Judge Ben Saylor refrained from using any puns incorporating Gregory Peck's last name for this review.
Our reviews of Arabesque (published April 14th, 2011), Cape Fear (Blu-ray) (published October 24th, 2011), Captain Newman, M.D. (published April 14th, 2011), Mirage (published April 5th, 2011), To Kill a Mockingbird (Blu-ray) 50th Anniversary Digibook (published January 31st, 2012), To Kill A Mockingbird: Legacy Series Edition (published October 24th, 2005), Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012), and The World In His Arms (published April 5th, 2011) are also available.
The most beloved and widely read Pulitzer Prize Winner now comes vividly alive on the screen!
Now, he had only one weapon left—murder!…to prevent an even more shocking crime!
Ultra mod, ultra mad, ultra mystery
Run…right into her arms…perhaps she'll lead you to your lost secret…or into the arms of PERIL!
It speaks to you in the language of love, laughter and tears!
A whole new world of adventure sweeps the screen!
Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck (Roman Holiday), more than perhaps any other Hollywood actor of his era (besides, arguably, James Stewart), has come to embody the quintessentially all-American leading man. Stoic and serious but also kind and noble, Peck always seemed to embody the best of human nature in his characters (well, maybe not every character; ie, his Ahab in Moby Dick), something Universal's six-disc set, The Gregory Peck Film Collection, amply demonstrates.
Facts of the Case
To Kill a Mockingbird: In Depression-era Alabama, attorney and single father Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) tries to raise his daughter Scout (Mary Badham, This Property Is Condemned) and son Jem (Phillip Alford) as best he can, all the while shielding them from the harsh realities of life during that time. But when Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, Atticus' children find themselves exposed to a new, ugly world of prejudice and hate. It is only through the love of their father, along with some help from mysterious neighbor Arthur "Boo" Radley (Robert Duvall, Broken Trail), that the children will survive these trying times.
Cape Fear: The past comes back to haunt small-town lawyer Sam Bowden (Peck), when Max Cady (Robert Mitchum, Thunder Road), a criminal whom Bowden helped put in prison, comes looking for revenge. Having used his time in prison to acquire knowledge of the law, Cady manages to inflict the maximum amount of harassment on the Bowdens without doing anything that would result in getting sent back to jail. As it becomes clear that Cady will not stop until he has dealt permanent damage to the family, Bowden must resort to perilous (and unlawful) measures to protect his loved ones.
Arabesque: David Pollock (Peck), a hieroglyphics expert working for Oxford University, is contacted by the wealthy and powerful Beshraavi (Alan Bladel, The Day of the Jackal), who wants Pollock to decode a message written in an ancient scrawl. Initially reluctant to accept Beshraavi's offer, Pollock is encouraged by a Middle Eastern prime minister to undertake the task, as he feels the contents of the message to be of vital importance. Pollock gets more than he bargained for, however, as he soon finds himself caught up in a web of lies, deceit and murder. Through it all, the only person he can trust is Beshraavi's beautiful mistress Yasmin (Sophia Loren, Two Women)—or can he?
Mirage: A blackout plunges the New York office building where cost accountant David Stillwell (Peck) works into darkness. Emerging from the building, Stillwell learns that Charles Calvin (Walter Abel), a prominent attorney who works in the same building, has fallen to his death.
Stillwell returns to his apartment, but soon finds himself the object of pursuit by gunmen who swear allegiance to a mysterious man known only as "the Major." Simultaneously, a woman named Shela (Diane Baker, Marnie) begins following Stillwell. Who is the Major? Why is Shela so interested in Stillwell? What connection does Stillwell have to the recently deceased Calvin? These are answers Stillwell can't find, because he has no memory of the last two years of his life. To this end, he hires low-budget private detective Ted Casselle (Walter Matthau, The Odd Couple) to help put the pieces of his life back together-before it's too late.
Captain Newman, M.D.: At Colfax Army Air Field during World War II, the compassionate Captain Josiah Newman (Peck) is the head of the base's psychiatric unit. Newman, along with his smart-aleck orderly Leibovitz (Tony Curtis, Spartacus) and nurse Lt. Corum (Angie Dickinson, Rio Bravo), does everything in his power to reach his patients, who include a guilt-ridden airman (Bobby Darin, Come September), a disturbed officer (Eddie Albert, The Longest Day) and a captain rendered near catatonic by feelings of cowardice (Robert Duvall).
The World in His Arms: In 1850 San Francisco, schooner Capt. Jonathan Clark (Peck), known to many as "the Boston Man," makes a healthy living taking seal pelts from the Pribilof Islands, much to the chagrin of the Russians who rule the Alaskan territory. During some time in port, Clark meets a beautiful woman (Ann Blyth, Mildred Pierce) who says she is in the service of a countess who needs passage to Alaska in order to escape an arranged marriage. Falling in love with the woman, Clark agrees to her request, only to discover that the woman is actually the Countess herself. Meanwhile, the Countess' intended (Carl Esmond) kidnaps his would-be bride and takes her to Sitka, Alaska, which is where Clark is racing to reach against archrival Portugee (Anthony Quinn, La Strada). But with the Countess in danger, the two enemies are forced to team up in order to save the day.
The Gregory Peck Film Collection is an interesting set, containing two very well-known titles, as well as four less-discussed but fascinatingly diverse films. While the quality varies, this set has a lot of merit.
To Kill a Mockingbird: There are certainly other faithful cinematic adaptations of beloved novels out there, but I would argue that few have been able to endure as well as Robert Mulligan's screen version of Harper Lee's book. Everything—from the cast to the screenplay to the direction to the production design to the score—is absolutely spot-on.
The film's innovative title sequence, which incorporates the items left for Jem in a knothole by Boo Radley, immediately establishes that To Kill a Mockingbird is a film about childhood, and coming of age. Picking up on this note, Horton Foote's screenplay leisurely (but never in a manner that seems boring or self-indulgent) follows the lives of Jem and Scout. Gradually, we begin to see scenes involving the Tom Robinson case, and by the second half of the movie, Jem and Scout become exposed to the ugliness of society that is revealed through Tom's fate. While Atticus is the hero of the film and is portrayed by the biggest star in the cast, Mockingbird is ultimately Scout and Jem's story, something Mulligan and Foote never forget.
Because To Kill a Mockingbird's story hinges so much on Jem and Scout, it was absolutely vital to the success of the film version that talented child actors be cast. This is certainly the case with Mockingbird, and the proof is in the amount of reaction shots Mulligan gives to Badham (who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance) and Allford. (Watch the dinner scene with Walter Cunningham for a good example.) If these kids had turned in poor performances, Mulligan could have shot around them and had their screen time minimized in the editing process. But both actors give credible, nuanced performances, and Mulligan lets them shine accordingly.
And while all the acting in the film is solid down to the smallest part, it is Peck's iconic portrayal of Atticus Finch that is best known. With Atticus, Peck really seems to have a perfect understanding of how the character should be played, and the quiet dignity and authority with which he imbues the role is nothing short of remarkable. One of my favorite scenes in the film happens near the beginning of the story, when Jem and Scout are whispering about their deceased mother as Atticus listens on the porch. Peck says and does nothing throughout the children's exchange, but just with his presence as an actor and the powerful simplicity of the children's words, the scene is heartbreaking. While I think a lot of people probably remember Peck's pitch-perfect work in the courtroom scenes best (particularly his summation), it's really the quiet moments, like the porch scene, that really define Atticus Finch as a character and Peck as the actor who takes the character on the printed page and makes him a memorable screen character.
Cape Fear: Simply put, Cape Fear is a marvel of controlled, prolonged suspense. Director J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone) knows how to make an audience nervous, and he exploits this knowledge to the full extent. Aided and abetted by Sam Leavitt's masterful black and white cinematography, George Tomasini's (a Hitchcock collaborator) tension-building editing and Bernard Herrmann's incredibly effective score, Cape Fear is a first-class thriller.
Cape Fear is such an iconic film, in fact, that none other than Martin Scorsese remade it. And while he brought some interesting changes to the table (making the Bowden character a heel, adding a few years to Bowden's daughter's age to create some twisted sexual tension between her and Cady), one thing that he did not have was Robert Mitchum in the role of Max Cady. While Robert De Niro's Southern-fried killer was effective enough for Scorsese's take on the material, he just can't compare to Mitchum's wholly creepy portrayal of Cady. Mitchum had already proved that he could do the scary-guy shtick with 1955's The Night of the Hunter, and while I feel Harry Powell is a more frightening screen character than Max Cady, there's no doubt that a large part of Cape Fear's success is due to Mitchum's performance.
Of course, the power and effectiveness of Mitchum's portrayal means that Peck himself is almost completely overshadowed. As Bowden, Peck has the far less interesting role, which is what I'm guessing prompted screenwriter Wesley Strick to give Bowden a bad streak of his own for Scorsese's film. Still, as the upright, devoted family man, Peck is entirely believable, and he's a great foil in his scenes with Mitchum.
Arabesque: Stanley Donen followed his Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn vehicle Charade with this film. Given the convoluted and silly nature of the plot, the presence of two icons in the lead roles as well as the vivacious Henry Mancini score, comparisons between this film and its predecessor are inevitable. All in all, while Arabesque is an enjoyable enough way to kill an hour and three-quarters, it's hard to beat Grant and Hepburn.
Whether you enjoy Arabesque will depend entirely on whether you can 1. Buy Gregory Peck in the lead, and 2. Buy Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren as a couple. For my part, #1 is easier to accept than #2. I'm not sure that someone as suave and debonair as Grant would have been as good as Peck at playing the bookish lead in Arabesque; the role calls for more of a square than does the lead in Charade (although Grant would undeniably have been funnier). And while Peck certainly wasn't the comic actor that Grant was, I still found myself laughing at things his character says/does.
Unfortunately, Donen teams up Peck with Italian siren Loren, and the two aren't the most believable couple, due in no small part to the fact that Peck was almost 20 years older than Loren, and it shows. In scenes between the two of them, such as a sequence early in the film where a fully clothed Peck has to hide in a shower with a nude Loren, one can't help but imagine how much better the scene would play with a different leading man (although the scene still works with Peck).
The plot of Arabesque has more than a few twists and turns—mostly involving the duplicitous nature of Loren's character—but it's never really that hard to follow. Suspense is diminished by the sense that neither Pollock nor Yasmin are ever in any serious danger-the film is much too light for that. Still, despite their lack of chemistry, Peck and Loren are fun to watch, Donen and cinematographer Christopher Challis throws in some energetic camerawork (strange angles, goofy effects when Pollock is drugged) and Mancini's score is a good listen.
Mirage: This 1965 effort from Hollywood 10 director Edward Dmytryk (The Caine Mutiny) is a decent if unspectacular thriller, one that is anchored by a solid performance from Peck as well as sturdy direction.
Mirage boasts a screenplay by Charade scribe Peter Stone, working from Howard Fast's novel. Stone and Dmytryk do an admirable job teasing the audience with fleeting images that are seen from Stillwell's point of view as he begins to recover his memory. The filmmakers are careful not to give too much away to the audience (although some of Stillwell's flashbacks smack of hand-holding), although the ending's big twist is more than a little underwhelming, and the scenes between Stillwell and Shela could have been handled better.
Still, even with an unsatisfying conclusion, Peck does fine work as a frustrated and confused man. His role is tricky because we really don't learn much about Stillwell until he recovers his memory, which doesn't happen until the end of the film. Peck takes what little he has to work with and manages to craft a sympathetic character.
Ultimately, however, Peck is no match for Matthau, who steals every scene he's in as Casselle, providing Mirage with some welcome humor. Baker isn't given a whole lot to work with as Shela, as her character purposely withholds information from Stillwell (and therefore the audience) until the end of the film. Rounding out the cast are George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) as a gunsel for the Major, Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as a slang-spouting colleague of Stillwell's, and Leif Erickson (Sorry, Wrong Number) as the Major.
Captain Newman, M.D.: My curiosity about this film is what led me to request this set to review. I already knew that singer Bobby Darin received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Cpl. Jim Tompkins, and I had seen the brief restaging of a scene from Newman in Kevin Spacey's Beyond the Sea. The film itself, however, did not live up to the anticipation.
Captain Newman, M.D.'s biggest problem is its meandering, episodic narrative. Between Newman, Leibovitz, Corum, and the three main patients Newman treats, there are simply too many characters jammed into this story, and as a result none is very well developed. With no central character arc or plotline, the film lacks momentum, which really hurts given the 126-minute runtime (incorrectly listed on the packaging as 91 minutes). In addition, while I'm no expert, the movie's "psychiatry" seems pretty shaky to me; most of Captain Newman's is little more a couple chats and some investigative legwork, as opposed to applying a deep understanding of the workings of the human mind.
It's a shame that the story here isn't better, because Newman is filled with memorable performances. While Albert's Colonel Bliss character comes off as rather silly sometimes (he insists on being called "Mr. Future"), Duvall and especially Darin turn in fine work. I'm sure some will find Darin's performance too over the top (particularly during the sequence when he is injected with sodium pentothal), but despite my usual aversion to melodramatic acting, I found myself very affected by Darin's work, and I feel his Oscar nod was deserved. Tony Curtis is another standout as Leibovitz, who provides the film with some levity to offset the heaviness that comes with the three patients' problems. Unfortunately, Angie Dickinson is given very little to do as Lt. Corum, and although writers Richard L. Breen and Henry and Phoebe Ephron throw in a romantic subplot between her and Newman, it never feels more than half-hearted.
As the title character, Peck is actually the least interesting of the film's characters, which is largely the writers' fault. While Peck works for the role of the stern but caring Newman, but we never really get inside his head as a character (ironic, given that the movie deals with psychiatry). Worse, Newman never really changes over the course of the film, remaining a blank throughout. By the end of the movie, one gets the sense that anybody could have played this part.
The World in His Arms: By far my least favorite film in this set, The World in His Arms is a strange adventure film plagued by a clunky script, among other problems.
The film begins promisingly enough, with Peck's Capt. Clark taking members of his crew to bust up a bar in order to free some crewmembers who have been shanghaied. Unfortunately, following this, we're treated to long stretches of Clark and his men carousing in a fancy hotel while Countess Marina and the Colonel traveling with her (Gregory Gaye) attempt to secure passage to Sitka. This is also when Clark and Marina meet and fall in love (literally) overnight, which is as hard to believe as one might expect.
The film regains some momentum when Clark and Portugee race their schooners to the Pribilof Islands, although the excitement of this sequence is marred by overuse of rear-screen projection, which may not have been as much of a problem to audiences of the time.
Unfortunately, the schooner race is the high point of the movie, and the rest of the plot involves dull scenes of Clark and his men held captive, then being released, and then coming back to Sitka to rescue the Countess. The rescue sequence is somewhat entertaining, but by this point my patience with the movie had more or less run out.
Peck is an interesting choice for the roguish but essentially good Clark. (Also, I love the fact that he's called "the Boston Man.") If the character had been written with a harder edge, I doubt if Peck could have carried off the character very well, but as Clark is presented in The World in His Arms, the actor does an able job, although he's dwarfed by the bombastic Anthony Quinn's Portugee who, while admittedly entertaining, begins to wear thin by the movie's end.
In another ill-advised move, the movie also includes an Aleut sidekick for Clark named Ogeechuk (Bill Radovich), who is the token foreign source of comic relief that, in the tradition of older (heck, even newer) films, is the butt of many of the film's "jokes" (like the fact that everyone finds him smelly).
Universal has packaged the six films in The Gregory Peck Film Collection in six slim plastic cases that fit nicely into a sturdy cardboard box. In terms of technical presentations, the films vary in terms of quality, but all are decent at the very least, and several (To Kill a Mockingbird, Arabesque and Captain Newman, M.D.) are quite good. Of these films, only To Kill a Mockingbird and Cape Fear are available separately in R1.
In terms of extras, Arabesque, Mirage, and Captain Newman, M.D. are completely barebones. A trailer is included for The World in His Arms. For Cape Fear, the main extra is a 27-minute making-of featurette, consisting of interviews with Peck and Thompson. While there are only two interview subjects included (and Thompson talks more than Peck does), this actually provides a lot of interesting information about the film's production, as well as Thompson's thoughts on Scorsese's remake. There is also a four-minute production photos gallery that includes clips from the film as well as elements of Herrmann's score. The film's trailer rounds out the features for Cape Fear.
As for To Kill a Mockingbird, the edition included in this set is the same as the Legacy Series release put out by Universal in 2005, and as such contains a treasure trove of extras. On Disc One, there is an informative feature commentary with director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, in addition to clips of Gregory Peck's acceptance speeches for his Best Actor Oscar win and for his American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. Also on disc one is an excerpt from the Academy's tribute to Peck featuring his daughter Cecilia; a featurette called "Scout Remembers," where Badham reflects on working Peck; and production notes. Disc Two contains two documentaries that both run about 90 minutes. The first, A Conversation with Gregory Peck, is a wonderful film that combines clips of the actor while on his speaking tour and interacting with fans, interview footage of the actor, and footage of Peck interacting with his family. Far from a dry, sit-down interview, A Conversation with Gregory Peck provides an extraordinary look at a great actor and human being. The second film Fearful Symmetry, details the making of Mockingbird, and has interviews with Peck and many other cast members, along with Mulligan, Pakula and even residents of Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville. A lot of effort was clearly put into this documentary, making it well worth watching for fans of the film.
Of the six films contained in The Gregory Peck Film Collection, only two—To Kill a Mockingbird and Cape Fear—are bona fide classics. Still, the other four titles are all worth watching, even if you're not the world's biggest Gregory Peck fan, and Universal has done a nice job putting these out on DVD. If you don't own the To Kill a Mockingbird Legacy Series DVD, this set is a nice way to rectify that situation; that DVD alone retails for about a third of this set's cost.
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Scales of Justice, The World In His Arms
Perp Profile, The World In His Arms
Distinguishing Marks, The World In His Arms
• Theatrical trailer
Scales of Justice, Cape Fear
Perp Profile, Cape Fear
Distinguishing Marks, Cape Fear
• "The Making of Cape Fear"
Scales of Justice, To Kill A Mockingbird
Perp Profile, To Kill A Mockingbird
Distinguishing Marks, To Kill A Mockingbird
• Academy Award Best Actor acceptance speech
Scales of Justice, Captain Newman, M.D.
Perp Profile, Captain Newman, M.D.
Distinguishing Marks, Captain Newman, M.D.
Scales of Justice, Mirage
Perp Profile, Mirage
Distinguishing Marks, Mirage
Scales of Justice, Arabesque
Perp Profile, Arabesque
Distinguishing Marks, Arabesque
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