Tag Archives: Gregory Peck

I Walk the Line (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sheriff covers for moonshiners.

Aging Sheriff Henry Tawes (Gregory Peck) has always been a strong pillar of his community, but recently has found himself bored with his domestic life and looking for diversion. He becomes smitten with Alma (Tuesday Weld) a young woman half his age, who lives on the poor side of town with her father (Ralph Meeker) who runs an illegal distillery. Despite the risks Henry begins an open affair with her with her family’s blessing as long as Henry agrees not to report their distillery, but then a federal agent (Lonny Chapman) arrives in town threatening to shut down every moonshiner he finds. Henry’s deputy Hunnicutt (Charles Durning) also becomes suspicious of Henry’s shady actions, which forces Henry to take some calculated risks, which all backfire on him in shocking ways.

This film is a perfect testament to something that I’ve mentioned before on this blog, which is how shooting a film on-location in an actual small town versus one being built on a studio backlot can make all the difference on whether it succeeds at the box office, or not. This one was done in the tiny hamlet of Gainesboro, Tennessee, which has just over a 1,000 people and in fact its downtown, which includes the prominent courthouse, barely looks any different now then it did when principle photography took place in October of 1969. Director John Frankenheimer makes good use of the townsfolk focusing in on their old, weathered faces at the beginning and glum expressions, which helps accentuate Henry’s bored and static life as well as the abandoned, decrepit house the lovers meet-in, which illustrates their empty, vanquished souls.

The script by Alvin Sargent, which is based on the novel ‘An Exile’ by Madison Jones, allows the visuals and action to do most of the talking while keeping the dialogue subtle and concise. I even enjoyed the music interludes by Johnny Cash. Some critics at the time complained that there was no need for this as Johnny’s words that he sings seem to be simply explaining what the viewer is already seeing onscreen, but the music still conveys a raw southern flavor and Cash’s singing style makes it seem more like he’s talking to the viewer and like he’s another character in the film.

Peck’s performance is good here despite the fact that Frankenheimer wanted Gene Hackman for the role, but was forced to settle with Peck because he was already under contract with the studio. Normally Hackman would’ve been the better choice, but here Peck’s usual stiffness and detached delivery brings out convey his character’s inner turmoil. Durning is outstanding as his nefarious deputy and with his energetic and impulsive presence because an interesting contrast to Peck’s more reserved one.

Spoiler Alert!

Weld is great too even though the part she plays seems very similar to the one that she did in Pretty Poison although here at least the character isn’t portrayed as being completely evil, but instead somewhat naive and sheltered, which helps make her more multi-dimensional. Her motivations though are confusing and the film’s one major drawback. I could not understand, and the film never bothers to make clear, why she’d want to stay stuck with her family and their dismal, impoverished situation. Granted she didn’t really love Henry, which is obvious, but she had already manipulated him quite a bit,  and even had sex with him,so why not run off with him like he wanted and use his money to live a better life while also siphoning some of it back to her family to help them too?

Even if one would argue that she had a close-knit bond to her family it still doesn’t make sense. Many young woman have close ties to their family, but at some point they still leave the nest especially when vanquished to abject poverty otherwise. With her good looks a lot of doors could be opened, so why not see what else is out there? It comes out later that she’s married to another man who’s in jail, but the film glosses over this like she’s not any more in love with him than Henry and still doesn’t help to explain much. It also would’ve worked better had the viewer been left in the dark until the end as to whether she was really in-love with Henry or not instead of making it obvious that she was playing him, which lessens the shock effect for what occurs at the end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Omen (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s the devil’s child.

Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is an American ambassador living in London who learns that his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) has given birth to a stillborn child. One of the priests at the hospital suggest that he take a newborn whose mother has just died during childbirth and treat it like it were his own, which he does, but without telling Katherine. When they take the child home things start out fine, but eventually a series of strange deaths begin to occur to the people around them convincing the couple that their child may possess some sort of dark power as unbeknownst to them he is the son of the devil.

Considered at the time to be a rip-off of The Exorcist, whose success many other studios were hoping to replicate, this film has managed to rise above the rest of the tacky satanic themed films of that decade and in the process has created a franchise of its own that at this point has spawned 3 sequels, 1 remake, 5 novels, and even a TV-series. While the story does border on being unintentionally campy at many points it still succeeds due to the death scenes that many consider the best moments of the film, but for me the creepiest part is when they go into the small, dingy room of the priest who has every inch of the walls covered with pages of the bible.

The film’s weakest link is the child who’s given only a few words of dialogue making his presence transparent and not frightening at all. If this kid is from hell then he should behave like it by doing mean things that the Patty McCormack character did in The Bad Seed, but he doesn’t and with a few exceptions he behaves pretty much like a normal kid, which ultimately makes him uninteresting.

Spoiler Alert!

While Peck is solid I felt his character arch was too wide as he starts out as a non-believer, or at least we can assume this since he doesn’t take his kid to church until he is already 5, who goes from  being skeptic to paranoid believer too quickly. Having him start out as devoutly religious would’ve made his transition less extreme and might not have required the David Warner character, who ends up ‘educating’ Peck about Damian, being needed at all.

Remick, whose only facial expression is that of panic,  is equally one-dimensional and genuinely wasted. I also felt the scene where she gets knocked off the chair that she is standing and then literally leap frogged over the railing was too exaggerated as she most likely would’ve just fallen onto the upstairs floor instead. Seeing the later shot of her crashing through the roof of an ambulance gets too underplayed by showing only a small trickle of blood coming from her mouth when in reality her entire face would’ve been mangled, but isn’t

Billie Whitelaw as the sinister nanny Mrs. Baylock is terrific and helps add underlying tension, but I felt she should’ve come better prepared to protect the child. Granted she had a guard dog, but there needed to be another weapon at her disposal like a rifle that she could’ve used against Peck when he tried to take the child instead of just throwing herself at him physically in a desperate attempt to stop him, which nonetheless is still a great moment as it’s so rare to see a woman and a man going at it in a physical altercation while on equal footing, which should’ve been enough reason to have this scene extended out even more.

Ultimately though it’s Richard Donner’s outstanding direction and the way he implements interesting touches that keeps this thing engaging throughout instead of being laughable, which it could’ve easily have become otherwise. While it’s been many years since I saw the 2006 remake, and I can’t remember it in much detail, I did come away feeling this one was the better version and infinitely superior to its two sequels, which will be reviewed later today.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 25, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Donner

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Boys from Brazil (1978)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mad doctor clones Hitler.

Based on the best-selling novel by Ira Levin the story details an elaborate plan devised by the elusive Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) who has been hiding out in the jungles of Paraguay and has a secret meeting with several Third Reich war criminals that is overheard by novice Nazi Hunter Barry Kohler (Steven Guttenberg) and relayed to Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier). The plan calls for these war criminals to go out and murder 94 65-year-old men who are living in various parts of the world as Mengele has saved a sample of Hitler’s DNA and impregnated 94 women with it at a Brazilian clinic. These Hitler clones have now grown to adolescence and need to be put in the exact same environment as the real Hitler had been in order to bring out the same personality traits, so it’s important that their fathers die at the same time as Hitler’s real father had. At first Lieberman cannot believe such an outrageous plot, but as the evidence mounts he realizes it is true and he may be unable to stop it.

The film has two great scenes which includes an eye popping death from a steep mountain bridge and a graphic moment where we see in close-up Mengele place the ovum with Hitler’s DNA into the women. Outside of these two moments the film is rather flat and cheesy with certain segments bordering on camp. The plot is intricate enough to keep you involved, but highly implausible and the characters take a long time to realize things that the viewer has already figured out long before.

It is fun seeing Peck playing a bad guy and this was his first villainous role since Duel in the Sun and although he does well in the part the character is so one dimensionally evil that it ultimately makes him boring. Olivier is not effective in the lead and comes off as frail and sickly with certain comical overtones given to the character that don’t work. The final confrontation between he and Peck in which the two roll around on the floor while grappling for a gun looks more pathetic than exciting and apparently the scene had to be reshoot several times because both actors kept breaking out into laughter over the absurdity of it. I did feel though that Guttenberg was perfectly cast as a wide-eyed schmuck that was in way over-his-head.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest problem with the film though is the ending that turns out to be a big letdown. For one thing it takes place at a remote farmhouse, which seems too similar to a scene in Marathon Man, which came out just two years earlier, had a similar theme and also starred Olivier. It features nine Doberman pinchers with four of them that surround the farm’s owner (played by actor John Dehner) at all times. He uses them for protection as he is convinced someone is out to get him, which could’ve created quite an interesting scenario when Mengele travels to the home to kill him. However, the owner puts the dogs into another room the second Mengele tells him that they make him uncomfortable, which then allows Mengele to shoot the man without any problems, but why have the dogs for protection if you’re just going to put them away the minute some stranger doesn’t like them and if the character is so paranoid why even allow a stranger into your home without at least demanding some form of identification first?

End of Spoiler Alert!

The conclusion is unsatisfying as it leaves open a ton of unanswered questions. Not only is the plot full of loopholes, but it seems like only a springboard to a much more fascinating story, which is trying to hunt down all these Hitler clones that the film fails to realize.

the boys from brazil 1

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1978

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated R

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

amazing grace

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid stops playing baseball.

After touring a nuclear missile plant 11-year-old Chuck (Joshua Zuehlke) becomes traumatized at the prospect of nuclear war and wants to come up with some way to help prevent it. His solution is to quit playing little league baseball until there is complete nuclear disarmament as his pitching skills are impressive and therefore his talents will be sorely missed and thus make a strong statement to others about his commitment. After reading about him in a newspaper Amazing Grace (Alex English) a star basketball player for the Boston Celtics decides to do the same thing. He even moves to Livingston, Montana where Chuck resides so the two can carry on their self-styled protest together. Soon other athletes jump onto the bandwagon until a genuine movement is created that eventually gets the attention of world leaders.

The plot is indeed idealistic if not extraordinarily fanciful and has the stigma of being written by David Field who later went on to write the script for ‘Invisible Child’ a notorious Lifetime movie that has gained a cult following for having one of the dumbest plotlines ever and this one isn’t all that far behind. My eyes were already rolling before it even began, but I still wanted to give it a chance. Mike Newell’s direction is competent and Zuehlke’s performance in this his one and only film appearance is convincing and it even has a cameo appearance by coaching legend Red Auerbach.

I found it almost unnatural though that any kid could have such a strong resolve and commit to such a major sacrifice as at that age they can go through a lot of different phases and whatever they may be into one day can be something completely different just a few days later. Even responsible adults can have a hard time sticking to their commitments, so expecting a kid to do so seemed almost outlandish, but I forgave it because his Dad was a fighter pilot and therefore it made it more personal.

I was even willing to forgive the second act, which gets increasingly more strained and implausible by the minute because of the presence of Chuck’s father (William Petersen) who manages to keep things somewhat grounded by being the film’s only cynical character. However, the idea that a famous and successful player, which is played by an actual former NBA star who gives a wooden performance, would read a short article about a kid in a newspaper and that would be enough to ‘inspire’ him to quit everything and move to the middle of nowhere is just downright ridiculous as is Chuck being called to White House all alone and not accompanied by his parents, so that he could speak with the President (Gregory Peck) who begged him to start playing again because his stubborn stance has somehow hurt their bargaining power with the Russians.

The third act though is when it all gets to be too much and something that no logical or rational person will be able to swallow no matter how optimistic they may be. The film also enters in a side story dealing with Grace being stalked by a terrorist group threatening to kill him unless he goes back to playing basketball, which seemed to come from some completely different movie altogether and makes this already implausible story all the more absurd.

I’m all for a ‘feel-good’ movie, but there has to be some bearing in reality and when every player around the world quits playing and all the children quit speaking in order to show their solidarity for Chuck then this thing becomes just plain stupid and takes the concept of wish fulfillment to ridiculously new and embarrassing heights.

Of course there are some who feel the ‘positive message’ outweighs its otherwise fairy tale-like theme. There is even one reviewer on Amazon who shows his students this movie as a way to teach them the importance of having a ‘cause’. I for one think this would be a bad thing to show to young viewers because it gives them the idea that fighting for social change will be a quick and satisfying experience while also making them ‘famous’ in the process, which seems to be setting them up for a tremendous fall when they actually get out into the real world and find things to be the exact opposite.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mike Newell

Studio: Tri Star Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Marooned (1969)

marooned 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Astronauts stranded in space.

Unfortunately this film’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the only movie nominated for an Academy Award to be shown on ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’.  As much as I enjoy that show I think it is unfair to throw this movie into the pile and make fun of it as I think it holds-up well and is a solid space drama.  The story based on the novel by Martin Caidin is about three astronauts (Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, James Franciscus) who have been orbiting the earth for several months in a space lab, but as they try to return to earth they find that their retro rocket won’t fire and they’re stranded. Initially NASA, which is headed by Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) decide they have no alternative but to leave them there however, Ted Daugherty (David Janssen) puts up enough of a raucous that they decide to allow him to head a rescue mission. An impending hurricane and the astronaut’s dwindling supply of oxygen all cause further problems and force everyone to work at break-neck speed to pull it off.

One of the things that grabbed me initially was the lack of music. Instead we just here beeping sounds of a computer and the hum of a rocket during the opening credits, which helps give the film a futuristic and distinctive flair. I also liked the cool sounding hum that the viewer hears every time the men are outside of their capsule and in space. It has kind of a hypnotic tone to it and makes things a bit surreal. The special effects were decent for its era. You do have to forgive it a little particularly the scenes showing the rocket and men floating in space, which were clearly matted over a blue screen, but at least when the men are shown floating around with no gravity there are no visible strings. My favorite moment out of the entire film is when one of the men goes floating off motionless into the dark abyss while the other two watch solemnly from the capsule door.

The narrative could have been handled better. Instead of starting things out right away with the rocket taking the men off into space I felt there should have been more of a backstory to the main characters so we got to know them better and felt more empathy to their predicament. Even having flashbacks of the characters at different times in their life dotted throughout the film would have helped make them seem less cardboard. The scenes involving all three wives of the astronauts (Nancy Kovack, Mariette Hartley, Lee Grant) talking to their respective husbands via satellite just before the rescue mission takes off becomes too extended, predictable and maudlin. However, the scene involving the conversation that the astronauts have amongst themselves when it is learned that there isn’t enough oxygen for all three and one of them must be willing to die to save the other two I found to be gripping and compelling.

Peck is as usual incredibly stiff and delivers his lines like he is preaching some sort of sermon. Here though his style works with a character that is no-nonsense and locked into being completely practical at all times. His looks of nervousness as the rescue rocket gets ready to take off are great as is his delicate conversation that he has with Crenna involving which of them must sacrifice their life for the other two. Hackman is solid as usual playing an emotional Gus Grissom-like character, but he has played these roles so much it would have been interesting to see him play one of parts that required more restraint. The beautiful and talented Grant is wasted in a non-distinguished role as one of the wives, but her line about ‘the girls’ leaving the men alone so they can get back to their jobs seemed incredibly sexist especially from her.

The rescue mission is exciting, but excruciating and the ending is way too abrupt. However, my biggest complaint about this film that I otherwise find to be realistically and plausibly handled is that no explanation is ever given for why the rockets failed to fire, which I felt there should have been especially since there is a moment showing the green light on their dashboard stating that the rockets did fire and this light mysteriously stays on even when they shut down the power to the rest of the cabinet.

marooned 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1969

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Columbia

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video