From RKO a new star is born …………. Tamara Toumanova!
No? Haven’t heard of the beautiful Russian import? Then how about the other RKO discovery making his film debut in this Jacques Tourneur offering, GREGORY PECK!
Days of Glory represents one of a handful of films made about the Russian allies during WW2 and their own struggle against the tyranny of the German war machine. Here it’s Gregory Peck as a commander of a ragtag gang of guerilla fighters that includes both sexes. They live a hermit like existence and strike when the chance presents itself or when they receive word through underground channels to hit specific targets.
Included among Peck’s personal army are Maria Palmer who is a cut throat assassin and appears to have been a past lover of Peck, Lowell Gilmore, big brother Glenn Vernon and his little sister Dena Penn, a pair of heavyset toughs played by Hugo Haas and Alan Reed and of course Miss Toumanova who sets Peck’s heart afire.
It’s a hard war and one that leaves little opportunity for love or pity. Peck’s group kill without feelings. Those are long dead as we’ll see by the cold hearted Maria who has killed over 60 German soldiers. When the team capture an enemy foot soldier Toumanova pleads for his life causing Peck to give in. Shockingly this will lead to her having to kill the man herself when he attempts to escape which would lead to the discovery of their hideout and death. She’s now one of Peck’s soldiers and the two will fall madly in love with little chance of a future.
The big scene in this film and one that hits hard is when the young Vernon is picked up by the Germans and unless he gives up his friends is to be hung in a town square. He goes to his fate a martyr while smiling at the beautiful Toumanova who is in the crowd and knows that one cry or word from her will lead to the deaths of those she fights with. Peck himself has to stoically stand by and watch the boy’s execution as well. Seriously this is where you should be reaching for a tissue if you have a heart beating within you. Propaganda? Yes. Effective plot device? You bet.
There is of course a major offensive coming to give hope to the war effort and those who paid their entry fee at the box office to gain entry to see these new personalities of the silver screen. I had thought the film a bit slow and stage bound in the opening stanza but once it got moving it contains some great action sequences thanks to some nifty special effects credited to Vernon L. Walker. Not a household name but after checking his list of credits, would you believe he worked on titles including King Kong, Notorious, Citizen Kane, Cat People and over 200 others. Pretty impressive!
For Miss Toumanova this was a one shot deal. Known as a ballerina, her film career consisted of just seven credits. This was her only starring role among them. How about Alan Reed? Another name that isn’t one you’re likely to recall but if you were to here his voice minus the Russian accent he’s attempting here, you’d know his gruff, barrel chested boom in seconds. You see Mr. Reed’s voice achieved pop culture fame as Fred Flintstone’s.
Peck needs no introduction here. He’s a true icon of movie history and aside from one film in particular, he always played a heroic figure with Atticus Finch standing tall. The villain I’m referring to his leading role in The Boys From Brazil where he played the evil Nazi figure, Josef Mengele. Peck would follow his debut title with an Oscar nominated turn in The Keys of the Kingdom also released in 1944.
Director Jacques Tourneur was on a roll having just filmed three of the Val Lewton chillers, Cat People, The Leopard Man and I Walked With a Zombie. Ahead of him he’d give us what some consider the quintessential Noir, Out of the Past. Tourneur’s star continues to rise among classic film fans years after his passing thanks to his many works becoming available through the home video market.
Watching Days of Glory 74 years after it’s release, the propaganda aspects of the plot won’t come on as strong but the characters and the action sequences will keep you glued to the screen. That and the appearance of Peck who was just beginning his sterling career that lasted until his final appearance on camera in the TV miniseries Moby Dick released in 1998. Looking for a copy of Glory? You can either keep your eyes on the TCM schedule or get one through the Warner Archive division so you’ll be able to add it to your own collection. No need to ask. Yes that’s how I acquired my copy.