Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Top-10 Garfield Films

What a great month it's been celebrating the 100th birthday of the sensational (and beloved to me!) John Garfield.  To close out the month, I thought I would provide a list of my 10 favorite Garfield films.  Last March, I listed my 5 favorites; however, since that time, I have discovered a couple of "new to me" films (one which occupies #1 status), plus I have enjoyed a re-watch of other tried and true favorites, so things have changed position a bit.  All 10 films are either 5-star "love its" or 4-star "really like its;" there are a few other films I really like and deem 4 stars, but which missed being part of the top 10 list.

1.  The Breaking Point  (1950---reviewed HERE)  Besides the fact that I really love this story and the way John Garfield brought his character to life, my favorite thing about this movie is the rare opportunity to see Garfield romantically playful with wife Phyllis Thaxter and lovingly paternal with his two little daughters.

2.  The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946---reviewed HERE)  John Garfield and co-star Lana Turner are both incredibly gorgeous at this point in their careers, and the chemistry between them is undeniable in this film.  They smoke and sizzle in their illicit love affair.

3.  Pride of the Marines  (1945---reviewed HERE)  This is the first Garfield film I ever saw, so it will always have the distinction of being the film which opened my eyes to the man's brilliant acting ability.  Plus, it pairs him with my #4 gal, Eleanor Parker.

4.  Dust Be My Destiny  (1939---reviewed HERE)  In a 30's movie, it's rare for a man to make the first move after an argument with his wife, but it happens here...and not just any man, but the rough-and-tumble John Garfield.  I found that to be very touching.

5.  Body and Soul  (1947---reviewed HERE)  This boxing noir is the film for which Mr. Garfield garnered his only Lead Actor Academy Award nomination.  He's sensational here, and the film's message is powerful.

6.  Humoresque  (1946---reviewed HERE)  My favorite thing about this film...hands-down, the music.  It's absolutely beautiful!  Ever the professional, Mr. Garfield learned to play the violin for this role.  Although it was Isaac Stern's music that was heard, Garfield took violin lessons so that he would have proper mastery of the fingering for the cameras.  Besides the beautiful musical score, there's Joan Crawford, smoldering passion, and loads of melodrama.  Chick flick anyone?

7.  Gentleman's Agreement  (1947)  I deem this film to be probably the most important of John Garfield's entire career.  While he's really a supporting player, in my opinion, Mr. Garfield stole the show from its star, Gregory Peck, and he did it in this scene.

8.  Saturday's Children  (1940---reviewed HERE) As boyfriend, then husband, to Anne Shirley, this film provides a fun opportunity to catch John Garfield in a romantic role.  The chemistry between the two is terrific, as is the chemistry between Miss Shirley and father, Claude Rains.

This lovely still is from a scene cut from the film.

9.  He Ran All the Way  (1951---reviewed HERE)  This is Mr. Garfield's final screen role, and for that reason, watching this film is bittersweet.  While he gives a terrific performance, the knowledge that it was his last film and that the ugliness of HUAC was about to destroy him makes this film quite heartbreaking.

10. Daughters Courageous  (1939)   I love the chemistry between Garfield and Claude Rains in this film.  They're like two little boys, playing off each other over and over again.  The two men had a very good professional relationship, and never is that better evidenced than Daughters Courageous.

Anyone looking for an introduction to the films of John Garfield can't go wrong by starting with one of these ten titles.  Any and all of them will showcase the man's amazing talent and whet the appetite to see more of his work!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Foot in Heaven (1941)

One of the ten films up for Best Picture of 1941 was One Foot in Heaven, a little-known sentimental drama starring Fredric March and Martha Scott.  Directed by Irving Rapper, and with a Max Steiner score, One Foot in Heaven is a gem of a film, garnering 4 stars from me. Based on the autobiography of Hartzell Spence, this touching movie covers approximately two decades in the life of the author's father, Methodist minister, William Spence (Fredric March).

Reverend Spence's story begins in 1904, in Ontario, Canada, where he surprises his fiance, Hope Morris (Martha Scott), and her family, with the news that having been touched by the Spirit of God at a revival meeting the previous week, he has abandoned his plans of practicing medicine and, instead, has given his life to the healing of men's souls.  Not only has his vocation plan changed, but so have his living arrangements---he has been offered a church in a tiny town in Iowa.  Speaking a passage in the Bible about going where he goes, Hope offers her support to William, and the two are wed and then embark on their new life.

The film chronicles the ups and downs of the Spences life as they go about living with "one foot on earth, and one foot already in Heaven."  From welcoming two sons and a daughter into their family, to seeking to raise their children according to their religious convictions, to financial pressures, shabby housing, self-righteous parishioners, and moves to other cities, the Spences face each day with faith in God and each other.  (There's a scene in which Reverend Spence, in an effort to teach Hartzell the "dangers" of movies, takes his son to the theatre.  The two see a William S. Hart silent film, The Silent Man.  That is the closest I've been to a non-talkie since turning off Wings six years ago!)

One Foot in Heaven isn't an overly exciting film---there are no major action scenes---but it is, nevertheless, a sweet, touching, and very worthwhile film.  It depicts a healthy, loving, functional family; a strong belief in God;  a desire to live a moral life, without making the morality akin to self-righteousness.  While action-craving audiences of today might find a film like this boring, I appreciate the opportunity to see a devoutly religious person living out his faith without being depicted as a sanctimonious hypocrite.  After catching Rain (reviewed HERE) last year and being troubled by the self-righteousness of the preacher in that film (Walter Huston, in a fantastic performance), One Foot in Heaven is a lovely breath of fresh air.  While the family has a strong moral code by which they live, they are never "holier than thou" about it.  They simply live their lives according to their convictions, all the while extending love and kindness to those who might not see things as they do, sometimes even being willing to change with the times.  The preacher's annoyance wasn't with "the sinners," but with the church.  In fact, at one point he said, "The real heathen are in the church."  As a deeply religious person myself, I appreciate the positive portrayal of a faith I hold dear.

The film's cast is wonderful.  Some of the supporting players include Beulah Bondi, Gene Lockhart, Moroni Olsen, Elisabeth Fraser, Frankie Thomas, Laura Hope Crews, and Harry Davenport.  Martha Scott, who will always be Judah Ben-Hur's mother to me, is really lovely here. And Fredric March---very nearly at "beloved" status in my book---is terrific.  He portrays Reverend Spence with an appropriate mixture of sternness and love...and his prayers are powerful indeed!

Incidentally, when I popped by TCM to look for a video to include, I noticed that there are 11 pages of reviews for this lovely film.  That is, by far, the most reviews I have ever noticed for any film on TCM.  I read only 3 pages of them, but every single one was glowing in its praise and begging for the film to be made available on DVD; the overall TCM star rating was 4 1/3, and the Leonard Maltin review gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars. Obviously, despite being a film of little "action," its charm more than makes up for that.  If you enjoy inspiring, uplifting stories, this ought to fit the bill nicely.

Not out on DVD and rarely on the TCM schedule, however, One Foot in Heaven may prove to be quite difficult to track down.  If you get a chance to see it, though, I highly recommend it...if only to be transported to a time that is no more.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meet the Stewarts (1942)

In need of a William Holden fix and, also, wanting to show my co-#1 guy some love in the midst of my John Garfield mania, I recently tracked down one of his lesser-known films, Meet the Stewarts. From 1942, this romantic comedy, also starring Frances Dee, is from very early in Mr. Holden's career---when he was just a mere 24-years old.

Socialite Candy Goodwin (Frances Dee) yearns for her hardworking, yet minimally paid, boyfriend, Mike Stewart (William Holden), to propose to her.  Much as Mike loves Candy, however, he refuses to pop the question, sure that his salary wouldn't be sufficient to keep her living in the style to which she's accustomed.  Additionally, he doesn't want to be seen as the fortune hunter Candy's dad thinks he is, so until such time as he can afford to support a wife on his own, he will not marry her.

Determined to snag her man, Candy promises Mike that she will live on a budget, while her father insists that there will be no financial help from him if the two do get married...that Candy will go to the marriage with nothing more than a few personal belongings.  Of course, those are exactly the words Mike wants to hear, so he and Candy tie the knot.

Returning from their honeymoon, the couple discovers that they are over-budget on the furniture for their house.  Determined to live within their means, they realize they will have to return some of their purchases...but just what they'll return remains to be seen, as everything is a "must have" for Candy.  Also, although Candy is used to a maid and a cook, those things are not in the Stewart's budget, so she will have to learn to get along without them.  The film chronicles the couple's attempts to live within their modest means.

Meet the Stewarts is not a terrific movie, but it's clean, fun, and enjoyable...a solid 3 stars.  It's very dated (with such cringe-inducing lines as "All wives have to be smacked around a little.") and there are a few slapstick moments, but overall it's very sweet, with some lessons about debt and spending that our current "have to have it now, so I'll buy it on credit" society would do well to put into practice.

Out on DVD, this film is available through Classic Flix.  It is also available in its entirety on YouTube.  HERE is the link to part 1.  I hope you get a chance to see it.

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Can You Picture John Garfield in These Roles?

It's always interesting to learn the other stars who were under consideration for certain roles. Sometimes, we can hardly imagine how different a film would have been if a different actor or actress had been cast in it.  (Can you believe that Claudette Colbert was the first choice as All About Eve's Margo Channing?  I can't even imagine Claudette in one of Bette Davis's most iconic roles!)

Sometimes, a different star in a role has the power to change not only the film itself, but the careers of the stars involved.  (We all know that Humphrey Bogart had a much more successful career than George Raft, in large part because Mr. Raft turned down some all-important roles, which then went to Bogey, launching him to mega-star status.)

John Garfield has his own list of films he might have been in.  Can you imagine him in any of these roles...roles which might have given his career the boost that would launch him to mega-star status.

Mad Dog Earle in High Sierra

It is pretty common knowledge that George Raft turned down the role of Mad Dog Earle, a role which then went to Humphrey Bogart, virtually rocketing him to fame and fortune.  Before Bogart, though, John Garfield was offered that role.   "After East of the River, they (Warner Bros.) offered him High Sierra and he rejected it because George Raft had already turned it down, and because he didn't want to play a man named Mad Dog Earle.  It became the picture that finally secured Humphrey Bogart's claim to stardom, but once again Julie went on salary suspension."  

While Bogart was terrific in the role, I can easily imagine John Garfield doing great justice to it as well.  And with the on-screen chemistry he had with Ida Lupino, as well as his regard for her professionally (In the early 40's, he called her "the best actress he'd worked with in pictures."), they would have been dynamite in High Sierra.

Frank Ross in Each Dawn I Die

An elaboration of the Blackwell's Island theme, Each Dawn I Die brought to life the story of an innocent reporter being sent to prison.  Originally, Garfield was to co-star with James Cagney in the film, a prospect which pleased Julie, due to the Group Theatre's opinion that Cagney was the best screen actor. However, then Warners signed George Raft, giving him the part of the hood and switching Cagney to the reporter role---the role which was to have been John Garfield's.

Now, I adore James Cagney.  He is right up there with Garfield as one of my great loves.  I think he gave a completely brilliant performance in nearly every role he ever took on, including in Each Dawn I Die.  I do like George Raft, and I thought he was perfect in his role as the mobster; however, I have no doubt that James Cagney would have been equally successful in the mobster role and that John Garfield would have portrayed Frank Ross the same sensational way James Cagney did.

Joe Bonaparte in Golden Boy

Clifford Odets wrote Golden Boy with John Garfield in mind for the Joe Bonaparte character. However, before the play ever opened (in 1937), the producers made a casting change, and the longed-for Joe Bonaparte role went to Luther Adler.  While Garfield would get an opportunity to take on the role when the play was revived in 1952, for the film adaption (1939), the part was given to William Holden, in his first credited screen role.  Though Columbia---who was doing the film---wanted Garfield for the role which had been written for him, they were unable to reach a deal with Warners, so Garfield lost out on the coveted role for the second time.

As a huge William Holden fan, Golden Boy is a film I've seen a few times, and I think he does a terrific job in it.  However, catching this little snippet of Mr. Garfield's 1952 Broadway portrayal, I have no doubt, he would have been amazing in the screen adaption as well.

Frankie Machine in The Man with the Golden Arm

Mr. Garfield had already passed away by the time The Man with the Golden Arm was made, so his being in the film was never possible; however, "throughout the writing of The Man with the Golden Arm, the specter of John Garfield hovered over the novel's author, Nelson Algren.  Algren said if anyone was going to play Frankie Machine, it would have to be John Garfield. . . Eventually, Otto Preminger obtained movie rights to the story...the picture made money and was deemed an artistic success as well.  Frank Sinatra was much admired in the role of Frankie Machine, but Nelson Algren said he had conceived the character in John Garfield's image and that only Garfield should have played it."  

I absolutely love The Man with the Golden Arm, and I think it was Frank Sinatra's finest hour.  He gave a completely magnificent performance, and although he didn't receive the Oscar for his work, I think he ought to have won.  However, I can totally see John Garfield doing a brilliant job as well. Learning that the story's author had really wanted Garfield was news to me.  It was only because the production code did not allow for narcotics addiction to be depicted on screen that a film adaption of the story was not pursued while Mr. Garfield was alive.

It's always interesting to find out the behind-the-scenes casting possibilities of our beloved films.  What are some of the casting possibilities you wish had been different?  Or how about some that you're glad didn't work out because the film is perfect as-is and might have been a dud with someone else starring in it?

NOTE:  All information and direct quotes obtained from Body and Soul: The Story of John Garfield, by Larry Swindell, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1975)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Under My Skin (1950)

Three years after portraying a man caught up in a corrupt sports racket in Body and Soul, and seven months before he would take on the most faithful screen adaption of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not in The Breaking Point, John Garfield would combine elements of both films in 1950's Under My Skin.  Based on Mr. Hemingway's My Old Man, Under My Skin is the story of a man involved in the corrupt world of horse racing.  A solid 4-star film for me, Under My Skin also stars Micheline Presle (also known as Micheline Prelle), and features Luther Adler and Orley Lindgren in supporting roles.  The film is directed by Jean Negulesco, who also directed Mr. Garfield in Humoresque and Nobody Lives Forever.

For years, jockey Dan Butler (Garfield) has been throwing races, and the reputation he has gained as a result has kept him from settling long in any one city.  Now in Italy, Dan wins a race he was supposed to lose, and he knows he's got to get out of town before he pays the price for double-crossing mobster Louis Bork (Luther Adler).  Dan's young son, Joe, (Orley Lindgren), wants to return to America, where his late mother is from, but Dan can't go back.  In fact, Dan realizes, he's really running out of places to live.  Paris is his next target city, and he miraculously manages to escape Bork and his henchmen, and he and Joe make it to Paris, where they hope to connect with an old friend of Dan's.

Unfortunately, Dan's old friend has died, but the man's former flame, Paule (Micheline Presle), runs a cafe in the city.  Because Dan's corruption ultimately brought about her lover's death, she immediately despises him; however, she is quite smitten with Joe, as is he with her, and she takes on the job of tutoring him in French, all the while growing more and more attracted to Dan.

Bork hasn't forgotten Dan's double-cross, though, and soon tracks him down in Paris. Demanding Dan pay him back, he sets up another race---a steeplechase---with Dan riding none other than Joe's own personal horse, which the little boy trained himself.  Again expected to throw the race, Joe must choose whether to obey and, thus, disappoint the son who trusts him and believes in him, or to defy the powers-that-be and pay the consequences.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

In many ways, Under My Skin is a parallel to the life Mr. Garfield would soon be living.  Just as he himself was forced to choose whether to do what the "higher-ups" wanted him to do (provide names in the HUAC hearings), or whether to oppose them, so, too, is the character of the film forced to make that decision.  Even though both the character and the man himself knew there would be repercussions for failure to comply, both, in the end, have to do what they know, deep down, they need to do.

As always, Garfield gives a riveting performance.  He's terrific in his role, and I must admit, I was teary-eyed in this film.  It's not often that happens in a John Garfield film!  He looks fantastic at this point in his career. (He always looked terrific, but from about the mid '40's on, I think his maturity made him even better-looking!)

Micheline Presle, who I have only seen in one other film (If a Man Answers) is beautiful, and her accent is delightful.  Plus, her character is strong and confident.  I really liked her...both the character and the actress.  She and Mr. Garfield appeared to have great chemistry.  (The Swindell biography reports that he was enamored of her, but as she was involved with someone else, there was no affair.)  Orley Lindgren was sweet and quite a good-looking young man.  For whatever reason, though, he did not have a long show business career.  Within four years of this film, he would make his last screen appearance.

This film is out on DVD, as part of the Ernest Hemingway Film Collection, but other than that highly expensive collection, it is difficult to track down.  I've never seen it on the TCM schedule, and I was unable to find it on YouTube.  If you are a Classic Flix member, however, it's available through there (that is how I obtained it).  While not near the caliber of The Breaking Point (my personal favorite Garfield film) or Body and Soul, it is, nevertheless, a solid, 4-star viewing experience.  Definitely, all Garfield fans will want to see this one.

Happy viewing!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

John Garfield Family Man

With that huge chip on his shoulder and the "mad at the world" attitude which defined most of his characters, John Garfield hardly ever gave the impression of being a family man.  If we base our perception of Julie the man upon the films of John (as we often do), we would come away thinking that he was hard, cynical, angry, and unloving all his days.  And yet, he really did wear the "family man" hat on occasion...there really was a loving husband and father in him.

John Garfield`and his wife Roberta (called Robbie) were married for over 17 years (from January 1935 until the actor's death in May, 1952).  No, he was not a perfect husband, nor was he a faithful one, and at the time of his death, he was somewhat separated from Robbie.  Yet, obviously, he had loved her deeply.  At one point, he said "his favorite moment of the day came when he arrived from the studio and could plop himself on one of the loveseats and face Robbie, occupying the other one, to discuss the day's activities---with their bare or stockinged feet resting on the glass table." (From Body and Soul: The Story of John Garfield, by Larry Swindell)  That little statement provides a wonderful image of a couple devoted to one another.

The Garfield union produced three children, Katherine, David, and Julie Roberta.  The few photos I have seen of him in his capacity of "daddy" are among my favorite photos of him.

This photo is of first-born daughter, Katherine.  It was taken in 1944, right after Mr. Garfield arrived back in the states from entertaining troops overseas for a month.  What a precious photo this can really see the love he has for this little girl (who looks so very much like her daddy). Tragically, the Garfields would lose Katherine in 1945, when she died suddenly of a severe allergic reaction.  (I'm quite sure this is my all-time favorite photo of Mr. Garfield.)

Another photo with Katherine, riding bikes at their home.  Of the little girl's death, some said "the loss  had a lasting effect on Julie's personality, rendering him permanently gloomy, whereas he had been incapable of gloom in earlier times."  Yet the tragedy also, one friend said, "somehow made Julie a better person."  He was brought into a closer union with Robbie and also became a better father to David and to the little girl (Julie Roberta) who would soon be born.  (From Body and Soul: The Story of John Garfield)

Regular readers of this blog know that The Breaking Point (reviewed HERE) is my favorite Garfield film, in large part because of the opportunity he has in that film to show both a romantically playful side and a loving, paternal side.  Sherry Jackson, the actress who portrayed the younger daughter in the film, spoke about her experience working with Mr. Garfield.

"Most of all, I remember a long scene with John Garfield, who played my father.  I was told he was a "Method" actor, but at that time I really didn't know what that meant.  He had two daughters and one had died.  When he looked at me, he was projecting his grief, but also his past joy - the whole experience of being a father.  I told myself I knew he must have a daughter, as no one ever related to me like he did.  His understanding, his performance - he had so much love and warmth towards the person I played...It's heart-wrenching.  Totally genuine - an absolutely different aspect of his character, which made him more complex, so real."

(From the May 21, 2011 article "From Baby Sherry to Sherry Baby: My Memorable Afternoon with Sherry Jackson," by Mel Neuhaus---HERE)

While actor John Garfield may have been the cynical, hard-to-love rebel, the man within did, indeed, have a soft, caring side, and it is always touching to catch a little glimpse of it!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

We Live Again (1934)

We Live Againstarring Fredric March and Anna Sten, is a 1934 period drama based on Leo Tolstoy's novel Resurrection.  Fredric March is Dimitri, a Russian nobleman, who is getting caught up in the beginnings of socialism.  He believes in equality of persons, and thus, he spends the bulk of the summer enjoying the company of Katusha (Anna Sten), a beautiful peasant girl who works for his family.  Although Dimitri and Katusha are very much in love, by summer's end, they separate, as Dimitri must pursue military training.

Over the next two years, Dimitri's views change, and by the time he returns home, he is not the same man he was before.  He does still desire Katusha, though, and in short order, seduces her.  The morning after their interlude, Dimitri rides away and out of Katusha's life, leaving nothing behind but an envelope with a piece of money contained within.

Katusha is humiliated and devastated by Dimitri's actions.  Soon, though, she discovers that she is pregnant, which makes her situation even worse, for the royals dismiss her from her position. Driven from her home and job, Katusha falls onto very bleak times and, ultimately, finds herself on trial for murder.  It is at that point that Dimitri re-enters her life.

As already noted, this movie is based on Leo Tolstoy's novel Resurrection.  Some might think that you would need to be a Tolstoy fan in order to enjoy this movie.  I don't find that to be the case.  I actually don't care for Tolstoy.  War and Peace is a huge challenge for me to get through, and I have never been able to get through Anna Karenina.  I've never read the novel on which We Live Again is based, but I definitely enjoyed the movie...I even found myself getting misty-eyed on a couple of occasions.  Two warnings, though...first, the ending is highly unrealistic.  Second, there is a scene in the church about 25 minutes into the movie that was far too long, in my opinion.  It went on for about three minutes, and I very nearly gave up on the movie at that point.  But I persevered through the boredom...and I'm glad I did. Although this isn't an excellent movie by any means, I think it's a solid 3 stars (more like 3.5) and definitely worth watching.  Fredric March gives his usual terrific performance, and Anna Sten, who I'm not overly familiar with, is lovely and very good in her role.

By the way, there is a very strong socialist message in this film, but don't let that deter you from seeing it. It's more a beautiful love story and a story of repentance than anything.  The film is out on DVD, so it should be easy enough to track down.

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Body and Soul (1947)

A discussion of John Garfield's career would be incomplete without mention of Body and Soul, the noir-ish 1947 boxing drama for which he received his only lead actor Academy Award nomination. As such an important film in his career, it ought to have been highlighted in the recent blogathon---and it was scheduled to have been included.   In the end, however, the blogger scheduled to highlight that film was unable to participate; thus, I have re-worked my 2-year old review of the film, in order that Mr. Garfield's centennial year see a spotlight on that all-important film here at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.

A 5-star film for me, this 1947 Robert Rossen noir, which won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing, explores the corrupt world of professional boxing.  Also starring Lilli Palmer, this film features Anne Revere, Canada Lee, Hazel Brooks, and William Conrad in supporting roles.

The son of a candy store owner, Charlie Davis (John Garfield) wants big things out of life.  Telling his mother (Anne Revere) that he doesn't want to end up like his father---just getting by---Charlie sets out to pursue a boxing career, and he soon wins an amateur boxing championship.   His mother, however, doesn't approve of her son behaving like an animal, and, wanting him to be something worthwhile, she begs Charlie not to pursue such a career.  Initially, Charlie complies with his mother's request; however, when his mother is forced to seek charitable relief after his father's death at the hands of gangsters, Charlie changes his mind.

With the encouragement of his girlfriend, Peg (Lilli Palmer), who tells him to fight if he wants to fight, Charlie goes on the prizefighting circuit and finds great success.  Before long, wealth and lavish living come his way, but they come with a price---his very soul.   With a corrupt manager dictating his every move, Charlie not only refuses to listen to the warnings of his family and friends, but he also postpones his wedding to Peg, and as he gets in deeper, Charlie finds himself having to enter the ring with men of questionable health and even to throw a fight if told to do so.  Saying brutally unkind things to his mother and Peg, he pushes them away.

As Charlie is about to fight in the championship---a fight he has been instructed to lose---he becomes aware that the people in the candy store neighborhood---despite being poor--- have bet on him...not so much for the money but as a way of saying they are proud of him.  With this crisis of conscience, Charlie enters the ring.  Will he do what he's told and throw the fight?  Or will he defy the powers-that-be, give the fight his all and, thus, regain his self-respect?  Those are the questions which play out in the remainder of the film.

Body and Soul is an interesting, exciting film, featuring great performances by all.   This is one of John Garfield's most brilliant performances.  (I think he was almost always brilliant in his portrayals.)  He brings incredible realness and passion to this role.  Because of a heart condition, Mr. Garfield was usually under doctors' orders to take things easier, but determined to do his own fight scenes and not rely on a double, he ignored the advice and took "sparring lessons from Mushy Callahan."  His preparation for the role only added to the film's incredible realism.  It is absolutely no surprise that he received a Lead Actor Academy Award nomination for his work here.

Anne Revere was terrific; the scene in which she humbles herself to ask for welfare relief is particularly poignant.

Lilli Palmer---lovely as always--was very good and believable in her role as well, and she and Mr. Garfield had great chemistry with one another.

Even William Conrad, as one of the boxing "heavies," was great, as was Canada Lee, in his role of Charlie's opponent-turned-friend.  Beyond the acting, was the gritty realism of the boxing ring and the corruption of the sport.  Interestingly, at the time of the film's release, the corruption in professional and amateur sports---especially boxing---was under investigation and receiving much press coverage.

Two other boxing movies which I also greatly enjoy are The Set-Up, (starring Robert Ryan, reviewed HERE)  and City for Conquest (starring James Cagney, reviewed HERE).  All three films ought to satisfy the boxing enthusiasts out there.  Body and Soul is out on DVD and should be fairly easy to track down. For Garfield fans, it's an absolute must-see.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Happy 100th Birthday, John Garfield!!

Happy 100th birthday to one of my most beloved actors---the sensational John Garfield. (March 4, 1913 - May 21, 1952)

A child of the New York streets, John Garfield's early years were troubled; and yet it was that very troubledness which brought about the man being celebrated today.  Born Jacob Julius Garfinkle---and called Julie all his life---Mr. Garfield was the first child of impoverished first-generation Americans, David and Hannah Garfinkle.  After losing his mother at the age of seven, little boy Julie lived a revolving-door kind of life for the next several years, as he was passed from one relative to another.  Eventually, street gangs became his family, ditching school became his habit, and delinquency became his life.  Mr. Garfield said of himself, "If I hadn't become an actor, I might have become Public Enemy Number One."

In order to curb his delinquency, Julie was enrolled in a special school, one which catered to "problem kids."  The founder of that school--- Angelo Patri---held an educational philosophy different from all other educators; in addition to allowing for creative expression, he believed in a curriculum tailor-made for each pupil.  Of Mr. Patri, John Garfield said, "For a lost boy to be found, someone has to do the finding.  Dr. Patri found me, and for reaching into the garbage pail and pulling me out, I owe him everything.  The good things that came my way would not have been possible, but for that sweet, funny man." It was at Dr. Patri's school that Julie's penchant for acting was encouraged and allowed to bloom.  Seeing promise in the young man as he performed in one-act school plays, both Dr. Patri and the school's dramatics instructor, encouraged him to become an actor.  Eventually, with the goal of acting in mind, young Julie dropped out of high school in order to pursue instruction with a theatre group, for at that point in his life, theatre---not film---was where his sights were set.

Though Julie loved the stage and enjoyed many years of success there, working with such theatre greats as Otto Kruger, Claude Rains, Paul Muni, Lee J. Cobb, Clifford Odets, Franchot Tone, and Elia Kazan, eventually Hollywood came calling, and he signed on with Warner Brothers.  His first screen role, which reunited him with veteran stage performer Claude Rains, who offered advice as Julie transitioned into films, was in 1938's Four Daughters.  From his first appearance on screen, he brought with him that moody, cynical, outsider-looking-in persona which would follow him throughout the bulk of his career. Audiences were wild about him...and the anti-hero was born.

The 2-time Academy Award-nominated John Garfield was an amazingly gifted actor, giving a truly brilliant performance in nearly every single one of his 31* films.  I have no doubt that he was just as terrific in his stage performances as well.  It's too bad there are not films of his plays---I would love to see them.

Of Mr. Garfield's 31* films, I have seen all but four, and two of those I will be catching when TCM airs them on March 4th.  There is a bittersweetness to watching all 31* films; yes, I will have seen his entire filmography, but after that, that's it.  There will never be a new film to discover, and I find that to be very sad.  Here is a sampling of just a few of his films.

Pride of the Marines (reviewed HERE) is the film which began my love affair with Mr. Garfield.  As one who is passionately interested in all things related to the Second World War, I have long been on a quest to see all the (war) films made during the actual war years, and it was through that endeavor that Mr. Garfield entered my life.  Despite not having a clue who John Garfield was, I tracked this film down, and immediately, I was impressed.  His portrayal of U.S. Marine Al Schmid was completely terrific; I thought he was nothing short of spectacular and, thus, began seeking out more of his works.  As I did so, I became more enamored of this very under-appreciated actor, and he rapidly made the climb to "beloved" status on my favorite actor list.

The Breaking Point (reviewed HERE), which has the distinction of being my favorite Garfield film, is the second film adaption of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.  According to Mr. Hemingway, "The Breaking Point was the best screen adaption of any of his novels....and Harry Morgan as written had never become anything beyond an idea, but John Garfield made Harry a person."  I call that high praise indeed!

The Breaking Point shows a bit of a loving, paternal side to the ordinarily rough-and-tumble, chip-on-the-shoulder John Garfield, which is one of the reasons the film strikes such a chord with me.  Due to the types of roles he usually played, such a soft side was rarely seen, which makes it difficult to imagine Mr. Garfield as a man capable of love, affection, and tenderness.  It's easy to imagine that he (the man, not the actor) was as tough and hard in real life as he was in most of his roles, yet The Breaking Point gives a tiny glimpse into that rarely-seen softer side.  I love the film for that reason. Plus, I love the character of Harry Morgan...and the way---as Mr. Hemingway said---John Garfield brought him to life.

Body and Soul (reviewed HERE) is the film for which Mr. Garfield received his only lead actor Academy Award nomination.  It's the story of a man who finds great success on the prizefighting circuit, yet the success comes with the price of his very soul. With a corrupt manager dictating his every move, our hero finds himself having to enter the ring with men of questionable health and even to throw a fight if told to do so.  After discovering that people in his childhood neighborhood---despite being poor---have bet on him in a fight he has been instructed to lose, he has a crisis of conscience and must decide if he will do what he's told and throw the fight or if he will defy the powers-that-be and give it all he's got.  Though all Mr. Garfield's performances were first-rate, his work here in Body and Soul is, easily, some of his absolute best.

Though John Garfield was one of many stars to make an appearance in the 1944 film Hollywood Canteen, the real Hollywood Canteen was much more important to him.  Even before Pearl Harbor brought about U.S. involvement in the war, Julie was part of a group of performers entertaining at bases in the Caribbean.  Finding great satisfaction in the endeavor, he came up with the idea that the film industry ought to have its own venue, right there in Hollywood...and, with the help of Bette Davis, the Hollywood Canteen was born.  Open nightly, the Canteen was a place where GIs rubbed shoulders with the movie stars, who served them refreshments and entertained them.  Garfield was quite the arm-twister when it came to booking acts at the Canteen, even managing "to break down the resistance of some of the veterans...Tracy, Cooper, Cagney."

Sadly, as the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) years dawned, Mr. Garfield got caught up in the ugliness of them.  Called to testify before the committee, he refused to name names in the hearings and, thus, found himself blacklisted in Hollywood.  Despite knowing that failure to give the committee what they wanted (names of those who might have Communist sympathies) would undoubtedly harm his career, he would not be budged.  While others might cave to the pressure, John Garfield did not, and the sad result was that he would pay with his career and, ultimately, his life.  While stage work was available, he was blacklisted in Hollywood and his film career was finished.  The stress of the blacklist---coupled with the bad heart he had had for most of his life---took its toll, and at the too-young age of 39, Julie succumbed to a fatal heart attack, leaving behind a wife, two young children, and thousands of grieving fans.  (He had a third child too; however, that first-born daughter died of an allergic reaction in 1945 at the age of 6).  Also left behind were 31* films, some of which are available on DVD, but many of which are not...making it very hard for modern audiences to have an opportunity to get to know this incredible actor...another tragedy in an already-tragic situation.

So, here's to you, Mr. John Garfield, on your 100th birthday.  You were a completely sensational actor who always gave a terrific performance.  I completely adore you and will always consider you one of my absolute favorite actors.  Even though you died nearly a decade before I was born, you live on through your wonderful films.  And, in the words of George Eliot, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."  Since we have not forgotten you (nor will we ever!), you do, indeed, live on!  Thanks for enriching my life with so many incredible films!

This post is part of the John Garfield 100th birthday blogathon.  To read all the other wonderful entries, go HERE.

NOTE:  All information and directly quoted material are taken from Body and Soul: The Story of John Garfield, by Larry Swindell, William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1975.  All photos have been obtained from various online sources, mostly The Golden Age of Hollywood and Doctor Macro.  I do not claim any of them as my own.

* The 31 films does not include uncredited roles, nor Four Wives, which includes footage from the earlier Four Daughters.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

John Garfield Blogathon---They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

Another film from that golden year of 1939 is They Made Me a Criminal, a vehicle which gives name-above-the-title billing to John Garfield and The Dead End Kids.  Directed by Busby Berkeley, this film sees Claude Rains, Gloria Dickson, and May Robson taking on supporting roles.  While some movie posters tout Ann Sheridan as a co-star, the reality is that she is an extremely minor player; in fact, she's dead within the first ten minutes.  They Made Me a Criminal is a remake of the 1933 Douglas Fairbanks, Jr./Loretta Young film The Life of Jimmy Dolan (reviewed HERE).

NOTE:  This review is part of the John Garfield 100th birthday blogathon.  To read all the other wonderful entries in the event, go HERE.

At a victory party following a fight, boxing champion Johnny Bradfield (Garfield) drinks to excess and finds himself involved in an altercation with a newspaper reporter.  After slugging the man, Johnny---completely drunk---passes out.

With Johnny out cold, his manager proceeds to get into it with the reporter, dealing a blow which leads to the man's death.  Anxious to cover his tracks, the manager---along with Johnny's girlfriend, Goldie (Ann Sheridan)---leaves the scene, knowing that the crime will then be pinned on Bradfield. The two of them end up being killed in a fiery car crash, and because the man was wearing Johnny's watch, his body is identified as that of Johnny.  However, police detective Phalen (Claude Rains), who is out to prove himself to the higher-ups, is quite sure Johnny is still alive, and he has every intention of finding him and charging him with murder.

When the real Johnny comes to and reads the newspaper account of what has happened, he has no choice but to go on the run.  After being warned to not use his fists lest he give himself away, Johnny takes on the name Jack Dorney and heads West.  Hopping freighters, as well as pounding the pavement with his feet, Johnny/Jack makes his way to Arizona, where he finds a welcome at a ranch for troubled boys.

The teenage boys (played by The Dead End Kids) have been sent by a New York priest to his sister's (May Robson) farm, where it is expected that kindness, responsibility, and hard work will rehabilitate them.  Johnny/Jack is put to work, and although his influence on the boys is initially a matter of concern, he eventually proves himself.  In fact, it's not long before the "look out for yourself" man wants to help the farm reverse its dismal finances.  When he sees an advertisement for an amateur fight, Johnny is willing to enter the ring for the prize money---despite the fact that he is a "wanted man" and really needs to keep a low profile.

Does Johnny go through with the fight?  Or, realizing the danger of being so visible, does he back out?  Does Detective Phalen, who has seen Johnny's picture in the paper, find him and take him back to New York to face a murder rap?  These are the questions which play out in the balance of this film.

Although listed on Mr. Garfield's filmography as his second film, They Made Me a Criminal, technically, is his third.  Blackwell's Island, the true second film to be made, was released a couple months after this one. With Garfield's debut performance in Four Daughters the previous year touting him as "the sensational new "find"---not of the year, but of the decade," Warner Brothers knew they had a mega-star on their hands; wanting to capitalize on that popularity while Four Daughters was fresh in the minds of audiences, they rushed They Made Me a Criminal ahead of the B-grade Blackwell's Island.  While Garfield had been billed seventh in Four Daughters, he was given name-above-the-title status in this film.

They Made Me a Criminal is a perfect vehicle for the talents of John Garfield.  He completely excelled in roles like this, and he was his usual wonderful self here.  The misunderstood, huge-chip-on-the-shoulder rebels are easily my favorite kinds of roles for Mr. Garfield.  Quite honestly, I love him like this!!  The Dead End Kids, who are normally so obnoxiously disrespectful that I can hardly stand them, were definitely more tolerable in this film.  Even Leo Gorcey wasn't as smart-alecked as usual.  According to Mr. Garfield's biography, Body and Soul, The Story of John Garfield, he enjoyed working with the Dead End Kids.

As for Claude Rains' portrayal of a New York detective---he felt he was dreadfully miscast for the role and begged to be let out of it.  Interestingly, however, Mr. Garfield felt that Rains "contributed the strongest performance" to the film.  Garfield was critical of his own performance---finding it "hollow"---and he would "deprecate the picture at every opportunity in later years."  Funny, I thought he was quite good in the role...maybe not his best performance, but certainly solid and very believable.

May Robson is completely delightful...especially in the fight scene.  What a fun grandma-type she is.  I love her spunky spirit!

This film is out on DVD, plus it is available in its entirety on YouTube, so you shouldn't have a problem being able to view it.   It's a solid, 3-star film...close to 3.5 stars.  I think it's a film all Garfield fans will want to see.

Happy viewing!!

NOTE:  All directly quoted material is obtained from Body and Soul: The Story of John Garfield, by Larry Swindell, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1975)