Tuesday, July 24, 2012
GREGORY PECK VS. JOHN WAYNE
It's kind of bogus to compare "artists" (in this case movie actors) especially ones so different. But I watched a corny old Hollywood "swashbuckler" last night starring Gregory Peck called CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER and couldn't help thinking about the difference between Peck and John Wayne.
Wayne made a lot of movies I love and he did what he did well. Same for Peck, though Peck worked in more genres (Wayne was confined almost exclusively to Westerns and war movies, with a few exceptions, while Peck was in almost every genre except musicals).
They both played pretty much heroic men. In their private lives Wayne was a "conservative" and like many conservatives made a big deal of his patriotism but somehow never served in the military even when many others in Hollywood did during World War Two. Peck was a "liberal" but also didn't serve during that war due to a back injury from dance classes when he was young, though the studio said it was an athletic injury since dance didn't sound very macho (you can sometimes see when he's moving fast in a film that his walk seems stiff and awkward). Wayne got out of serving under other circumstances, the issue's been interpreted in various ways depending on the politics of the person doing the judging.
But the fact is both were big men (a few inches over six feet, back when that was rare) and charismatic on screen. But Peck looked like "the tall dark and handsome" hero of popular myth in those days, Wayne looked more like an everyman, just bigger.
Wayne's best role, for my taste, was as the ex-boxer in John Ford's THE QUIET MAN, a film I can watch anytime and enjoy and an exception to the usual Western or war movie. Peck's best is usually considered TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and I agree. Obviously the latter was a more serious movie that had a bigger impact on peoples consciousness. But the roles the actors play in them kind of summarize my feelings about them.
Wayne is someone I often enjoy watching perform, and as a boy I sometimes fantasized being as heroic as the characters he played, but never wanted to be them, or him. Peck, on the other hand, played characters I wished I could be not just as heroic as, but as dignified and as quietly and gracefully courageous as. That's really the difference I was thinking about last night. Even in a film as flimsy as CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER, Peck projected an inner conviction and self-respect, and that dignified manner, that made me wish I was like the men he often portrayed.
I never met Wayne. He was dead by the time I got to Hollywood I think. I like watching many of his flicks and I've long stopped judging him for his misplaced political inclinations, but in the end he's just an entertainer who created a character—"the duke"—that he played well. But I did meet Gregory Peck and wasn't disappointed. He came across, even in his later years, as a really decent human being. I feel honored to have had the chance to be around him the one time I was. And I feel honored by his presence in any movie I see him in.