Behold a Pale Horse
Though two years later he would direct 1966's A Man For All Seasons and be rewarded with his third Oscar, Fred Zinnemann's 1964 Behold a Pale Horse shows the older, stodgier sensibility of an artist in decline. His early career offered B movie jewels such as 1948's Act of Violence and The Search, but his reputation grew when he worked with Stanley Kramer on the western classic High Noon (1952) and followed it a year later with his Academy Award-winning From Here to Eternity (1953). One wishes early Zinnemann had directed Horse he would have made a lean narrative out of the story, based on Michael-Powell-partner Emeric Pressburger's novel. The film centers on famed resistance fighter Manuel Artiguez (Gregory Peck), who has long been the bane of Spanish police officer Vinola's (Anthony Quinn) existence. Having been in hiding, it's the sickness and preeminent death of Artiguez's mother that is being used as a trap to get Manuel out of hiding. What the cops don't know is that Manuel's mom slipped a note to Father Francisco (Omar Sharif). Francisco tries to mail it, but he ends up going to Manuel's house, where a child intercepts it who destroys the note fearing that Manuel won't go visit his mother, because Vinola killed the child's father, and wants Manuel to get him his revenge. When the letter is lost, but the knowledge of its content revealed, Manuel must find Francisco and use him to suss out the member of his party that's an informant. But the informer escapes, which leads to Manuel finally strapping his guns back on for one last stand. Casting Peck as the retired revolutionary gives Behold a Pale Horse echoes of his earlier 1950 film The Gunfighter especially when Peck is paired with the child but for the most part the movie shoots itself in the foot by taking an hour to build up its narrative steam. What could have been a tight, riveting suspense film with an interesting hook is done in by the bloat only an older, unfocused director can give a picture. At its heart the movie is a genre exercise, and had it not been weighed down in portentous opening, it could have been a classic fatalist noir, like the kind Zinnemann once made. Alas, the performers are game, and the material could have been shaped into a great movie. But this is not it. Columbia TriStar presents Behold a Pale Horse in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and monaural DD 2.0 audio. Extras include trailers for this and other Gregory Peck films. Keep-case.