Friday, March 22, 2024


 by Anthony King

Justice for John Garfield.

Directed by: John Berry
Starring: John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford, Selena Royle, Robert Hyatt
Released: June 19, 1951

John Garfield cult movies: Body and Soul, Dust Be My Destiny, Force of Evil, The Sea Wolf

Pairing recommendation: Suddenly (1954)

“He was a friendly, unintellectual man who liked being a movie star. He was also a product of the New York streets who believed the worst thing you could be was a snitch.” Writer Walter Berstein writes about his time spent on Hollywood's blacklist of the early Cold War years and his colleagues similarly embroiled in his memoir, Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist. Here he writes about his brief encounter with blacklisted actor John Garfield during the final years of Garfield's life. “I saw Garfield briefly during this torturous time. His face was lined and drawn, and he was drinking. He always had the face of a bar mitzvah boy gone just wrong enough to enhance his appeal. Now he seemed old without having grown into it.” Garfield had been a rising star, but now, not yet 40 years old, his career had been forcibly flushed down the toilet. “As an actor he had been best at playing the rebel, the angry young man at odds with the system. Now the system had him by the throat.” Garfield had been called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), pressured to name names of Hollywood communists, but refused and said he didn't know any. The case was handed over to the FBI on cause that Garfield committed perjury. He faced jail time, and his time as an actor was officially over. “But Garfield found a way to preserve his honor, although at terminal cost. He thwarted them all by dying. His heart gave out on a visit to a woman friend to whom he had gone for solace.”
Fellow blacklisted director John Berry's film, He Ran All the Way, ended up being Garfield's final film. Garfield first gained public attention in Michael Curtiz's film Four Daughters, in which he garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He enlisted in the armed forces at the start of WWII but was denied because of a heart condition. Instead, he turned to a support role, opening a club for service members, participated in bond selling tours, and starred in patriotic films like Air Force (1943), Destination Tokyo (1943), and Pride of the Marines (1945). Garfield then appeared in several hits including The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Humoresque (1946), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and Body and Soul (1947), which got him another Oscar nomination. In 1948, Garfield starred in fellow blacklisted director Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil, which, at the time, barely left a mark, but later became a cult sensation. As the Red Scare infiltrated Hollywood and began devouring some of the town's greatest talent, Garfield continued working under pressure, and in 1951, his final film, He Ran All the Way, was released.

He Ran All the Way began as a script written by Dalton Trumbo, adapted from Sam Ross' novel of the same name. Garfield and his manager Bob Roberts formed Robert's Pictures in order to finance (all from Garfield's own bank account) and produce the film, which was later released by United Artists. Trumbo's script was then revised by Guy Endore and Hugo Butler, and just before release Berry and Butler's names were removed from ads promoting the movie as they had recently been subpoenaed by HUAC. All names were restored and properly credited decades later.
Garfield plays Nick, a small-time crook whose mother is constantly chiding him for his indolence. Leaving the apartment, Nick immediately runs into an acquaintance of the petty underworld who proposes an easy robbery. The robbery is botched, a cop is killed in the process, and Nick goes on the run through the city. He ends up at a public swimming house where he meets Peg (Winters). Nick and Peg have an evening tryst that ends up back at the apartment Peg shares with her parents and younger brother. As news quickly spreads about the robbery, Nick reveals himself to be the suspect and a hostage situation ensues. Nick wants the Dobbs family to carry on as normal – Peg and her father going to work, little Tommy heading off to school. As the tense scene stretches on into days, Peg still can't deny her romantic feelings for Nick. The heat ratchets up, tempers flare, true emotions and motives are revealed, and the film ends in inevitable tragedy.
As Nick, Garfield is an anxious young man who hasn't known stability his entire life. He's had to scrape by, fight for every last scrap available, and hasn't known love in its purest form. At this point in his life, Nick only knows a life of paranoia. He's constantly checking over his shoulder, the word trust having never meant anything to him. The people with whom he associates are the people we hope to never know. He's not a tough guy. He's weak, lacks confidence, and is well aware of his disadvantage. All this equals a person who is volatile, unpredictable. This makes for one of the most dangerous types of people. Because of the lack of love in his life – from parents, from friends, from a significant other – Nick is bordering on sociopathy. When he first encounters Peg at the swimming pool, he doesn't immediately know how to act. Shelley Winters, perfectly cast, doesn't have the beauty of, say, Kim Novak or Grace Kelly (both co-stars of James Stewart), but she has the quiet charm and shy beauty of someone like Margaret Sullavan or Barbara Bel Geddes (also re: Stewart). Early roles for Winters are in such stark contrast to her later work in exploitation films like Bloody Mama (1970), Cleopatra Jones (1973), and Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) or her oft-spoofed performance in The Poseidon Adventure (1972). In He Ran All the Way we see Winters for her understated performance and raw talent compared to other performances in films like Winchester '73 (1950) or A Place in the Sun (1951). The chemistry between Garfield and Winters is palpable. Nick is a dangerous man, who represents the spontaneity and thrill Peg has never known but nevertheless desires. Peg has the stability and love a man like Nick has never known but so desperately craves. The magic created between the two on screen deserves the attention given to other on-screen romances of lesser caliber.
He Ran All the Way deserves to be included in the canon of cult films simply because it's Garfield's final film and its relation to the blacklist. While many look to Postman and Body and Soul as Garfield's finest work, I believe we see Garfield in top form in He Ran All the Way. Garfield had the look and natural mannerisms of a kid from the streets. The timbre of his voice and speed with which he spoke all became part of Garfield's cinematic persona. Had the activities of HUAC never occurred, I believe we would have seen at least 30 more years of a remarkable career. Between film, television, and Broadway, John Garfield could have become a household name carrying the same gravitas as Sinatra and Kelly if not Stewart and Grant. The ultimate Hollywood tragedy, John Garfield was a world class talent denied us because of real life paranoia.

1 comment:

  1. I like when you talk about movies that i own but haven't watched yet. This one is part of Kino's The Dark Side of Cinema vol.1.