Friday, 27 June 2014

The Many Characters of Gregory Peck

I've been thinking about writing something on Gregory Peck. He was one of the finest actors of classical Hollywood, a man of many talents who could play many different roles, so I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss some of the characters of his I have come to admire.

And yes, I am in part ripping off Alex Withrow of And So It Begins. He does sheets like this all the time. I just hope he doesn't mind me borrowing his style for the moment.

James "Stretch" Dawson in Yellow Sky (1948)

Blimey, I really need to see this wonderful western again. You've probably never heard of Yellow Sky, but it is a surprisingly enjoyable little film loosely drawing off of Shakespeare's The Tempest (also features a woman wearing pants and wielding a shotgun). Peck plays the leader of a ruthless gang of outlaws who after spending time in a ghost town manages to find redemption.

Joe Bradley in Roman Holiday (1953)

We've got some dramatic roles here, so why not balance it out with Peck doing comedy. Here was quite the character, a man who spends a whole day in conflict between his personal feelings and his professional work. On the one hand, he has the opportunity to get a first-hand one-on-one story interviewing a princess and her certainly takes it. On the other, he becomes closely acquainted with the princess and starts to understand the pressure upon her. He can choose to take on the greatest assignment of his career or do the right thing giving the princess her day of freedom from the press.

Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956)

This is going to be one of the more obscure choices, but according to IMDB Peck was unsure if he was right for the role (he felt he was too young). However, I personally don't know that a better choice could have been found for a literary character as iconic as Ahab. The character doesn't even look much like Peck (though he still has the distinct voice), and here we see him going against his usual type.

Peck was usually known to play the good guy, but here we see an anti-hero. More specifically, a man who never seems to be all there (literally in this case, on account of his missing leg) and has a very clear goal right from the start: to find and ultimately kill the white whale responsible for crippling him.  Peck gets plenty of soliloquys to himself, but he always manages to capture the essence of the bitter, (literally) broken man who is gradually consumed by his obsession with revenge.

James McKay in The Big Country (1958)

Another great western role from Peck, but a very different one. In contrast to his outlaw personality in Yellow Sky, here he works more in a fish-out-of-water sense, as a sea captain who moves out west unaccustomed to life in the desert and caught in a violent feud between two farming families. Peck's role is very much a link between the audience and the world of the film, as it is through his eyes we see events unfold, and it is ultimately his experience as a sea captain that gives him the out of the box thinking to help bring an end to the long-standing rivalry.

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Oh boy, Atticus Finch is just such a great character in general, but there is something about Peck's performance that nails it. In fact, according to IMDB, Peck did such a good job that when Harper Lee (the author of the original book) visited the set during production she started crying because he reminded her of her father who she based the character on.

Right from the moment we see him, we know Finch is such a great guy. There is something to be admired about a man who is able to by himself resist the pressures of a bigoted society and stand up for what he believes is right. This is a man who takes on a legal case that he knows full well he has no chance of solving, but that doesn't stop him from trying and honestly making an effort.


  1. I never fully get to see Gregory Peck's movies, except for scenes here and there. Nice post, and a good place to start for a poor chum like me who hasn't seen much of his work. :)

    1. Really? Gregory Peck's one of the finest actors in classical Hollywood. Out of all these To Kill a Mockingbird will probably be the easiest to find, but all of them are worth your time if you get the chance.

  2. Gregory Peck is one of my favorite actors...:) Could you please write something about Audrey Hepburn?:) I just love her :)

    1. I've been a bit concerned about doing any more of these. The guy I drew from for this particular article had a few objections to me copying his "In Character" series, so out of respect I changed the title of this article and opted not to do any more in this vein.

      Of course, that doesn't rule out the possibility of something on Audrey Hepburn, just that I'll have to do something different with it. I'm sure I could find something to do with her.