Some years truly define an actor’s career. Sure, they may have had many hits before and after the year in question, but a certain alignment pushed them to the forefront of the movie-going populace’s mind. These are the years that you tend to see these actors in almost every other film that was released. The actors who are truly the best at their craft will have starred in multiple films that garner cultural definition as some of the greatest movies of all time: films that still hold their relevance years after being released. Gregory Peck certainly had this year in his career. The year to which I am referring was 1962. While he starred in three films and a documentary that year, these three films are still cited as some of the best of American cinema. This week’s two films are from that legendary year of Gregory Peck’s acting career.
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours
Aside from his legendary performance in To Kill a Mockingbird (which we’ll get into in a moment), Peck acted in two other films during 1962 that are still considered excellent, even today. First, as part of an all-star cast, he starred in How the West Was Won, the John Ford epic that was nominated for Best Picture. Secondly, he starred in Cape Fear as Sam Bowden, a lawyer protecting his family from a recently released madman. What’s interesting with this film is that Gregory Peck went on to have a minor role in the 1991 Martin Scorsese remake of the same name. Time and again, we’ve seen Peck star as the hero in films, from Spellbound (1945) to Roman Holiday (1953), to MacArthur (1977). The 1962 version of Cape Fear shows us that this heroic typecast is expertly executed by Gregory Peck.
Eight years ago, Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) stopped Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) from successfully raping a woman. Because of this, and his incriminating testimony in the courtroom, Cady is now on the hunt for Bowden, having recently been released from prison. Sam soon finds that Cady has begun to stalk and threaten his family; but also finds that, because Cady is doing nothing against the law, he is powerless to stop the intimidation. With each more forceful attempt to get evidence of Max’s wrongdoing, Sam soon finds the threat turned against him directly. Now that everyone is afraid for their lives, Sam gets the family out of town and onto a houseboat in Cape Fear. Unfortunately, Cady is lurking in the shadows nearby, ready to attack Sam’s wife and daughter. It’s up to Bowden to take the law into his hands and deal with Cady once and for all.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours
1962 was a good year for Gregory Peck. Of course, this was merely the culmination of a lifetime of excellent acting work, which makes it no wonder that he is ranked at #12 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 50 male actors of all time. Before 1962, Peck had been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar four times, all of which were within the first five years of his career. In fact, his first nomination was during the first year of his career for his role in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). With The Yearling (1946) and Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) bringing his nominations up to three, by 1949, with his fourth nomination for Twelve o’clock High, it would take him more than a decade to be nominated again. This final, penultimate time, he would win with his role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. This role was so defining that the AFI has placed Atticus Finch as the #1 movie hero of all time.
Most likely due to Peck’s superb performance, To Kill a Mockingbird is also ranked at #25 on the most recent AFI top 100 movies list. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a widowed father of two young children who just so happens to be a lawyer in a small town in Alabama. What sets Finch apart from the other lawyers in the area is that he believes everyone, regardless of their race, religion, or riches, deserves to be treated fairly and to receive justice accordingly. As such, he has been appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who has been accused of raping a white girl. Even though the entire town has already passed judgment, Atticus still holds to the tenet of Tom being innocent until proven guilty. Because of his strong beliefs, his family is soon persecuted and he must rely on someone else to help protect his family and client.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect Peck performances
Bacon #: 2 (Cape Fear / Antoni Corone -> Wild Things / Kevin Bacon)