Originally created 06/20/03

Peck characters are timeless



Gregory Peck, who died June 11 at the age of 87, may not have invented dignity, but his quiet humanity, chiseled chin and soft, rumbling voice went a long way toward selling it to a movie-going public.

A star from the moment he hit the Hollywood city limits, Peck put together a string of hits that remains almost unequaled in cinematic history. Within a year he had received the first of his four Academy Award nominations and within two he had become the film community's leading man of choice, starring in films for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and King Vidor.

The secret to Peck's popularity seems to lie in the uncommon combination of classic movie-star good looks and the ability to carry himself as something of an Everyman, the boy next door.

Below are just a few of the films Peck left behind, shining examples of the sort of star power we may never see again:

SPELLBOUND (1945): In retrospect, the plot to Hitchcock's Freudian thriller seems flimsy. Peck plays an amnesiac who may or may not have killed the eminent psychiatrist he is pretending to be. Where this film veers from melodrama-by-the-numbers are the performances by Peck and co-star Ingrid Bergman and the dream sequence designed by surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

DUEL IN THE SUN (1946): Often called Sex in the Sand or Desire in the Dust by critics who expected a more traditional Western, this intentionally over-the-top melodrama stars Peck and the underrated Jennifer Jones as a man and woman who love - and hate - each other with such passion that their eventual deaths by each other's hand in each other's arms seems inevitable. It remains a bold, original film-viewing experience.

GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT (1947): A true believer that art and injustice should never be separate, Peck, as an actor and a private citizen, always was willing to wear his beliefs on his sleeve. In Gentleman's Agreement he attacked anti-Semitism in the post-World War II United States. He played a reporter who poses as a Jew to write about the Jewish-American experience and along the way learns more than a few lessons about the nature of prejudice. It is as timely today it was in its original release.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962): It's only been a few weeks since the American Film Institute named Peck's Atticus Finch as the greatest hero in American cinema. Like the crusading reporter in Agreement, Peck's Finch seems to be less a character than an extension of the actor. The calm in the center of a racially-motivated storm, the character becomes an example of the kind of grace and dignity that only comes with standing up against injustice.

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978): After a career portraying noble characters in search of the truth, Peck broke from his mold and played the truly evil Josef Mengele in this Hitler-clone thriller. Although a little over the top at times, watching Peck and famed British thespian Sir Laurence Olivier engage in senior fisticuffs is worth watching.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com