Behold a Pale Horse (1964)


(director: Fred Zinnemann; screenwriters: J.P. Miller/from the novel The Mouse that Roared by Emeric Pressburger; cinematographer: Jean Badal; editor: Walter Thompson; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Gregory Peck (Manuel Artiguez), Anthony Quinn (Capt. Vinolas), Omar Sharif (Father Francisco), Raymond Pellegrin (Carlos), Paolo Stoppa (Pedro), Mildred Dunnock (Pilar Artiguez), Christian Marquand (Lt. Zaganar), Marietto Angeletti (Paco Dages), Zia Mohyeddin (Luis, Guide of Paco), Rosalie Crutchley (Teresa, Wife of Vinolas), Daniela Rocca (Rosana, Mistress of Vinolas), Perette Pradier (Maria, Hussy); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fred Zinnemann; Columbia Pictures; 1964)

“The film’s best asset is the stirring performance by Gregory Peck as an aging revolutionary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is lifted from the Bible’s Revelation. It’s based on the novel The Mouse that Roared by the Britisher Emeric Pressburger, noted for being Michael Powell’s longtime codirector. The screenplay is by J.P. Miller, and it’s supposedly based on the real-life exploits of Francisco Sabater. Director Fred Zinnemann (“Julia”/”The Seventh Cross”/”The Day of the Jackal”) makes the action film a well-crafted character study that bogs down with a slow pace and hardly any action, and struggles in a heavy-handed way to make the point that martyrdom is not only reserved for the church but for political activists. The film’s best asset is the stirring performance by Gregory Peck as an aging revolutionary; while there are also outstanding supporting performances by Anthony Quinn as a brutal police officer and Omar Sharif as a sensitive dedicated priest facing a moral dilemma.

The Spanish Civil War took place from 1936 to 1939, with the losing guerrilla fighters exiled to France. The heroic Manuel Artiguez (Gregory Peck) found sanctuary in the French town of Pau and for the next twenty years led raids into Spain, but has recently grown old and tired. When Manuel receives word from Carlos (Raymond Pellegrin), a friend and smuggler, that his elderly mother, Pilar (Mildred Dunnock), is dying in a San Martín hospital, he plans to see her before she departs the world. The ambitious and arrogant San Martín police chief Captain Vinolas (Anthony Quinn) wants desperately to get his bitter foe Manuel and show his bosses that he’s the man who got the popular guerrilla fighter, and thereby sets a trap for him by using paid informer Carlos to lure him to the hospital. Before Pilar dies, she gets the hospital priest, Father Francisco (Omar Sharif), who is torn between following the letter of the law or the spirit of the law, to get word to her son not to come. Just arriving to stay with Manuel is Paco (Marietto Angeletti), an 11-year-old whose guerrilla fighter father was recently killed by Vinolas. The kid destroys the priest’s letter, thinking the priest is lying and hoping that this will be Manuel’s best chance to kill Vinolas in San Martin. But when the kid spots Carlos and recognizes him as an informer, he tells a skeptical Manuel the truth. Despite knowing a trap is set for him, Manuel gets up enough of his former courage to return one last time to San Martin and try to kill the informer and Vinolas.

The film only had a moderate box office success, and received mixed reviews upon its release as critics complained the arty film was too much of a moralizing lecture and too ponderous. Despite this being the case, it’s still worth a watch because it has enough there to upset the Franco government–they protested the film being shown on television and were successful.