powered by AFI
If for no other reason, Days of Glory (1944) is significant as the motion picture debut of Gregory Peck. The young actor had caught the attention of screenwriter Casey Robinson (and more than a few theatergoers) while performing in an Emlyn Williams play on Broadway. When Robinson decided to cast all unknown newcomers in this RKO production about brave Russian guerilla fighters defending their homeland from the Nazis, he thought of Peck. Although the subsequent film failed to register very strongly with either critics or audiences, Peck did. He and his agent knew Hollywood needed strong, bankable leading men with so many of its male stars off to war (Peck was designated 4F due to a spine injury) and held out for the most advantageous deals. Peck had turned down a few lucrative long-term contracts from the major studios in favor of a four-picture/four-year agreement with Robinson, which he figured would allow him to return to the theater. But quickly finding himself hailed as everything from a new Gable to a new Gary Cooper, Peck was given the full star treatment and a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his second screen appearance in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). Gregory Peck was truly an instant star and stayed one until his death in 2003.
The transition to the screen from the stage wasn't without its challenges, however. Peck considered his own performance amateurish and never wanted to see Days of Glory again after its release. Furthermore, because he was trained for the theatre, he had to be coached by director Jacques Tourneur to "common up" his precise diction and stop projecting. Tourneur had the opposite problem with Peck's leading lady, Tamara Toumanova, a star of George Ballanchine's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. This was the dancer's first screen appearance in a speaking park, and she spoke so softly she could barely be picked up by the microphones. Playing a ballet dancer who at first reluctantly joins the Russian partisans, Toumanova's gifts as an actress were limited at best. Wisely, she limited herself to only a handful of motion pictures over the next two dozen years, even then appearing mostly in dancing parts. She married Robinson shortly after the release of Days of Glory.
The picture was also Robinson's debut as a producer. A noted screenwriter for years at Warner Brothers, he wrote the screenplays for six Bette Davis hits, contributed (uncredited) to Casablanca (1942), and was Oscar-nominated® for the swashbuckler that made Errol Flynn a star, Captain Blood (1935). Robinson continued to write for many important films (Saratoga Trunk (1945), The Snows of Kilimanjaro, 1952) while continuing in a less successful capacity as producer.
Days of Glory also introduced a portly little Czech character actor, Hugo Haas, to American audiences. When the Nazis invaded his country, Haas fled to America, taking jobs as announcer of U.S. radio broadcasts to the Eastern European underground and narrator of propaganda films. Although he continued to appear in front of the camera for the remainder of his career, Haas began writing, producing and directing his own productions, independent films he tried to model on European styles and which stand today as some of the most curious and idiosyncratic films of the 1950s.
Days of Glory was based on a story by Melchior Lengyel, whose other stories formed the basis for the films Ninotchka (1939) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). The film also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects.
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Producer: Casey Robinson
Screenplay: Casey Robinson, based on a story by Melchior Lengyel
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Editing: Joseph Noriega
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Original Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Gregory Peck (Vladimir), Tamara Toumanova (Nina), Lowell Gilmore (Semyon), Maria Palmer (Yelena), Hugo Haas (Fedor).
BW-86m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon