Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Caught this 1950 Western on cable tonight and though I've seen it before, including when I was eight and it first came out, tonight I was struck by how incredibly understated and subtle yet almost existential everything about this movie is as it unfolds the story of a "gunfighter" in completely unexpected ways, including the ending.

I've seen it a few times over the years and been impressed with Gregory Peck or with the cinematography and the directing and eventually, tonight, with everything about it, particularly the writing, which I hadn't even thought about until this evening. It's a classic and I never realized that before.

I had the great good fortune to have seen Gregory Peck up close once, back in the 1980s. I had finished a day of shooting a TV show I was on (it only lasted a half a season so never made reruns in syndication) that was mostly filmed on the MGM lot (this was before Sony bought the lot) in an old sound stage where some of my favorite movies from my boyhood had been shot and some of my favorite stars from back then had worked.

We had been shooting in downtown L.A. on location in a garment factory (I played the evil owner of the company) and had been driven back to the MGM lot where our cars were (one of the greatest thrills of my life was driving on to that lot for work every day and having the guard at the gate wave me through with a "good morning Mister Lally" or later "Michael" when they got to know be better).

I was with the actor Eddie Velez, who also was in this TV show (it was called BERRENGERS and was mostly set in a family owned department store, go figure) and we both noticed the big kleig lights, or whatever those giant searchlights that sweep the sky at openings are called, so we went to see what was going on.

This was one of the most surreal set ups anyone could have imagined. There was a red carpet leading down one of the lot's alleyways between sound stages, from the MGM commissary to the MGM screening room, which had been rechristened the Cary Grant Theater by the studio as they were trying to lure Grant out of retirement to make a movie with them.

About every ten feet down this I'd guess fifty yard red carpet were old violinists in tuxedos leaning against the wall smoking cigarettes or just looking bored, and on the other side of the carpet there was a velvet rope, like they have at night club doors, only enough to cover the length of this carpet and keeping us behind it.

One of the writers for the show, I think it was Diana Gould, and a producer were the only other people there, so we asked them what was going on, and they told us about the theater being renamed and that there was a dinner with MGM stars at the commissary which was about to end and the stars would be walking down the red carpet to the renamed theater to see a screening of MGM's latest film. And sure enough the commissary doors opened and stars in formal wear, tuxes and gowns, started filing out and walking down the red carpet chatting a smoking as the violinists threw away their cigarettes and began serenading them.

There were some photographers suddenly down where the carpet ended at the theater and I assumed some reporters, but otherwise the only people to witness this fifty yard stroll by these stars were Eddie and me and Diana and the other lady producer. So we stood there as Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Jr, and Dean Martin, and of course Cary Grant, and other famous movie stars from Hollywood's golden years walked by and nodded or smiled or ignored us (I'm sorry I can't remember any of the women stars right now).

And then suddenly there was Gregory Peck, standing out because he was the tallest and turning to look right into my eyes from just feet away and give that famous half smile as his eyes stared into mine and he gave me a nod, to my mind acknowledging that we had something in common, because as a boy and young man I had thought we did, even if it was just our tall, lean, black Irish looks (a bit arrogant of me maybe, but at the time it seemed true to me).

I felt if I never had another experience in Hollywood I'd be happy because I'd had that one. Cary Grant didn't make the movie, and by the time I left Hollywood a lot of the folks I saw that night were either at the end of their lives or already gone. And I got to meet some of them at parties and dinners and other events in ways that were more intimate or personal or informative, but none as thrilling as that strange scene with fifty or so Hollywood icons strolling in their formal wear by serenading violinists as a crowd of only four people looked on.

I got a little sidetracked, but the point is simply that Gregory Peck has always been a bit of a mystery as a movie star, in many ways, not only because sometimes he seemed so stiff and almost self-conscious he didn't seem like a movie star at all. But he was, and a unique one, and tonight I saw again why as he helped elevate THE GUNFIGHTER in my mind to the level of the top classic Hollywood Westerns only maybe even more so.  


JenW said...

Lucky you! That belongs on a "magical moments" list.

Lally said...


AlamedaTom said...

Peck was good in about every film he made and great in many of them. I've developed my own gauge to decide whether an acting performance is truly outstanding: "Can I imagine any other actor in this role, and if not, the performance is outstanding, if not epic." So I ask you, can you imagine anyone other than Peck in:
Gentleman's Agreement, 12 O'Clock High, Roman Holiday, Guns of Navarone, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Moby Dick?

~ Willy

Lally said...

good gauge Willy, and I can add The Gunfighter and Duel in the Sun and a lot more to that list

Don Yorty said...

Nicely written. Wonderfully comfortable read. Interesting. I love Gregory Peck but haven't seen this movie so there is something else to look forward to. I like it in La Dolce Vita when the hooker calls Marcello Gregory Peck.

Lally said...

I didn't remember that line from La Dolce Vita, thanks for reminding me Don...