Gentleman’s Agreement 1947 Based on the novel by Laura Z. Hobson. Directed by Elia Kazan. Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm), Best Director Academy Awards. Immensely powerful. Screenplay by Moss Hart and Elia Kazan. Widowed Journalist Shulyer Green (Gregory Peck) has moved to New York with his son Tommy (Dean Stockwell) and mother (Anne Revere) to join a prestigious magazine. His first assignment is a series on Antisemitism. Green feels the only way to fully understand the issue is to pretend to be Jewish. As he’s new to the job and city, this is easy to put into effect.
The journalist is shocked at the degree of bigotry to which he’s subjected, in particular by those who witness in silence while protesting they are not themselves prejudiced and those oblivious of their own enmity. Usually grounded, he finds himself volatile. Fine writing is exemplified in Green’s forthright explanations to Tommy, conversations with Jewish childhood friend Dave Goldman (John Garfield), himself the victim of discrimination, and his friendship with fashion editor Anne Dettrey (Celeste Holm) who represents articulate and humane liberalism.
The plot’s axis revolves around the hero’s love for his boss’s divorced niece Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire). Discovering Kathy’s conservative background makes her blind to her own xenophobic behavior… In recognition for producing Gentleman’s Agreement, the Hollywood chapter of B’nai B’rith International honored Darryl Zanuck as its “Man of the Year” for 1948 while the HUAC called the film’s director, producer and several actors to testify. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Roman Holiday 1953 Directed by William Wyler. Utterly charming. On a state visit to Rome, young crown princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn), from an unnamed country, manages to slip out of her embassy hoping to get a feel for the city. Expatriate reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) finds her sleeping on a bench and assumes she’s drunk. He tucks her into his bed and spends the night elsewhere. In the morning Joe learns all Rome is looking for a missing royal. A photo reveals the identity of his guest.
Anxious for an exclusive, he calls photographer buddy Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) and arranges to have him secretly shoot them as he shows Ann the city. Modest adventures follow. Joe and Ann grow close until a bittersweet parting. The next morning…
The role of Joe was first offered to Cary Grant who felt he was too old to play her love interest, yet did so ten years later in Charade. Peck’s contract gave him solo star billing with newcomer Hepburn listed less prominently in the credits. Halfway through filming, the actor generously suggested to Wyler that he give her equal billing. In her first major film role, Hepburn won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit 1956 Based on the novel by Sloan Wilson. Directed by Nunnally Johnson. Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) has returned from WWII silently suffering from PTSD. We see flashbacks, but not until two-thirds of the way through the film does he share experienced horrors with his uncomprehending mate. Wife Betsy (a strident Jennifer Jones) is dissatisfied with their budget-restrained Connecticut life. She questions Tom’s unwillingness to take a risk, pressing him to find a better paying job.
When a fellow commuter offers introduction to a PR position at television network UBC, Tom ambivalently agrees to an interview for which he barely applies himself. Nonetheless, he’s hired – to write about a mental health initiative dear to the heart of company president Ralph Hopkins (Fredric March). Hopkins recognizes integrity and thoughtfulness in his new employee, but has the opportunity to see none of the hard work due to censorship by Tom’s immediate superior Bill Ogden (Henry Daniell).
Using Rath and Hopkins as examples, the film looks at consequences of trading family life and rectitude for success in business. It needs editing, especially in WWII flashback scenes, but features excellent acting (both Peck and March especially) and an incisive look at a large segment of America’s backbone population. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Moby Dick 1956 Adaptation of the Herman Melville novel. Directed by John Huston. A whopping good 19th century adventure of Captain Ahab’s (Gregory Peck) obsession with “great white whale,” Moby Dick. In revenge for losing his leg to the giant, Ahab pushes himself and his crew past any boundary of safety and sanity.
Huston had long wanted to make a film of Moby Dick, intending to cast his father, actor Walter Huston, as Ahab, but he had died in 1950. The artificial whale was 75 ft long, weighed 12 tons, and required 80 drums of compressed air and a hydraulic system in order to remain operational. When it came loose from its tow-line and drifted away in a fog, ninety percent of the shots were executed from various miniatures filmed in a water tank and a life-size Moby jaw and head – with working eyes. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Beloved Infidel 1959 based on the relationship of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham – specifically on the memoir by Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank. Directed by Henry King. When Sheilah Graham (Deborah Kerr) comes to New York from England, ostensibly to distance herself from a future titled mother-in-law (uh huh), she earns success with provocative articles that promote her to a job as Hollywood gossip columnist. At a dinner party, she and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gregory Peck) lock eyes and heatedly fall into each other’s arms (dancing). Kismet. The sizzling affair turns quickly to love.
Graham’s career is on the rise, while Fitzgerald is no longer recognized (a bookstore carries none of his work!) and struggles to be accepted as a screenwriter. He begins to drink again, spiraling back to the alcoholism for which he was infamous when living and traveling with wife Zelda. As the film represents Graham’s perspective, she’s compassionate and self-sacrificing until he becomes abusive. Very attractive actors with a stretch of the imagination script. Rent on Amazon Prime.
To Kill a Mockingbird 1962 Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. Directed by Robert Mulligan. Three Academy Awards including Best Actor. Marks the film debuts of Robert Duvall, William Windom, and Alice Ghostley. If you’ve missed this one, shame on you.
Maycomb, Alabama 1930s. Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Badham) narrates the story of her widowed father, mild mannered town lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), and his stand against virulent bigotry. When black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) is accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox), the town is ready to hang Tom, no questions asked. We follow repercussions in and out of the courtroom. Secondary characters, adult and child alike, flesh out the rich, effective story painting an environment as well as an era.
Producer Alan J. Pakula remembered hearing from Peck when he was first approached with the role: “He called back immediately. No maybes. […] I must say the man and the character he played were not unalike.” Upon Peck’s death in 2003, Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson in the film, quoted Harper Lee at Peck’s eulogy, saying, “Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Portrait 2017 Based on the play Painting Churches by Tina Howe. Directed by Arthur Penn. A small, solid, contemporary family drama. Painter Margaret Church (the actor’s daughter, Cecelia Peck) has ostensibly returned to the home of parents Gardner and Fanny Church (Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall) to finish their portrait for her debut show. In truth, she hopes to breach estrangement she’s long felt.
The young woman grapples with news that the Churches have sold the family home, with signs of her father’s encroaching dementia, and with feelings they’re not supportive of her work. Things she needs to hear are articulated, but others simply can’t be changed. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Bigstock