Werth: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is usually the first Peck movie that people think of, but he had a wonderfully long and prolific movie career. One of my favorites is the William Wyler romantic comedy Roman Holiday (1953). Peck is American journalist Joe Bradley who lucks out on his way home from a poker game when he finds an unconscious runaway royal princess.
Wise: Happens in the West Village all the time.
Wise: She wouldn't be scrubbing the john with those cheekbones.
This slick, "knows all the angles" newsman attempts to trick this incognito, day-tripping princess into giving him a whopper of an interview without disclosing who he is—or that he knows who she is. He leads her all over Rome on a once-in-a-lifetime tour that has probably done more for Roman tourism than any other movie.
Wise: Except maybe for Gladiator.
With ten Oscars noms (including Wyler for Best Director and pre-Green Acres Eddie Albert for Best Supporting Actor) and three wins (Hepburn as Best Actress, Edith Head for Best Costume Design B&W, and blacklistee Dalton Trumbo hiding behind McLellan Hunter for Best Writing Motion Picture Story), Roman Holiday is a light laugh confection that makes you yearn to use some of those air miles for a nostalgic Italian getaway.
Wise: Bette Davis leaves for an island getaway at the end of Jezebel (1938), but it's not for a romantic romp.
Werth: Unless you consider a Yellow Fever colony romantic.
Wise: Davis plays Julie Marsden, a strong-willed Southern belle who asserts her independence to the detriment of her engagement to stolid banker Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda).
When she dons a flaming red gown instead of the white traditional to unmarried women at the annual Olympus ball, Preston breaks their engagement and she is shunned by New Orleans society. After a year spent in seclusion, Julie learns that Preston has returned from a sojourn up North and she goes to him begging for forgiveness and to resume their engagement only to find that he has married another woman in the meantime.
To further complicate matters, a Yellow Fever epidemic sweeps the city, sickening Preston and condemning him to an island where all the victims are quarantined. His new wife Amy prepares to accompany him, but Julie begs to take her place on the grounds that only a Southerner could survive the horrors of the island and to prove that her love for Preston has transcended her selfishness.
Werth: I don't know about you, but there are better ways to try and prove you're unselfish than subjecting yourself to deadly communicable diseases. Donate money to the Milk Fund or something.
Wise: Hollywood legend has it that Davis used Jezebel as a lengthy audition for David Selznick as he was casting Scarlett O'Hara, but whatever the truth to that claim, the film is much more than a pale copy of Gone with the Wind. Davis won her second Oscar for Best Actress and the film cemented her status as a top Hollywood star.
Of course all the hallmarks of classic Davis performance are here—the unruly pride, a frankness about women's desire—but she also incorporates a vision of ennobling female sacrifice that transforms the character from run-of-the-mill to extraordinary.
Werth: Her Louisiana accent by way of Boston is extraordinary.
Werth: Any way you slice it, we'll be back for next week's Film Gab.
Wise: No, seriously. I want to eat both cakes.