I guess if they called it Eldred: A Movie Star, no
one would tune in to Turner Classic Movies' tidy documentary. So instead, the
producers went with the mundane A Conversation withGregory Peck.
This homage to the 83-year-old actor gets off to a
promising and artful start: Its opening mimics the film perhaps most beloved in
Peck's filmography, To Kill a Mockingbird. A child rummages through a box of
bric-a-brac, then does a crayon rubbing of the title.
The first vignette is promising, too. Peck, touring in a
series of one-man shows, arrives at a Boston theater. Worshipful ushers, all volunteers,
stand in for his sound check. The show begins and we see this seasoned professional pacing
nervously backstage during the filmed introduction.
The best shot of the program is when Peck is pictured in
silhouette behind the screen, watching his youth pass by in movies. He is charming,
quick-witted and generous with his fans.
But the film never quite lives up to the promise of those
first few minutes. Along the way, we sample some of his work and a get a few choice
stories, but the documentary comes off as an extended, unstructured set of home movies.
I expected more depth, given that one of the producers of
the two-hour program is Barbara Kopple, the Oscar-winning producer of Harlan County
The danger for fans in watching these documentaries is that
they are often disappointed when exposed to the real characters of screen stars. But Peck
is portrayed as compassionate -- a little distant, but kind. He's not quite Atticus
Finch, his most famous character, but he's close to larger-than-life.
It appears that the producers -- including Peck's
daughter, Cecelia -- did not want to reproduce on film the actor's stage
presentation, so we don't get the juicy behind-the-screen stories.
The major anecdote included is Peck's best: the story
of his first date with his wife of 43 years now, Veronique. But other major elements of
his life -- his political activism, his depression following the suicide of his
31-year-old son from his first marriage -- are barely addressed.
Luckily, the documentary will be used as a setup for a
salute to the actor on TCM from Oct. 18 through 23.
The documentary will debut Oct. 18 at 8 p.m., and will be
followed at 10 p.m. by To Kill a Mockingbird. Other highlights will include RomanHoliday Oct. 20 at 8 p.m., Cape Fear Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. and Moby Dick
Oct. 24 at 1 a.m.
Disappointingly, Gentleman's Agreement, an
Oscar winner for "Best Picture," is not scheduled as part of the salute.