The Valley of Decision
In 1944, Gregory Peck could write his own ticket in Hollywood. The 28-year old actor had made his name a couple of years before in the plays The Morning Star (1942) and The Willow and I (1942). Not only was he young, sexy and an accomplished actor, he was one of the few men of his age and looks not off fighting in World War II, having been sidelined by an old spinal injury.
Peck may have been young when MGM approached him to play the romantic lead in The Valley of Decision, but he already knew what he wanted, to be able to pick and choose from the best roles the movie studios and the stage were offering. Unfortunately, Louis B. Mayer also knew what he wanted: to sign this young man to a seven-year exclusive contract. Peck later recalled the meeting, "Initially, he used the fatherly approach, pointing out how he had sired the careers of numerous actors. When I declined to budge, he shifted his campaign to an attack against the legitimate theater, demeaning my career in the process." When that failed to work, "he pulled out a handkerchief and began to cry, deeply saddened by my ingratitude which wouldn't allow him to make me the biggest movie star of all time." Despite the tears, Peck stuck to his demands and signed to a four-picture, non-exclusive contract.
The film, The Valley of Decision, was based on a popular novel by Marcia Davenport, an author best remembered now for her excellent 1932 biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Peck plays Paul Scott, the son of a steel mill owner (Donald Crisp) who falls in love with the family's Irish maid, Mary (Greer Garson). Mary's father (Lionel Barrymore) was a worker in that mill, but is now in a wheelchair due to an accident for which he holds Peck's father accountable. When a strike shuts down the mill and her father leads an uprising, Mary tries to bring the warring families to peace.
Also present in this lavish big-budget re-creation of 1870's Pittsburgh is 35-year old Jessica Tandy as Peck's shrewish wife. Her husband Hume Cronyn was originally cast as Gregory Peck's brother until the casting director noticed that the eight-inch difference in their heights made them an unlikely pair of siblings. Tay Garnett, who a year later would make his most famous film, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), was chosen to direct and Joseph Ruttenberg, Academy Award winner for The Great Waltz (1938) and Mrs. Miniver (1942), manned the camera.
The movie, Peck's third, made him a star but it was Greer Garson who received an Academy Award® nomination, losing to Joan Crawford's Mildred Pierce (1945). The box-office draw was also impressive, earning $4,566,374 in the United States, making it the year's fifth biggest draw. Garson, however, was tired of the upstanding, long-suffering parts Mayer was giving her and begged him for sexier, more alluring roles. Mayer gave in against his better judgment and her next film, Adventure (1945), was the movie where "Gable's back and Garson's got him!" The public refused to accept Garson in this new image leaving The Valley of Decision as her last hit movie. Sometimes L.B. Mayer did know what was best for his actors.
Director: Tay Garnett
Producer: Edwin H. Knopf
Screenplay: Sonya Levien, John Meehan, based on the novel by Marcia Davenport
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Music: Herbert Stothart
Editing: Blanche Sewell
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Cast: Greer Garson (Mary Rafferty), Gregory Peck (Paul Scott), Donald Crisp (William Scott), Lionel Barrymore (Pat Rafferty), Preston Foster (Jim Brennan), Jessica Tandy (Louise Kane).
BW-119 min. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady