Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


GREGORY PECK: A CHARMED LIFE. Lynn Haney. Carroll and Graf; 2004.

In this excellent biography of the late actor, author Lynn Haney wisely does not try to make a case that Peck was some kind of acting genius, only that he was a talented, handsome movie star who gave some memorable and effective performances over the years. Haney is also psychologically penetrating at times, such as when she writes of his Catholic upbringing: "The pressure to be a 'good Catholic boy' ... proved to be a liability in some of the roles he played as an actor. It encouraged a self-imposed constipation, a rigidity of posture that translated into conventional heroics rather than the go-for-broke intensity we see in actors like Marlon Brando and James Cagney that really strikes a nerve." Despite this his solidity served him well in certain roles such as in The Omen. Peck's career actually benefited because he was classified 4F at a time when there was a shortage of male actors, and he resisted signing contracts that would have turned him into an indentured servant for the studios. Like a great many actors, Peck jettisoned the first wife who stood by him during the early days for a younger model, although, to be fair, there may have been other problems in his marriage. Haney covers his childhood, early years in the theater, his marriages and possible affairs, the tragic suicide of his son, and all of his movies. Peck tried challenging parts he wasn't always suited for, such as in Moby Dick and The Boys from Brazil [where he was actually quite arresting], and had the guts to risk falling on his face, even while he garnered more Oscar nominations than you might realize, winning for To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck was miscast in Hitchcock's interesting The Paradine Case but struck just the right note in Mirage. Despite his upbringing, he was not one of Hollywood's conservatives, but supported causes such as Gay Rights. Behind his classically refined features was a more complex man than one might imagine.

Verdict: Probably the last word on Peck. ***1/2.

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