I love it when studios put out box sets for actors, because I’ll inevitably end up with some titles I would otherwise never think to pick up, and sooner or later, I’ll get around to watching those titles to round out my understanding of these movie icons. Gregory Peck is an actor I know from some of his big iconic work, of course, but I can’t say I’ve seen the full breadth of what he starred in. So I tore through everything except “To Kill A Mockingbird” (which I’ve seen about 10,000 times) when I got the recent six-film “The Gregory Peck Film Collection” from Universal.
Of them, the one that made the greatest impression on me was probably “Arabesque,” which was made right after “Charade” with pretty much the exact same creative team in place. Instead of the precise comic chemistry of Hepburn and Grant, though, this film offers us Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, a very strange pair. He plays a stuffy Oxford professor who is approached as part of a sensitive government negotiation and asked to translate an ancient text. Whatever the translation, it’s going to have fairly major repercussions for the Middle East, so everyone’s after Peck from the moment he becomes involved. Sophia Loren may be helping him or may be using him or some combination of the two. He’s not sure, and frankly, if it meant spending time around Sophia Loren, I wouldn’t care. Spy on me. Fine.
Stanley Donen, probably most famous for “Singin’ In The Rain,” hit an interesting stride in the ’60s as a filmmaker. The Peter Cook/Dudley Moore comedy “Bedazzled” is a favorite of mine, and “Two For The Road” is a very difficult, bittersweet road picture with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn at her most piercing. But he obviously had a taste for the caper picture, making this and “Charade” back to back, and he pulls off something that I was sort of amazed by in this film: he makes Gregory Peck funny. It’s one thing to say that Sophia Loren is like hot buttered sex in this film. That has nothing to do with Donen. All you had to do was point the camera in her general direction, make sure the lens cap was off and everything was in focus, and the sex appeal was more than taken care of. And I buy Peck as the stiff and overly-formal professor at the start of the film. But him playing farce is a very strange sight, and there’s one sequence in particular where he’s whacked out of his head on some drug and he escapes frmo where he’s being held. He staggers out onto a freeway, tripping balls as he goes, laughing and running straight towards oncoming traffic. It’s not any version of Peck you’ve seen before. And in an earlier scene where he’s forced to hide inside a running shower with a totally-naked Loren, he’s a wicked tease, and very funny about it.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the entire box set just for this one title, but I am really pleased this was part of the package. I love a good caper, and this one is exactly that: good.