The Bravados – directed by Henry King – a western in which three loathsome bank robbers and their guide are pursued by a man bent on revenge – 98 minutes color 1958.
* * * *
This western looks like one of those movies aging movie stars engage in to prop up their work. But Gregory Peck was always an aging movie star. His chosen gravity caused no public alarm – but it also conveyed no mystery. So we have the case of a man of persistent and unvarying solemn righteousness tracking down three killers, led by a man far more fascinating than himself, the lusciously talented Stephen Boyd. Boyd was my reason to rent this film, and doing so was worth every scene he appears in. The direction is made one step past competent by the filming of the remarkable landscapes through which the pursuit ranges. These pictorial delights keep us away from the common face of Joan Collins, who is present as the old flame from New Orleans, although one cannot imagine Gregory Peck ever having lit a flame of his own sufficient to ignite her ever-ready tinder or having ever drifted into New Orleans to do it. She has all the aura of a not-quite-first-class call girl, and so one wonders at the possibility of His Righteousness getting down with her at the end. She is the sort of girl one does not bring home to meet your mother for fear your father would drag her up into the attic, and that she would prefer to go. She isn’t even pretty; merely beautiful, so beautiful she is grotesque: her eyes are more wide-spaced than her ears. No. Best look rather at the witty visage of Stephen Boyd whose gifts hold the screen like nobody’s business. He has a truly lecherous eye and a nastiness meant to lead even stiffs like Charlton Heston into hot water. What fun! What an actor! But, to turn back to Peck. His acting choice to be unvarying in his relentlessness is unabated by any inner doubt or struggle. So the entire conflict of the piece comes at the last moment, which he performs well, mind you, but, until then we have no outer or inner back-and-forth, and, worse, no humor in him, so the movie holds our interest but he does not. Imagine what Spencer Tracy would have done with this situation, and you’ll see what I mean. Peck looks to be one of those great big dismissible stars riding out their careers on the donkey of a chosen persona – like Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas. However! There was an actor inside Peck, and maybe even a great one, and it is visible once and once only, so far as I know, in and as the remarkable Old Gringo. Here Peck’s dull mania for justice is finally abandoned. Here he is willing to be no longer popular. It is the greatest swan song any major actor ever performed, and so, after all these years of respectability, one finally has to respect him.