Behold a Pale Horse

USA 1964, 120 mins
Director: Fred Zinnemann

Set 20 years after the Spanish Civil War, Pressburger’s perspective-shifting first novel Killing a Mouse on Sunday, published in 1961, characteristically avoided simplistic moral judgments. He wrote the initial draft of Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation (subsequently heavily revised by others), in which Gregory Peck plays exiled anti-fascist Artiguez, who returns to his village and back into conflict with his old adversary, Anthony Quinn’s police chief Vinolas.
James Bell

A contemporary review
Fred Zinnemann’s latest film, or something very like it, could have been made ten or more years ago when, for reasons that need little elaboration, its reception would almost certainly have been several degrees warmer than is possible today. Adapted by J. P. Miller from a novel by Emeric Pressburger, it is, by current standards, a conventional drama about the last days in the life of an exiled Spanish guerilla leader, 20 years after the civil war. ‘Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death …’ Manuel Artiguez (Gregory Peck) is, metaphorically, riding into the valley of the shadow, and that is the visual note to which the film (designed by Alexander Trauner) carefully adheres. So the opening daylight scenes, in which the orphaned son of Artiguez’ former comrade escapes across the Spanish border and tries to make Artiguez take up arms again, have a tonality that sombrely heralds the grey night when Artiguez, at last emerging from retirement, chooses to confront his personal destiny.

The film seems to be about free will: the individual’s need to make the choice worthy of himself, even if it is only to die as he has lived. Artiguez has become a failure in his own eyes, and consequently does not visit his mother while she is dying in a Spanish hospital, in case his lifelong enemy, the police chief Vinolas (Anthony Quinn), captures him. Later, when he knows that the man who brought him information about his mother is in Vinolas’s pay, that Vinolas has sealed off the hospital in order to trap him there, and that his mother is dead, he decides to visit her.

Short dialogue scenes of a type that Zinnemann can handle particularly well (regardless sometimes of the lines that are spoken, and even of the quality of the acting) indicate the kind of moral pressures that can affect decisions of this kind: pressures complicated, in this case, by the church-hating Artiguez’s indebtedness for the truth to a priest (Omar Sharif), and to a small boy, beside whom he finds himself wanting in courage. Peck’s performance, adequate while it is simply one thread in the dramatic fabric, ceases to work on any level, however, when it is later meant to dominate the film, and the most happily assured moment in the unnecessarily prolonged final sequences is a nostalgic one when a pretty barmaid smiles a Western-style farewell to the departing hero.

Yet the best of this film is pleasantly characteristic of the best of Zinnemann as a whole: his feeling for location (the Franco-Spanish border), his generosity of spirit and the intelligence that he takes for granted in his audience. With his gentle asides (young priests playing ball or elderly ones clipping roses) and the special way in which he introduces each new character so that he or she momentarily matters very much (one certainly expected to see more of Rosalie Crutchley as Vinolas’s ailing wife), Zinnemann has a knack of leaving open the possibility of other developments and other endings. One’s interest in Behold a Pale Horse is held for exactly as long as such a possibility remains.
Elizabeth Sussex, Sight and Sound, Autumn 1964

Directed by: Fred Zinnemann
©/Production Company: Highland Films, Brentwood Productions Inc.
Associate Producer: Alexander Trauner
Production Manager: Louis Wipf
Assistant Director: Paul Feyder
Continuity: Alice Ziller
Casting: Margot Capelier
Screenplay by: J.P. Miller
Based on the novel by: Emeric Pressburger
Director of Photography: Jean Badal
Camera Operator: Henri Tiquet
Editor: Walter Thompson
Production Designer: Alexander Trauner
Art Director: Auguste Capelier
Set Decoration: Maurice Barnathan
Costumes Designed by: Elizabeth Haffenden, Joan Bridge
Make-up: Michel Deruelle
Hair Stylist: Marc Blanchard
Opening montage by courtesy of: Nicole Stephane, Frederic Rossif
Music Composed and Conducted by: Maurice Jarre
Recording: Poste Parisien, SIMO (Paris)
Sound: Jean Monchablon
Dialogue Coach: Ruth Roberts, Walter Kelley
Studio: Franstudio-Saint Maurice

Gregory Peck (Manuel Artiguez)
Anthony Quinn (Captain Vinolas)
Omar Sharif (Father Francisco)
Raymond Pellegrin (Carlos)
Paolo Stoppa (Pedro)
Mildred Dunnock (Pilar Artiguez)
Daniela Rocca (Rosanna)
Christian Marquand (Lt. Zaganar)
Marietto Angeletti (Paco Dages)
Perette Pradier (Maria)
Zia Mohyeddin (Luis)
Rosalie Crutchley (Teresa)
Molly Urquhart
Jean-Paul Moulinot
Laurence Badie
Martin Benson
Jean-Claude Berck
Claude Berri
Claude Confortes
Michael Lonsdale (reporter in hospital)
Alain Saury
Jose-Luis Vilallonga
Elisabeth Wiener

USA 1964©
120 mins

Rynox + Hotel Splendide
Mon 16 Oct 18:10; Fri 10 Nov 18:10
A Matter of Life and Death
Mon 16 Oct 20:45 (+ intro by Thelma Schoonmaker and Kevin Macdonald); Sun 29 Oct 12:10; Sat 4 Nov 15:00; Tue 7 Nov 18:10 (+ intro by academic Lucy Bolton); Sun 19 Nov 18:30
Farewell (Abschied)
Tue 17 Oct 18:40 (+ intro by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald); Wed 1 Nov 20:40
His Lordship
Tue 17 Oct 20:50; Sat 4 Nov 12:20
The Fire Raisers
Wed 18 Oct 18:40; Sat 11 Nov 12:30
Black Narcissus
Wed 18 Oct 20:50; Sun 22 Oct 18:30; Wed 8 Nov 18:15; Sun 12 Nov 18:50; Thu 16 Nov 20:50; Sat 18 Nov 20:50; Mon 20 Nov 20:45 (+ intro by author Mahesh Rao)
The Edge of the World + Return to the Edge of the World
Fri 20 Oct 18:20; Wed 8 Nov 20:30; Wed 15 Nov 20:50
The Thief of Bagdad: An Arabian Fantasy in Technicolor (aka The Thief of Bagdad)
Fri 20 Oct 20:30; Tue 24 Oct 14:40; Sat 28 Oct 15:00; Sun 26 Nov 12:00
The Spy in Black + Smith
Sat 21 Oct 15:30; Sun 29 Oct 15:30 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
The Boy Who Turned Yellow + Heavenly Puss
Sun 22 Oct 12:00
49th Parallel
Sun 22 Oct 12:20; Mon 6 Nov 20:30
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing!
Sun 22 Oct 15:10; Tue 31 Oct 20:40 (+ intro by film historian Ian Christie)
Mon 23 Oct 17:50 (+ intro by Miranda Gower-Qian, BFI Inclusion Lead); Mon 30 Oct 20:30
Red Ensign + The Night of the Party
Tue 24 Oct 20:30; Sun 5 Nov 14:40
A Canterbury Tale
Wed 25 Oct 20:20 (+ intro by academic Thirza Wakefield); Sat 11 Nov 14:50; Fri 24 Nov 20:35
Library Talk: The interior life of an archive: an evening with the Michael Powell Collection
Mon 27 Nov 18:00
The Elusive Pimpernel
Sat 28 Oct 12:20; Mon 13 Nov 18:00 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
Gone to Earth
Sat 28 Oct 18:20; Wed 22 Nov 20:45; Sat 25 Nov 17:50
Silent Cinema: The Magician + The Riviera Revels + intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator
Sun 29 Oct 15:00
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Sun 29 Oct 17:20 (+ intro by Kevin and Andrew Macdonald); Sun 5 Nov 17:45; Thu 23 Nov 17:45; Sun 26 Nov 14:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Stephen Fry)
Paths to Partnership: Powell + Pressburger before The Archers
Tue 31 Oct 18:30
Projecting the Archive: The Queen’s Guards + intro by Josephine Botting, BFI National Archive Curator
Thu 2 Nov 18:20
Twice upon a Time
Mon 6 Nov 18:10 + extended intro by James Bell, BFI National Archive Senior Curator
Talk: Philosophical Screens: A Matter of Life and Death
Tue 7 Nov 20:20
Talk: Centre Stage: The Leading Women of Powell + Pressburger
Thu 16 Nov 18:20
Ill Met by Moonlight
Fri 17 Nov 20:40; Sat 25 Nov 12:40
The Battle of the River Plate
Sat 18 Nov 18:20; Mon 27 Nov 20:30
Behold a Pale Horse
Sun 19 Nov 11:50 Wed 22 Nov 17:50
The Wild Heart
Sun 19 Nov 15:10
Miracle in Soho
Mon 20 Nov 18:10; Sun 26 Nov 18:30

Course: The Magic of Powell + Pressburger
Wed 25 Oct to Wed 22 Nov 18:30

With thanks to

Never miss an issue with Sight and Sound, the BFI’s internationally renowned film magazine. Subscribe from just £25*
*Price based on a 6-month print subscription (UK only). More info:

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at

Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email