30 Day Film Challenge Day 9 – A Film With Your Favorite Actor (Male)

Film Nerd’s Choice: To Kill a Mockingbird

Review:

Director: Robert Mulligan

Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall

Synopsis: A classic adaptation of Harper Lee’s well recognised novel.    Atticus Finch is a Depression era Southern lawyer given the task of defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking and abusing Mayella Ewell, a white girl.   Atticus knows that Robinson is innocent, and has all the evidence to prove this is the case.    Can he convince a jury to take the word of a black man over that of a white one???   The story is told through the eyes of Atticus’ children, “Scout” and “Jem”.

Gregory Peck is an absolute powerhouse of an actor, with a charm and charisma all of his own.   He makes both a dashing Captain of the high seas (Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N.), as well as a dastardly revenge-addled whaler (Moby Dick).   But Atticus Finch is perhaps the most significant role for which he will be remembered, and rightly so.

Peck’s performance is almost a direct transition of a character from a book leaping off the page and onto the screen.   Atticus is an upstanding, non-boastful citizen despite having many talents for which he can rightly claim credit.   He believes in justice and the legal system, and above all nis a good father to his children, trying to lead by example rather than subdue with discipline.   Peck gives a quiet, measured performance, resulting in an explosion of energy when we finally see him in the court room.   When he is front and centre, all the remaining cast seems to disappear.   The performance is mesmerising, and reaches a crescendo with the inspiring closing address.

In addition to power though, the script, like the original book, leaves some space for deeper reflection.   The events in the children’s lives parallel the main themes of acceptance of every human being, regardless of skin colour or level of social aptitude.    Duvall’s role in this film was his debut feature film role.   It is short, but played for impact, which it certainly has.    I will say there are elements of the novel missing which I miss, including the “Mrs. Dubose” side story, for those familiar with the text, but overall this is a faithful adaptation that has as much impact on-screen as it did on paper.   Even if the rest of the film were not so successful, Peck’s performance alone is worth any rental or purchase fee.

5 stars out of 5

 

To Kill a Mockingbird on IMDB

To Kill a Mockingbird on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi88P7KfaMA&feature=related]

 

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Raoul Walsh

Cast: Gregory Peck, Virginia Mayo, Robert Beatty, James Robertson Justice, Denis O’Dea

Synopsis: Captain Hornblower, in command of the H.M.S. Lydia, is on a secret mission to provide support for a Spanish rebel, making no contact with land for eight months.   After turning over a captured Spanish ship of the line to the self-styled “El Supremo”, Hornblower is informed Spanish is once again an English ally, and as such he must recapture the recently turned over vessel.   On his trip back to England, he is charged with transporting Lady Barbara Wellesley, sister of the Duke of Wellington, back home, as she attempts to flee the Yellow Fever that is rife in Portugal.

 

A review by Film Nerd.

Made well before the recent series starring Ioan Gruffudd, this 1951 film has the charm that only films of that era seem to have.   Despite the fact that this is another British icon here played by an American, the simple gravitas of any Peck performance makes this a very small quibble.   The fact is that Peck was a generation defining actor, and his portrayal of Hornblower is absolutely superb.   Despite having many different performance traits to how Gruffudd played the role, there is actually a physical similarity between the two actors, making it very plausible that we are watching the same character after a further 15 years at sea.

As mentioned in my review for “Loyalty” and “Duty”, that feature left off with just enough lead up information to let this film flow somewhat directly on.   Hornblower has been married for that fifteen years, creating another level of tension as he starts to develop feelings for Lady Barbara.   The great man cannot be entirely blamed though…Mayo is absolutely radiant in the role.   Their relationship is one that grows from taciturn acceptance of the situation, to being forced into each others company in such away that they cannot help admire each other as human beings.   Hornblower’s marriage is not the only obstacle though.   Lady Barbara is due to be married herself on her return to England, to Hornblower’s superior, Rear Admiral Leighton (O’Dea).

Though the romance is what many would remember most from the film, it is also intelligent to have a strong focus on action when they are apart.   When the sea battles rage, we have splinters flying everywhere, full masts and spars falling to deck, and Hornblower, always in control and in command.   The effects have dated, absolutely, but they are still very effective.   There is also space in the film to examine how Hornblower interacts with his crew.   Fittingly, the mutual respect between Lt. Bush (Beatty) and his captain are on display.    Even more so, one able seaman is selected to show Hornblower’s respect for all men under his command.    The man selected for this role is Quist (Justice), who is quite bitter against his Captain until Hornblower singled him out for a task, to which he exclaims in wonder “He know’s my name!”

The film may not have the depth or focus on detail that the Gruffudd series had, but what it lacks there it gains in the romanticism of this piece, representing the sea as a fickle mistress, who will treat you right if you understand her.   It is in every respect Peck’s film, amazing given that Erroll Flynn had originally been earmarked for the role.   This is a film from the classic era of Hollywood, and should be enjoyed as such.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

 

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. on IMDB

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer

Horatio Hornblower: “Loyalty” and “Duty” – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Paul McGann, Lorcan Cranitch, Julia Sawalha, Tony Haygarth, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Greg Wise, Christian Coulson, Ron Cook, Jonathan Coy

Synopsis: Hornblower is languishing on a Lieutenant’s half-pay during peace with France, the peace having been declared before his promotion to Commander could be confirmed by the admiralty.   In his cheap lodgings, he has won the heart of his landlady’s daughter.   He come across Lieutenant Bush at this time, just as Admiral Pellew gives Hornblower a secret mission to France, promoting him to Commander in the process.   He takes command of the Hotspur, bringing Bush along as his First Lieutenant.

A review by Film Nerd.

As with the last two-part story, I have opted to review these two television movies together, even though the two-story arc is less well-defined then in the last case.   What connects the two is Hornblower’s relationship with Maria Mason (Julia Sawalha, previously seen in the TV series Press Gang, and as Lydia in the BBC’s definitive Pride and Prejudice miniseries).   He meets her when he is languishing on half-pay, barely able to make his rent.   It is a relationship the defines Hornblower in the next few books of the series, a bond forged more out of obligation than affection.   Sadly, given the demise of the series, the relationship was not explored further than this point.

In showing the fleet during peace time, the success of the franchise is once again apparent in shedding light onto the concerns of officers serving in His Majesty’s navy in this time period.   We soon get back into the real action though, with Hornblower getting a command, much due to the good graces of Admiral Pellew.   The joy of these current stories are getting to delve into Hornblower’s loyalty to both superior and inferior officer’s, as we finally get to also see his relationship with Lieutenant Bush in full bloom.

And yet, I still haven’t even got around to any of the missions Hornblower is sent on here, which is really half the fun.   Suffice it to say that the peace does not last long, and we get action on the high seas galore, with traitor’s in our favourite Commander’s own crew that come back to haunt us, cowardly midshipmen (former young Tom Riddle, Coulson), an uneasy alliance with a French Royalist Major (Wise), and also being stuck right in the middle of major international political intrigue.

This is certainly the series at its peak, with Hornblower finally in command, and perhaps the saddest point for it to end.   It is fortunate we have the Gregory Peck film to follow this up for, even though it is based 15 years after the point here observed, it is just enough of a stepping stone to keep the storyline somewhat continuous.

4.5 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty on Rotten Tomatoes

Horatio Hornblower: Duty on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Duty on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEEUDLr9uUw]

Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Dorian Healy, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Jamie Bamber

Synopsis: This is the first in a series of television movies based around the character Horatio Hornblower, as created in the novels by C.S. Forester.   In this episode we meet Hornblower on his first tour of duty in His Majesty’s navy as midshipman.    After he comes aboard his ship, he learns the reality of service in the fleet prior to the commencement of war with France following the Revolution.

A review by Film Nerd.

For me, this film began an obsession.   I subsequently fell in love with this period of history, watched all the remaining films as they were released, devoured all of Forester’s novels on the character, watched the Gregory Peck movie, and it culminated in me not only visiting Nelson’s ship the H.M.S. Victory, but also to build a model of the same ship (interminably near completion!!)

At these early stages as midshipman, the lowest officer’s rank, we quickly learn the hardships of the service.   Things do not start well for young Hornblower (Gruffudd).   At 17, he is considered by some to be too old to be starting in the service, given many of his companions have been learning since the age of 12.   To compound issues, he distinguishes himself as the midshipman who was sick at Spithead.   In plain English, he was ill before the ship even set sail.   He is also cruelly victimised by the senior midshipman onboard, a Mr. Jack Simpson (Healy).   In short, Hornblower has signed up for a living hell.

He shows he does have some degree of intelligence and creativity, and upon outbreak of war with France, he is transferred to the H.M.S. Indefatigable, under the command of Captain Sir Edward Pellew (Lindsay).   A stern but fair captain, he with time recognises some talent in this fledgling officer and fosters it.   However Hornblower’s hardships continue.   He has a disrespectful unit to run, including characters who are to be series regulars, Matthews and Styles (Copley and Gilder respectively).   And even this victory with the men does not prevent a shadow from Hornblower’s past rising.

This is a taster of what becomes a fascinating series.   Given the nature of the period, it is a predominantly male cast, which may deter some female viewers.   Gruffudd’s portrayal of Hornblower has the potential to draw a female crowd however, in a way that Russel Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World proved unable too.   Gruffudd receives top billing with Lindsay, who performs an admirable Pellew.   He walks that fine line between gruff disciplinarian yet inspiring leader with great skill and confidence.   The film also features a young Jamie Bamber, as Hornblower’s fellow midshipman Archie Kennedy, another series regular, who went on to bigger things, later appearing as Lee “Apollo” Adama in the reimagined series of Battlestar Galactica.

If you are interested in the series, there is no better place to start then the beginning.   If you do so, yet do not enjoy it, feel free to ignore my reviews of future episodes in the series.   If you are a fan though, I look forward to having my faithful readers accompany me on a fantastic voyage.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ad-hYMmvctY]