‘Mensch’ Gregory

I mentioned Gregory Peck in my last Armitage challenge post and it got me thinking that it’s been ages since I saw any Gregory Peck movies (Roman Holiday excepted, I still dip into that one on occasion). So, before I wrote that challenge post, but when I was already thinking about the answers, I re-watched To Kill a Mockingbird. It is the famous story of a Southern lawyer in the 1930s defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white girl. The story is told from the point of view of Atticus’ daughter, Scout…

Gregory Peck received an Oscar for this role, he is as a true ‘Mensch’ (Yiddish for a man of decency, honesty, warmth and integrity) in this!

I love the character of Atticus and I love Gregory Peck as Atticus even though for me this so highly acclaimed film can’t quite live up to the book. The book is richer than a two-hour movie adaptation of it ever could be… Still, it is a good adaptation and Gregory is quite excellent in this! People have always said that Gregory Peck, the man, was very much like Atticus Finch, and that idea fills me with even more joy.

Next, I went on to watch one of my other favourites of his called The Big Country, which is a very different kind of Western. Peck plays a captain who comes out west to marry the daughter (Carroll Baker) of a rancher but won’t be bullied into macho ways and refuses to be drawn into a feud between his fiancée’s father and a neighbouring rancher… The daughter finds it hard to accept the ‘cowardly’ behaviour of her intended, while the schoolteacher friend (Jean Simmons) does seem to ‘get’ it and tries to help the daughter see it. Charlton Heston also stars in this movie as the right hand man of the fiancée’s dad and much more suited to her than Gregory’s character; Burl Ives plays the family’s rival rancher… I love this story of a good man staying true to himself and I love the chemistry between Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons in this (click on images to enlarge)…

Yes, Gregory is a real ‘Mensch’ in this one too!

I have also been updating my Peck collection with some movies I had never seen before. In the old days when I was a big fan it was difficult to get my hands on those movies and in later years I never really tried… until now.

So last night I found myself watching a movie of his called Captain Newman MD. I’d read good things about it but had never seen it before and I don’t think people even remember this movie anymore. Admittedly, it is a little uneven to be one of the true classics but even so, I was quite impressed with it!

Peck plays an army psychiatrist at the end of WWII, tending to men who are driven over the edge from the horrors of war. He also constantly needs to defend his patients against the prejudice of mental illness, many tend to equal that to weakness of character. He is a real Mensch for his patients and the people around him and also struggles himself, dealing with all he experiences (he even gets drunk in one quite amusing scene).

The movie is not only tragic, it is funny as well. Captain Newman has an un-orthodox way of gathering staff for his unpopular ward. Tony Curtis plays such a ‘hi-jacked’ orderly who turns out to fill his new role with gusto and is responsible for the bigger laughs of the movie. Angie Dickinson plays a nurse that Newman recruits in his unorthodox way as well. His patients include Eddie Albert (who was also the photographer in Roman Holiday), Robert Duvall in an early role (he also played Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird!) and singer Bobby Darin, who won a supporting actor Oscar nomination for this role.

In one scene Darin is drugged and tells the doctor the harrowing story of his trauma. Darin does that very well, but what totally mesmerized me was Gregory Peck just reacting to it all… He doesn’t say anything, just reacts. I think it’s one of the best acting performances I have ever seen him give!

Captain Newman MD Gregory Peck (7)

He holds the soldier after the tale is told, then puts him down to bed again. The look on his face is just heartbreaking…

Captain Newman MD Gregory Peck (11)Captain Newman MD Gregory Peck (15)

… and then he stares wordlessly out through the shutters…

Captain Newman MD Gregory Peck (16)

Just… wow! He also questions the wisdom of patching up the men, only to send them off to war again, to destruction and possible new trauma or death… Not all the patients he treats have a happy end and I think the humour in the movie is meant to counterbalance the tragedy. The movie ends on a tragic and a happy note as well. I have to say, I really laughed when at the Christmas party at the end a group of Italian ‘POW’s perform ‘Hava Nagila’, which they think is an old American (i.e. Indian) song.

And the absolute joy on Gregory Peck’s face as he claps along to it, makes up for some of the tragedy…

I’m so glad I finally got to see this! I know I’ll be going back to it again.

Next up: re-watching Gentleman’s Agreement, a movie Peck made in 1947 about a journalist posing as a Jewish man so he can learn about anti-Semitism! I remember it being quite good, an early Mensch-Gregory example, but it has been years and years since I’ve seen it. I wonder how it will hold up for me when I see it again…

For me right now it seems that Gregory Peck is filling a certain “Mensch-void” that I see around me when I look at certain public figures in the world today. Looking at him in his Mensch-roles makes me feel a little better in these divisive times. I just hope there are still enough like him out there in the world today…

RIP Harper Lee!

I am just reading that Harper Lee has passed away! To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my absolute favourite books ever… Harper Lee was 89 and until last year Mockingbird was her only published book. And what a book it is!

When at the beginning of last year another book of her’s was announced to be published, about grown up Scout and her having to accept that her father Atticus is only human, I was super excited. I was a little wary of reading it, as I loved To Kill a Mockingbird so much, but I was super curious as well.

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Go Set a Watchman ended up being on OK read, but To Kill a Mockingbird will always have a special place in my heart. To this day I recall the wonder of reading it for the very first time at age 15 while on summer holiday in Ireland. I can still see myself sitting out in the sun, reclining against a tree, reading. I have read it many times since and every time I do, it still holds it’s magic.

Rest in peace, Harper Lee! And thank you for giving us Atticus and Scout Finch!

 

To Kill a Mockingbird sequel!

One of my most absolute favorite books ever is To Kill a Mockingbird! I can’t tell you how often I have read it. My copy of To Kill a Mockingbird looks like this (without that particular crease, but it does look worn):

TKaM coverI still know exactly when I first read it. I was 15 years old and we were on vacation in Ireland. I can still see myself sitting outside in the sun in a very green environment, reading the book during any spare moment I had. Once I finished it I immediately turned to the first page and started reading it again! The only book that had had that effect on me before had been Jane Eyre (I didn’t discover Jane Austen till later).

A few years later I finallly saw the film with Gregory Peck. Although not quite as rich as the book, it is an awesome film and I have watched it many times. And I absolutely adored the fact that one of my favorite characters in literature was portrayed by my absolute favorite actor at the time and he had won an Oscar for that too!

Atticus

scout_atticus  to-kill-a-mockingbirdatticus scout jem to-kill-a-mockingbird

So, this evening my husband comes home and says “Have you already heard that a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird will be published?” Say what?!? Harper Lee is a famous recluse and hasn’t published anything since Mockingbird. Who wrote this sequel, I wondered? Lo and behold, I discover it is apparently Harper Lee herself! She wrote it years ago, before she even wrote Mockingbird. Apparently it’s about Scout Finch as a grown up visiting her dad Atticus:

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-31118355

Oh my gosh, I so want to read it and wonder if it can even be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird! Now I can hardly wait till the summer!! I wish Gregory Peck had been alive to read it as well…