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O–Q Entries
Simon Oakland
Arch Oboler
Charles Ogle
Willis O'Brien
George Pal
Gregory Peck
Cassandra Peterson
Walter Pidgeon
Jack P. Pierce
Vincent Price
Anthony Quinn
 
PECK, GREGORY
(1916–2003). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Spellbound (Alfred HITCHCOCK 1945); David and Bathsheba (Henry King 1951); On the Beach (Stanley Kramer 1959); The Chairman (J. Lee THOMPSON 1969); Marooned (John Sturges 1969); The Omen (Richard DONNER 1976); The Boys from Brazil (Franklin J. SCHAFFNER 1978); Old Gringo (Luis Puenzo 1989).
 
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Gregory Peck was always determined, above all else, to avoid getting too emotional about anything—even during his rare excursions into science fiction film, where circumstances would often seem to demand an emotional response. What's that, you say, the human race is about to become extinct because of a global nuclear war? Well, let's not get too worked up about all this. What's that, you say, my son is actually the Antichrist, destined to lead the world to the Apocalypse? Well, perhaps I should furrow my brow just a little bit. And Peck is not a performer like Leonard NIMOY who maintains a fašade of stoicism to fitfully conceal powerful suppressed passions; rather, he portrays men who have learned to steel themselves to be passionless, both internally and externally, no matter what dire contingencies might arise.

This is not to say that such a person is never useful or appealing, for in the mainstream films that made him a star, Peck could function as a story's pillar of strength, dispensing necessary platitudes and assisting others who lacked his unfailing fortitude. And while no one would want him to be an astronaut, he was perfectly cast in Marooned (probably his best genre performance) as the man on the ground, calmly and competently trying to figure out a solution to the crisis in space. áBut Peck's approach simply didn't work in On the Beach and The Omen, and while neither film was ever destined to be a masterpiece, Peck must shoulder some of the blame for their failure.

Another of Peck's liabilities when it came to science fiction film was that, manifestly, he could never pretend to be a scientist. Thus, in Spellbound, he was instantly unconvincing as a distinguished psychologist, even before the film revealed he was an unknowing fraud, and Ingrid Bergman didn't need to decipher his surrealistic dream to show that she could easily outthink him. He wasn't much better as a scientist visiting China in The Chairman, though fans of the utterly bizarre will always cherish the scene where he plays ping pong with Mao Tse-Tung. Further, his devotion to dignity and decorum meant that he could never seem sincere as a villain, which is why he was doubly unconvincing as brilliant Nazi scientist Joseph Mengele in The Boys from Brazil—a film that would have been infinitely better if director Franklin J. SCHAFFNER had shown some common sense, after two days of filming, and allowed Peck and Laurence Olivier to switch parts (for Olivier could effortlessly throw himself into portraying a scoundrel, while Peck was much better suited to occupy the moral high ground as a man tracking down Nazi war criminals).

The Boys from Brazil would have stood forever as the low point of Peck's career had it not been for Old Gringo, a film I am obliged to consider only because Peck portrayed Ambrose Bierce, who among other things was a science fiction writer, making this wretched bloodbath a film of "genre interest." Not that Peck as Bierce displayed any interest in scientific matters, or interest in anything at all, other than in offering smug pronouncements on the violent melodrama unfolding around him and communicating that he was, of course, Above It All. (The insurance company that refused to sanction the original casting of the infinitely superior but frail Burt Lancaster, forcing the substitution of Peck, has much to answer for.)

By his very nature, Gregory Peck was always one of the most admired, and one of the least loved, of the classic Hollywood stars, so it is in a sense not surprising that he now largely seems to be forgotten—except, inevitably, by science fiction fans, who are doomed to never forget anything about their beloved genre, even its most forgettable performers.

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