Gregory Peck's Sixth On-Screen Appearance was in a Controversial Western! This is a look at that motion picture and four other strong Western roles the actor portrayed between 1946 and 1958. I could have selected other Westerns, such as 1969's "Mackenna's Gold", or, 1974's "Billy Two Hats", but I believe these five best illustrate the full-range of Gregory Peck's acting and, I admit, they are favorites of mine.
DUEL IN THE SUN released December 30, 1946
The motion picture would earn the nickname: "Lust in the Dust!"
On the face of things, everything seemed normal. However, King Vidor became upset with what he believed was producer David O. Selznick's constant interference as it pertained to leading lady Jennifer Jones. Who happened to be the producer's mistress and the added fact that Selznick had visions of creating another film epic to equal his earlier 1939 "Gone with the Wind", so, King Vidor walked off the unfinished motion picture!
As with director Victor Fleming on "GWTW", David O. Selznick brought in a team of six other directors to finish shooting the motion picture!
Some film sites also add Unit Managers Glenn Cook and William McGarry to the uncredited director's list. Bringing the total director for "Duel in the Sun" to nine!
The actual screenplay is credited to David O. Selznick. As a screenplay writer, just before this motion picture, Selznick wrote the one for 1944's "Since You Went Away" that co-starred Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, and Joseph Cotton. He followed this feature by writing the screenplay for Hitch's 1947 "The Paradine Case".
However, Ben Hecht is an uncredited writer on the screenplay. Hecht had just written the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 "Notorious" co-starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. After this motion picture he wrote screenplay for 1947's "Kiss of Death" co-starring Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, and Coleen Gray. That Film-Noir contained a cold-blooded killer played by Richard Widmark in his first on-screen appearance.
Jennifer Jones portrayed "Pearl Chavez". Her previous motion picture was produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the 1946 comedy romance "Cluny Brown" co-starring Charles Boyer and Peter Lawford. The actress followed this film with director William Dieterle's mystery fantasy, 1948's "Portrait of Jennie" co-starring Joseph Cotton and Ethel Barrymore.
Lionel Barrymore portrayed "Senator Jackson McCanles". Barrymore had a supporting role in 1946's "The Secret Heart" starring Claudette Colbert, Walter Pidgeon, and June Allyson. He followed this picture with another appearance in the "Dr. Kildare" movie series, but without "Dr. Kildare". He still played "Dr. Gillespie", in 1947's "Dark Delusion" co-starring with James Craig and Lucille Bremer.
Herbert Marshall portrayed "Scott Chavez". He was one of six co-stars with Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne, Anne Baxter and Clifton Webb, in the 1946 version of author W. Somerset Maugham's novel, "The Razor's Edge". Marshall followed this film co-starring with Joan Fontaine and Patric Knowles in 1947's "Ivy".
Lilian Gish portrayed "Laura Belle McCanles". Miss Gish was just seen in 1946's "Miss Susie Slagle's" starring Veronica Lake, Sonny Tufts, and Joan Caulfield. She would follow this picture with 1948's "Portrait of Jennie".
I want to point out five members of the supporting cast.
Charles Bickford portrayed "Sam Pierce". He was just featured in the Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, and Linda Darnell 1945's "Fallen Angel". Bickford followed this motion picture with 1947's "The Farmer's Daughter"
Also found on the list of "Uncredited Roles" was the narrator, Orson Welles. He was between films, 1946's "The Stranger" co-starring with Loretta Young and Edward G. Robinson, and 1947's "The Lady from Shanghai" co-starring with Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane.
The Basic Screenplay:
As originally shot, the motion picture couldn't pass the "Motion Picture Production Code". Which was being monitored by Joseph Breen of the "Hays Office", and designed to protect American morality. "The Catholic League of Decency" added their concerns and the motion picture was heavily edited to meet both party's demands.
The film opens with the murder of "Pearl Chavez's" mother by her father "Scott Chavez", because he caught her with a lover. Prior to his execution, "Chavez" is able to arrange for his daughter to go and live with his cousin and old sweetheart, "Laura Belle McCanles" in Texas.
"Pearl" arrives by stagecoach and is met by the older and gentlemanly "McCanles" son, "Jessie". He takes her to "Spanish Bit", the extremely large "McCanles" family ranch.
Both "McCanles" sons are interested in "Pearl"!
Against his father's interests, "Jesse McCanles" looking to the future of Texas, has sided with the railroad representative "Mr. Langford". The Senator now tells his son that he is no long part of the family and has no right to be on at "Spanish Bit".
However, he reneges on the promise of marriage and the offended "Pearl Chavez" seeks a way to get even with "Lewt". There is a local rancher named "Sam Pierce", who can't get "Pearl" out of his mind, and she plans to use him as the means of revenge. "Pearl" doesn't love "Sam", but says yes to his proposal of marriage.
The "Senator's" close friend "Lem Smoot" tells him the wound to "Jesse" is not mortal, reconsidering his life
"Pearl Chavez" arms herself, takes a horse, and goes after "Lewton 'Lewt' McCanles" in the desert.
The producer and screenplay writer was the same person, Lamar Trotti. As both producer and screenplay writer, Trotti's double duty work prior to this feature film included, 1942's "The Oxbow Incident" starring Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews, 1943's "Immortal Sergeant" starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara, 1945's "A Bell for Adano" starring Gene Tierney, John Hodiak, and William Bendix, and 1947's "Captain from Castle" starring Tyrone Power, Jean Peters, and Cesar Romero.
The screenplay was based upon an unpublished novel by W.R. Burnett of the same title. Burnett was basically a screenplay writer who also wrote novels. Among his screenplays were both classic crime films, 1930's "Little Caesar" starring Edgar G. Robinson, and the original 1932 "Scarface" starring Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak. Additionally he wrote the 1940 Civil War era "Dark Command" that starred Claire Trevor, John Wayne, and Walter Pidgeon, and featured a unknown Roy Rodgers. Along with 1941's "High Sierra" starring Ida Lupino, and Humphrey Bogart.
The year is 1867, and a gang of outlaws led by "James 'Stretch' Dawson" are in a saloon of a small California town, and being waited upon by the bartender, played by Victor Kilian.
While "Stretch's" men are recovering at a nearby spring, the gambler "Dude", starts to snoop around, questioning why an old man and his granddaughter would be in the middle of Death Valley in an old ghost town? He discovers that "Mike's" grandfather is a prospector and has a gold mine. "Dude" goes to "Stretch" and tells him, but is surprised that the other doesn't care and isn't interested.
"Mike" is falling for "James Dawson" as he is for her.
"Stretch" goes to the others and explains what "Grandpa" told the Apaches and emphasizes that they will keep the bargain and share the gold from the mine. However, "Dude" has already convinced the rest of the gang to take all the gold. He draws his gun and a shootout begins with "Stretch" against everyone else.
When "Mike" arrives at the saloon she finds an unconscious, but still breathing "James 'Stretch' Dawson" and the other two men dead. The picture ends with "Stretch", "Half Pint" and "Walrus" returning the bank's money and joining "Mike" and her "Grandfather" waiting at a wagon and the five ride off with the gold.
The film critics made thought the ending ridiculous, but the audience thought otherwise.
THE GUNFIGHTER released on June 23, 1950
Most fans of Western motion pictures know director John Ford's 1962 "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" with the classic line:
This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Unless you're a hardcore Western movie fan, you probably have never heard of 1950's "The Gunfighter" and the fact it predates Ford's picture by 12-years. Unlike Dorothy M. Johnson's 1953 short story that Ford's movie was based upon. This motion picture was supposed to be loosely based upon real life Gunfighter Johnny Ringo and the original story outline was written by director Andre De Toth for "Columbia Pictures". The role was also planned for John Wayne, who would appear in the John Ford classic, but turned it down because of the way studio owner Harry Cohn had treated him as a young actor. So, Cohn sold De Toth's treatment to "20th Century Fox".
Darryl F. Zanuck turned the project over to producer and screenplay writer Nunnally Johnson. Johnson gave Andre De Toth's story outline to "B" Western writer, William Bowers. He had written two 1948 Westerns co-starring Yvonne de Carlo and Dan Duryea, "Black Bart" and "River Lady". He also wrote 1949's "The Gal Who Took the West" starring de Carlo, and Scott Brady. William Sellers was assigned to co-write the screenplay and a young script consultant, on his first motion picture assignment, by the name of Roger Corman.
The motion picture was directed by Henry King. King's latest motion picture was 1949's "12 O'Clock High" starring Gregory Peck and he would follow this film with 1951's "David and Bathsheba" starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward.
Gregory Peck portrayed "Jimmy Ringo". Peck had just been seen in Henry King's "12 O'Clock High", and would follow this picture by crossing "the pond" and starring in American director Raoul Walsh's version of British author C.S. Forester's 1951, "Captain Horatio Hornblower".
Above, Gregory Peck as "Jimmy Ringo". Darryl F. Zanuck and many of the executives at "20th Century Fox" objected to Peck's mustache, but the real Johnny Ringo is seen in the following photograph with a even larger mustache.
Millard Mitchell portrayed "Marshall Mark Strett". Character actor Mitchell had just appeared in 1949's "12 O'Clock High", and would follow this feature with the James Stewart Western, 1950's "Winchester '73".
The Basic Screenplay:
From the above main cast my reader might think this is a "B" Western that somehow an "A" List actor wondered into, but that is the misconception of the "Academy Award" nominated screenplay and the performances of that cast. "New York Times" film critic Bosley Crowther, on June 24, 1950, described the picture this way:
The addicts of Western fiction may find themselves rubbing their eyes and sitting up fast to take notice before five minutes have gone by in Twentieth Century Fox's The Gunfighter, which came to the Roxy yesterday. For suddenly they will discover that they are not keeping company with the usual sort of hero of the commonplace Western at all. Suddenly, indeed, they will discover that they are in the exciting presence of one of the most fascinating Western heroes as ever looked down a six-shooter's barrel.
In the saloon is "Eddie" that "wannabe" and he pushes "The Gunfighter" into a position he doesn't want to be in. When, "Eddie" makes the mistake of drawing his pistol and, next, falls dead to the floor by a bullet from "Jimmy Ringo's" pistol.
There's never a sag or off moment in the footage...despite all the tight melodrama, the picture finds time for some leavening laughter. Gregory Peck perfectly portrays the title role, a man doomed to live out his span killing to keep from being killed. He gives it great sympathy and a type of rugged individualism that makes it real.
In town is "Hunt Bromley" a young gunslinger that wants to be "the man who killed Jimmy Ringo".
In his death, "Jimmy Ringo" has finally obtained what he sought, his wife's forgiveness and reconciliation with his family!
At his funeral, "Helen Walsh" proudly reveals to the good people of Cayenne that she is "Mrs. Jimmy Ringo". The motion picture fades-out with a silhouetted, unrecognizable cowboy riding off into the Sunset.
THE BRAVADOS released on June 25, 1958
The screenplay was based upon the novel by author Frank O'Rourke of the same name. The screenplay was written by Philip Yordan, 1945's "Dillinger", 1951's "Detective Story", 1954's "The Naked Jungle", and 1954's "Johnny Guitar".
She would follow this picture with 1958's "Rally 'Round the Flag Boys" co-starring with Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward.
Henry Silva portrayed "Leandro Lujan". Silva had just been in the Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, and Patricia Owens 1958 Western "The Law and Jake Wade". He followed this film with the 1958 Western "Ride a Crooked Trail" starring Audie Murphy, Gia Scala, and Walter Matthau.
Lee Van Cleef portrayed "Alfonso Parral". Van Cleef had just appeared in an episode of televisions "State Trooper", entitled, "710 Hysteria Street", and would follow this motion picture with, "Welcome to Monterey", a episode of Walt Disney's "Zorro" television series. My article, "Lee Van Cleef: A Mixture of 'B' and 'Spaghetti' Westerns with a Side of Science Fiction and Just a Taste of Drama", can be read at:
Rancher "Jim Douglas" rides into the town of "Rio Arriba", six months after his wife was murdered by four men and "Douglas" is hunting the four. Now, the hunter finds his four targets in jail for committing another murder and awaiting execution. "Jim Douglas" asks "Sheriff Eloy Sanchez", played by Herbert Rudley, if he can see the four and permission is granted.
The murderers now determine that it is "Douglas" they have to worry about not the posse, and "Alfonso Parral" is left behind to ambush and kill the rancher.
"Douglas" now continues to his ranch to discover that "Zachary" and "Lujan" have stolen his last horses. He leaves his daughter with "Josefa" and heads for a Mexican border town that the two men seemed to be headed too.
"Jim Butler" rides away from "Leandro Lujan", his family, and a sack of coins. He now knows he's no better than the three men he killed. He returns to "Rio Arriba" and goes to the church to ask forgiveness. While the priest cannot condone the actions of "Jim Douglas", he respects him for admitting what he has done.
The other two screenplay writers were, James R. Webb, the Roy Rodgers and Gaby Hayes, 1941 "Jesse James at Bay", 1952's "The Big Trees" starring Kirk Douglas, 1953's "The Charge at Feather River" starring Guy Madison, 1954's "Apache" starring Burt Lancaster, and 1954's "Vera Cruz" co-starring Gary Cooper, and Burt Lancaster.
Sy Bartlett, also the author of the novel"12 O'Clock High", wrote the screenplay for 1949's "Down to the Sea in Ships", and the story of Jim Bowie at the Alamo, 1955's "The Last Command" starring Sterling Hayden.
Gregory Peck portrayed "James McKay". He would follow this film with one of the most realistic Korean War motion pictures, director Lewis Milestone's 1959 "Pork Chop Hill".
Jean Simmons portrayed "Julie Maragon". The year before she was in 1957's "Until They Sail", co-starring Paul Newman and Joan Fontaine. After this picture, Simmons was seen in, 1958's "Home Before Dark", co-starring with Dan O'Herlihy and Rhonda Fleming.
Carroll Baker portrayed "Patricia 'Pat' Terrill". Although she portrayed Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson's daughter in 1956's "Giant". It was the motion between that picture and this one that shocked audiences and made Baker a star, 1956's "Baby Doll". Carroll Baker followed this feature with 1959's "But Not for Me" co-starring with Clark Gable and Lilli Palmer. In 1965, Carroll Baker and actress Carol Lynley had a race to get their biographical movie about Jean Harlow out first. My article about Harlow and that bio race, "JEAN HARLOW: The 1965 Biographical Motion Picture Race" is available for reading at:
Charles Bickford portrayed "Major Henry Terrill". Bickford was now appearing on television programs as a "Guest Star". Prior to this role he was in 1958's, "The Daniel Barrister Story" on "Wagon Train", and followed this motion picture with a made for television production, 1959's, "The Joan Crawford Show: Woman on the Run". Which was actually an unsold pilot for the proposed "Joan Crawford Anthology Series".
Second, the party is interrupted by "Rufus Hannassey".
Meanwhile, unknown to everyone except the ranch hand, "Ramond Gutierrez", played by Alfonso Bedoya, is that "Jim" has broken "Old Thunder". The morning following the gala, "Jim" takes the horse and heads out to "Julie's" ranch and starts looking around.
"Leech" attempts to goad "McKay" into a fight, but again, he won't take the bait. "Pat" is now implying he's a coward as is her father. "Jim McKay" tells them he will leave the ranch in the morning. Later that night, "McKay" goes to the bunk house and calls out "Leech" and the two have a fist fight to a mutually agreed draw. Not saying it out loud, "Leech" is discovering a respect for "McKay".
"Rufus" now learns the truth that she is not in love with "Buck" and was kidnapped, but even so, she no longer owns "The Big Muddy" as it was sold to "Jim McKay".
"The Major" and his men arrive in "Blanco Canyon" and are ambushed by the "Hannassey's" in the rocks above them. As the gunfight progresses "Rufus", "Jim", and "Julie" ride to the shoot-out.
"Jim" reaches "Steve Leech" and convinces him to stop the "Terrill" men from shooting, he does, and both sides are now still, because this is nothing more than a personal feud between two old men using others as their pawns.