Gregory Peck, Henry King, and The Bravados (1958)

October 20, 2018 | By

Director Henry King

Director Henry King was a longtime filmmaker at Twentieth Century-Fox, entrusted with several of the studio’s most prestige productions during the late 1930s (In Old Chicago, Alexander’s Ragtime Band), 1940s (The Song of Bernadette, Captain from Castile) and 1950s (King of the Khyber Rifles, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Sun Also Rises).

The Bravados certainly qualifies as an example of his skill as a filmmaker who remained in demand over three decades as productions moved from B&W to colour, standard to widescreen, and mono to stereo.

If Bernadette is filled with a special blend of melodramatic spiritualism and the powerful performance by a young Jennifer Jones as the saintly young woman who believed she was communicating with an extension of God, then Bravados is its antithesis in which faith has been eradicated in its antihero and replaced with cold blooded revenge for the rape & murder of his wife.



Gregory Peck seemed to relish the role because it too went against the prior handsome leading man / Biblical hero / romantic stud / moral crusader archetypes in prior years, although he must have had fun playing scumbag / rapist Lewt in David O. Selznick’s monster western Duel in the Sun (1947). Neither he nor co-star Jones (as randy Pearl) played nice people, and perhaps Peck realized the insanity of their characters’ on / off, let’s-fuck / I-hate-your-guts-and-want-you-to-die-slowly relationship, and embraced the film’s fiery kitsch, especially the preposterous finale.

Bravados’ Jim Douglass is a conflicted, morally grey man hoping the deaths of four men will provide closure, although one already suspects that however that occurs, Douglass will suddenly find himself bereft of purpose, and will require a long decompression if he choose to remain alone.

It’s a mature role for a mature actor who sought a balance of material throughout his epic film & TV career (1944-1998). Only Peck would feel a little giddy playing over a two year period a decent father fighting for the soul of his son in the trashy The Omen (1976), the titular historical WWII figure of MacArthur (1977), and pasty Joseph Mengele in the most elegant Nazi sleaze production ever, The Boys from Brazil (1978).

The increasingly rabid madness of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956) is inverted for the patient, moral, fierce gentility of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – the former a deeply underrated performance for its rather baroque edges, and the latter the epitome of decency and reason that leaves a mark in a troubled community.

The Bravados is also a production that shows studio Fox in top form: a daring story, fine character actors and newcomers (Lee van Cleef, Albert Salmi, Joan Collins) boosted by solid direction, gorgeous cinematography, and fine score by Hugo Friedhofer using a striking main theme by Alfred Newman, Fox’ music chief, and an excellent composer (as evidenced by his exquisite Bernadette score).

If Henry King is the director cursory film fans of classic Hollywood have never heard of, then Friedhofer’s the forgotten, versatile composer who blended strong themes with modernist variations (The Best Years of Our Lives, Boy on a DolphinThe Sun Also Rises, and One-Eyed Jacks).

I’ll argue his style had an important influence on Jerry Goldsmith, especially the use of bass, be it from percussion, hard piano hits, or that fantastic stereophonic Boom factor typical of Fox’ first-rate studio orchestra. Sample any of the Blu-rays featuring the studio’s CinemaScope productions with stereo 2.0 or 4.0 surround mixes, and you’ll understand why there’s so much affection for the Fox sound, and that Boom.

Coming next: reviews of Skyscraper (2018), the latest wannabe disaster epic.

Plus: a slight reflection on Video Store Day, now in its 8th year. Expect some thoughts on its impact, validity, and the place of the video store in an industry written-off as dead (but clearly not).




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Tags: , , , , ,


Comments are closed.