel in the Sun, which I told in my own words). I'm not only talking about that security that people with great acting abilities project, people that no matter what, you know they're not going to fail or deliver a line in a wrong way.
His presence on screen was clean and magnetic in a subtle way. If you were lucky to enter a room where Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck were, and you didn't know them, I'm sure you would notice the other two first. But Gregory's presence would grab your attention sooner than later. He always seems to be there, without really trying, standing calmed and unharmed from any force the scripts make him face. Even if you see him suffer or fear in the most helpless way.
So you have his acting abilities and then his subtle but magnetic presence. Add to this that he seemed to be a great guy. I don't know much about his private life, but I've read about what he believed in and what he did for others or said about them; he was a noble person, a good, caring guy. With that, his brilliant (in every sense) screen presence is conformed.
Should I tell you about his Joe Bradley, the reporter with the little but profound smile that once fell in love with a princess? Oh, how good Gregory is in Roman Holiday. In the outside, making a very prosaic comparison and almost as a side note I would say he's like a fresh, clean, recently washed sweater. And then, I would say he expresses his character's thoughts and changes through looks and nervous smiles; impatient gestures, pauses and silences.
He's also a good guy in The Big Country, Designing Woman and The Million Pound Note. From the three, of course, I highlight the first. Here this noble guy we know is being pushed to be something else, to prove his strength and fierceness. But his character and Gregory himself were people that loved peace, even when that means violence against yourself, even when that means tough decisions. James McKay ends proving his qualities, but in his own terms, at night, when there's no one else but he and his opponent; no malicious looks, no people laughing at the other's disgraces. Even when he knows he's going to win.
Then you have the films that went a bit far, that showed Gregory the good guy in trouble: films like Spellbound, Beloved Infidel, On the Beach, The Great Sinner. In these movies he either was alcoholic, had a mental problem or carried great issues upon his shoulders. And yet, I don't really relate these characters, he gave each one of them something different, special. His Francis Scott Fitzgeral was an annoying drunk at some points, very different of his Great Sinner or his Cmdr. Dwight Towers.
And then we go even far. His kind screen presence was forced to face terrible menaces, that are more painful to watch because they come from other people. There you have the awesome The Stalking Moon, where he has to escape from a native and save Eva Marie Saint and her mixed-race son; To Kill a Mockingbird, were white men threaten him and his children just because he defends an innocent human being; and Cape Fear, were the previous plots are almost mixed, and he is persecuted by a guy avid of revenge through his family.
In the three, he's just a human whose life becomes darker while trying to do justice. He's not a tough, super courageous man. He sometimes feels lost. He's not completely fearless, because he loves and cares for others. And that's why, when he raises victoriously, or he just raises and tries to move on, we feel identified. And we care about Gregory Peck.