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Top 10 Gregory Peck Films

Lindsay is a working actress and honors graduate of Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre: Film/TV.

Gregory Peck, a portrait of stern, humble dignity

Gregory Peck, a portrait of stern, humble dignity

Who Was Gregory Peck?

Gregory Peck was the cinematic personification of moral strength and dignity. Often playing heroes that possess a quiet strength and strong convictions, Gregory Peck's screen persona was that of a force for good that audiences could trust implicitly. Which made it all the more effective when he, occasionally, played against type in more villainous roles.

His good looks and incredible speaking voice made Greg an easy choice for romantic roles, but Peck also possessed an air of authority and nobility that made him uniquely suited to play military commanders and father figures. In real life, he even served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1967 to 1970.

Peck was actually the one who decided to postpone the 1968 Academy Awards in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. You'll often hear the words "decency" and "integrity" thrown around when speaking about Greg (both onscreen and off) and after seeing a couple of the movies on this list, you'll quickly understand why that is.

A Note on This List's Order

I chose the order of my Gregory Peck top ten by considering each film's importance in Greg’s overall career, the size/importance of his role in them, and their overall popularity today as evidenced by their ratings on sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Naturally, feel free to watch them in any order you like (this is merely a recommended top ten). You might watch them in the order listed here, chronologically (like I did), or in a way that corresponds with your own movie tastes.

Top 10 Gregory Peck Films

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird
  2. Roman Holiday
  3. The Big Country
  4. Cape Fear
  5. Twelve O'Clock High
  6. Captain Horatio Hornblower
  7. The Guns of Navarone
  8. The Omen
  9. Spellbound
  10. Gentleman's Agreement

1. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, this classic courtroom drama features Gregory Peck in what easily became his most iconic role (and also his personal favorite). Set in the 1930s, To Kill A Mockingbird is told from the point of view of 6-year-old Jean Louise Finch (known as “Scout”) who, along with her older brother Jem, lives with her widower father Atticus (Greg) in a small Alabama town.

Atticus is a well-respected lawyer, but his abilities are severely tested when he takes on the difficult task of defending Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a Black man accused of raping a White woman. A movie that touches on human decency, family, racial injustice, and empathy, To Kill A Mockingbird is beautiful and powerful.

The film won Greg his first and only Oscar for Best Actor and everyone from his co-stars, to his children, to Harper Lee herself agreed that he was Atticus Finch, both onscreen and off. The character was named by the American Film Institute as the greatest cinematic hero of the 20th Century and, indeed, it's the quiet strength and conviction of Greg's performance that helps hold this classic film together.

The novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was semi-autobiographical, with the steadfast Atticus clearly written in loving tribute to Harper Lee’s real-life lawyer father, Amasa Lee. Greg reminded Harper Lee so much of her father that she actually gave him her father’s watch after filming wrapped. (Greg was wearing the watch when he won his Oscar a few months later).

Greg made a number of lifelong friends while making this film, not only Harper Lee, but also Brock Peters and Mary Badham (who played Scout). Throughout his life, Greg and Badham would continue to call each other "Scout" and "Atticus," while Brock Peters even gave the eulogy at Greg's funeral many years later.

2. Roman Holiday (1953)

Arguably one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made, Roman Holiday gave Greg his first chance to appear in a cinematic comedy and it has since become one of his most beloved films. Produced and directed by William Wyler, the movie tells the story of Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn in her Oscar-winning Hollywood film debut), the crown princess of an unnamed European country who is in the middle of a diplomatic tour of Europe. As such, Ann has been spending all of her time giving speeches, accepting gifts, and making public appearances.

By the time she arrives in Rome, she’s become emotionally exhausted by her tight schedule and lack of freedom. So, one night (after a small nervous breakdown), she decides to sneak out to explore Rome for a few hours. However, Ann doesn’t realize that her doctor has already given her a sedative and it starts to kick in shortly after she manages to “escape.” She’s soon found fast sleep on a public fountain by Joe Bradley (Greg), an American news reporter currently living and working in Rome.

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Reluctantly, Joe allows the woozy mystery girl to sleep on his couch, only to realize the next morning who she really is. Not knowing that Joe is a reporter or that he has already guessed her secret, Ann introduces herself under the alias “Anya Smith,” a student who has run away from boarding school. Joe plays along and encourages “Anya” to take the whole day off to explore Rome, secretly hoping that he'll be able to get a great story for his paper out of it. He even enlists his photographer friend, Irving (Eddie Albert), to take stealth pictures of their excursions. In the end, this little Roman holiday may turn into more than just another story for Joe.

Shot completely on location in Rome, Roman Holiday was a welcome change of pace for both Greg and director William Wyler. Wyler hadn’t directed a comedy since the 1930s and was looking for the chance to return to the genre, while Greg was thrilled to, finally, be offered a comedy script at all. Originally, Greg was to be given sole star credit for the film with Audrey Hepburn’s name listed below the movie title. But, Greg recognized that this film would make Hepburn a star and insisted the newbie actress be given star billing alongside him. When asked about it later, he would always simply state that it would’ve looked ridiculous for him to be given star status without her.

3. The Big Country (1958)

Co-produced by Greg and director William Wyler, this Western epic features an incredible cast that includes Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Chuck Connors, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives (in an Oscar-winning performance). Greg stars as James McKay, a New England sea captain who has traveled West to join his fiancée, Pat (Baker), at her father’s ranch.

It’s soon clear that Jim’s mild-mannered ways stand at stark contrast to the aggressive cowboy culture Pat is used to. Jim is self-assured and cool under pressure and therefore not easily bullied into fights. However, Pat’s pride is more easily wounded and she can’t understand why her fiancé doesn't immediately side with her family in their long-standing feud against the rough-and-tumble Hannassey clan. But, Jim isn’t so easily swayed and begins to suspect that both sides of this feud may be in the wrong.

Based on Donald Hamilton's short story, Ambush At Blanco Canyon (later extended into the novel, The Big Country), this film was a humongous success when it was first released. Shot entirely around California at various locations (including Red Rock Canyon State Park and the Sierra Foothills), The Big Country features gorgeous cinematography paired with an unforgettable score by Jerome Moross.

The film is sometimes credited as starting a new trend of so-called “pacifist Westerns.” Interestingly, Wyler conceived the film as an allegory for the Cold War, with Pat’s father representing Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Ironically, The Big Country became Eisenhower’s favorite movie.)

4. Cape Fear (1962)

Based on the novel, The Executioners by John D. MacDonald, this psychological thriller proved to be the last movie made through Greg’s production company, Melville Productions. Greg stars as Sam Bowden, a respected lawyer living in Georgia with his wife, Peggy, and teenage daughter, Nancy. Eight years earlier, Bowden testified against a rapist named Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), after witnessing him attack a girl in a parking lot. Now Max Cady has been released and he holds Bowden personally responsible for his conviction.

Determined to get even, Cady begins to subtly threaten and stalk Bowden’s family, giving particular emphasis to Nancy. What’s worse is that Cady did his homework while incarcerated, giving him the tools necessary to keep the law on his side. So, even while Cady terrorizes his family, Bowden is left seemingly powerless to stop whatever ultimate revenge Cady has planned.

This tense film is very similar in tone to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and director J. Lee Thompson deliberately intended Cape Fear to have the visual style of Hitchcock’s classic black-and-white thrillers. The film’s score was even composed by Hitchcock's frequent collaborator, Bernard Hermann. Hermann’s score was so good, Martin Scorsese re-used it 30 years later for his 1991 Cape Fear remake.

The film’s title, actually, comes from Greg, himself. He wasn't a fan of the original novel’s title and started looking for an interesting-sounding place name to use instead. He found the real Cape Fear River in North Carolina while scanning over a US map and knew it would be the absolute perfect title for this cinematic thriller.

5. Twelve O'Clock High (1949)

Based on the book by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. and adapted by them for the screen, Twelve O’Clock High revolves around the men of the U.S. Army’s 8th Air Force, who have the dangerous task of flying daylight bombing missions against Nazi Germany in World War II.

Greg plays Brigadier General Frank Savage, brought in as the new commanding officer of the 918th Bomb Group after the previous commanding officer was deemed "too soft." The 918th is referred to as “a hard luck group” due to the amount of casualties and injuries they’ve suffered. Savage is determined to whip the men into shape, however, his tough demeanor immediately causes the emotionally exhausted men to rebel. The General must find a way to win his men’s trust before all their transfers go through.

Although many different real life Air Force commanders influenced the fictional character of Frank Savage, he was primarily based on Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, who commanded the 306th Bomb Group. The name “Savage” was actually chosen as a subtle nod to Armstrong’s Cherokee ancestry.

In the book, Savage has a love interest, but the romantic subplot was deleted in order to focus more on the themes of leadership and the psychological toll of war. In fact, Twelve O’Clock High was one of the first films to focus on the psychological effect of battle, rather than the actual battles themselves.

Veterans of the “heavy bomber campaign” often credited the film as the only accurate Hollywood depiction of their wartime experiences. The movie's big air battle scene even incorporates real documentary footage of air combat between the U.S. and Germany (a fact that makes the scene that much more intense). For a time, Twelve O’Clock High was required viewing at all U.S. service academies as an example of “situational leadership theory” and it’s still occasionally used in leadership training today.

6. Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951)

Based on the first three novels of C.S. Forester’s classic Horatio Hornblower series (Beat To Quarters, A Ship of the Line, and Flying Colors), this heroic swashbuckler stars Greg as the titular Hornblower, a captain in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars of the 1800s.

Captain Hornblower’s ship, the HMS Lydia, has been tasked with a secret mission to Nicaragua with the captain alone privy to the journey’s true purpose. Once they arrive at their destination, Captain Hornblower informs the crew that they are there to supply arms to the forces of Don Julian Alvarado, an enemy of Spain who plans on attacking the Spanish on the North American front. As an ally of France, Spain is Britain’s enemy in the war, which makes Don Alvarado an ally of Britain by default.

Captain Hornblower wants to appease the psychotic Don Alvarado (or “El Supremo”, as he prefers to call himself) in order to prevent bloodshed and hopefully gain an upper hand in the war against France. So, when the Lydia captures a large Spanish ship while in Nicaraguan waters, Captain Hornblower, immediately hands the ship over to “El Supremo” as a sign of goodwill.

But, shortly after leaving “El Supremo,” the Lydia comes across a smaller Spanish vessel waving a white flag. The passengers inform Captain Hornblower that Spain has switched sides and is now an ally of Britain’s against France, which means that Hornblower has just supplied one of Britain’s enemies with a very well-supplied and extremely powerful war ship.

Despite being adapted from a combination of three books, Captain Horatio Hornblower manages to stay pretty true to its source material thanks to the involvement of the novels’ original author, C.S. Forester, who helped with the adaptation. And if the HMS Lydia looks vaguely familiar to classic Disney fans, that’s because, the set was originally used for the Hispaniola in Walt Disney’s adaptation of Treasure Island.

7. The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Based on the novel by Alistair McLean, this classic WWII adventure film features a talented cast that includes Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, and David Niven. Greg plays the role of Captain Keith Mallory, a renowned spy and mountaineer recruited by Allied Intelligence to join a team of commandos led by Major Roy Franklin (Quayle). Their mission is to destroy two massive guns the Axis powers’ have stationed on the Greek island of Navarone. If the guns are destroyed, the British Royal Navy can prevent an assault on the nearby island of Keros, where 2,000 British soldiers are currently marooned.

Inspired by the real World War II Battle of Leros, The Guns of Navarone was filmed mostly on location on the Greek island of Rhodes (“Navarone” itself is a fictional island). Behind the scenes, the cast bonded by playing chess against each other, tapping out whenever they were needed on set. Director J. Lee Thompson has stated that it often looked more like they were playing a chess tournament than making a movie due to the sheer number of chess boards they had set up.

As an American, Greg felt a bit miscast in the role of Mallory, but chose not to affect an English accent, since he thought it would be better to use his real voice than fail at attempting an accent. This proved to be the right choice since most viewers assume that Mallory is supposed to be an American. In actuality, Mallory’s nationality is never even mentioned in the film and in the novel, he's actually a New Zealander.

While filming The Guns of Navarone, Greg developed a close friendship with co-star David Niven. During production, Niven actually became sick to the point of near death. He was supposed to stay in the hospital, but came back early to finish shooting against the advice of his doctors. This move cost him. He had a relapse, which put him in the hospital for seven weeks after filming ended.

8. The Omen (1976)

A true horror classic, this British/American co-production was the breakout film for director Richard Donner (who would become famous for directing Superman and Lethal Weapon) and the first film Greg made in seven years. Peck stars as American diplomat Robert Thorn, whose wife, Kathy (Lee Remick), gives birth to a baby boy while the couple are living in Rome. Unfortunately, shortly after the birth, Robert is told that his son has died. Hoping to shield Kathy from the pain of losing a child, Robert is convinced by the hospital’s chaplain to secretly adopt another baby boy whose mother died in childbirth.

So, the adoption goes through and Kathy is none the wiser. They name the boy Damien and 5 years later the family is living happily in London with Robert working as the U.S. Ambassador to Britain. But, starting on Damien’s 5th birthday, strange and insidious happenings begin to occur. When a priest named Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) shows up at Robert’s office adamantly stating that Damien is not human, naturally Robert kicks him out, convinced that the overzealous priest is crazy. But, then he starts to wonder: what if he’s right?

The unsettling quality of The Omen owes a great deal to its Oscar-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith. His haunting music brings a real sense of dread to the film that helps elevate the scares. Although much of the movie’s storyline is supposedly inspired by a Biblical passage detailing the rise of the Devil, the passage in question was actually made up for the movie. That said, The Omen’s production was infamously plagued by strange accidents, prompting some people to believe the film was cursed. Some of the odd things that happened include:

  • Even though Greg and screenwriter David Seltzer flew to the set on separate flights, both of their planes were struck by lightning.
  • Producer Harvey Bernhard was nearly struck by lightning in Rome.
  • Richard Donner’s hotel was bombed by the IRA.
  • An experienced stunt double was badly injured during a dog attack scene.
  • Several crewmembers were in a head-on car crash on the first day of shooting.

9. Spellbound (1945)

Directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound is loosely based on the book, The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer (written under the collective pseudonym, Francis Beeding). The film stars Ingrid Bergman as Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst working at a mental hospital called Green Manors.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Murchison, is being forced into retirement and when his replacement (Greg) arrives, he is much younger than expected. The new director introduces himself as Dr. Anthony Edwardes, and even as Constance finds herself falling for this charming man, she also realizes that he may not be who he claims to be. But, if he’s not really Dr. Edwardes, who is he? And what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes?

Spellbound was one of the first Hollywood films to deal with psychoanalysis directly. Producer David O. Selznick was inspired to make the film due to his own successful psychoanalysis treatments. Selznick’s therapist, Dr. May Romm, even served as a technical advisor on the film (to Hitchcock’s occasional annoyance). Although Hitch did not appreciate Dr. Romm butting in during filming, screenwriter, Ben Hecht, consulted many psychiatrists while writing the film’s script.

Spellbound includes a memorable dream sequence conceived and designed by artist Salvador Dali. Hitchcock respected Dali immensely and worked closely with him to create the surrealist sequence. Although Hitch was involved in its design and conception, the dream sequence was actually filmed by director William Cameron Menzies.

10. Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Based on the novel by Laura Z. Hobson, this groundbreaking film stars Greg as Philip Green, a widowed journalist who has moved to New York City with his mother and young son to work for a prestigious magazine. The publisher, John Minify, informs Phil that he's been assigned to write a series of articles about anti-Semitism. Phil struggles to find an original angle at first, but then realizes that there is only one way to write the article from a truthful and human point of view: to live as a Jewish man and experience anti-Semitism firsthand.

Gentleman’s Agreement was the first major film to address the issue of anti-Semitism and many of the other studio heads—most of whom were Jewish—tried to convince 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck to stay away from the controversial subject. They were concerned that calling attention to the issue would stir up trouble. Even though Zanuck himself was not Jewish, he was inspired to make the film after he was denied membership to the Los Angeles Country Club when it was assumed he was Jewish due to his foreign-sounding name.

Zanuck had the last laugh because Gentleman’s Agreement became one of the highest-grossing films of the year and won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan), and Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm, as the liberal fashion editor, Anne Dettrey). Unfortunately, Greg and Kazan did not get along very well during filming. Greg later said that although he thought Kazan was the perfect choice to direct the film, the two of them were just not suited for one another, stating that “emotionally, we were not on the same wavelength."

Honorable Mention: Duel in the Sun (1946)

To finish up this Gregory Peck Top Ten, I chose a film that represents one of the few times Greg ever played a villain. Directed by King Vidor and based on the novel by Niven Busch, Duel In The Sun tells the story of Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones), a young woman living in the Old West, who is half-European (on her father’s side) and half-American Indian (on her mother’s side). When Pearl’s father, Scott Chavez, kills her mother in a jealous rage for cheating, he immediately turns himself in to authorities. Facing execution, he arranges for his beloved daughter to be sent to live with his distant cousin, Laura Belle (Lillian Gish).

When Pearl arrives, she is greeted by Laura Belle’s oldest son, the gentlemanly Jesse (Joseph Cotten). Pearl immediately takes a liking to Jesse and the genteel Laura Belle, both of whom treat her with great affection and kindness. However, she receives nothing but scorn from Laura Belle’s mean-spirited husband, Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore). She also meets Lewt (Greg), Laura Belle’s other son. Lewt is a villainous scoundrel who pursues Pearl relentlessly. Although attracted to the sexy Lewt, Pearl is determined to prove herself a proper lady like Laura Belle, rather than the trash the Senator assumes her to be. But, Lewt’s aggressive advances become increasingly difficult to ignore and the cowboy is determined to keep Pearl from being a “good girl."

Produced and co-written by David O. Selznick, Duel In The Sun earned the unfortunate nickname, Lust in the Dust, due to the subject matter and the multiple edits that had to be made in order to get the movie past censors. Behind the scenes, Selznick and Jones started a love affair that broke up both of their marriages and led to a great deal of bad press when the film was released. Although many consider this movie a guilty pleasure, Martin Scorsese cites Duel In The Sun as a huge influence on his directorial work and has admitted it's the first film he remembers seeing.

Gregory Peck

Gregory Peck

Further Reading

If you would like to learn more about the eternally noble Gregory Peck, I recommend checking out the book Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life (2009) by Lynn Haney.

© 2015 Lindsay Blenkarn

Comments

Lindsay Blenkarn (author) from Nashville, TN on December 03, 2015:

Cogerson: Cool! It’s interesting to see our two lists next to each other to see how they differ! :) And, actually, we had TWO matches! Both The Omen at #8 and To Kill A Mockingbird at #1. (Granted, what else would be number one in a Gregory Peck movie ranking? Haha!) And although they ended up in different orders, we did have 6 of the same movies in our top tens! Not too bad, considering we both use very different formulas to compile our lists. Always love your articles Cogerson and thanks so much for continuing to check mine out, as well!

UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on December 03, 2015:

Nice job. I have a page that statistically ranks Peck movies....I thought it would be interesting to see how Your Top 10 matched with my rankings

Your Top 10

1. To Kill A Mockingbird - 1st in my rankings

2. Roman Holiday - 14th in my rankings

3. The Big Country - 18th in my rankings

4. Cape Fear - 13th in my rankings

5. 12 O'Clock High - 7th in my rankings

6. CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER - 20th in my rankings

7. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE - 4th in my rankings

8. THE OMEN - 8th in my rankings....our only match

9. SPELLBOUND - 5th in my rankings

10. GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT - 3rd in my rankings

Well thought was fun....keep up the good work.....a link to my page if interested. http://www.ultimatemovierankings.com/gregory-peck-...

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