Showing posts with label John Garfield. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Garfield. Show all posts

09 November 2022

He Ran All the Way


John Garfield.  He was the immediate precursor to Brando and Monty Clift and James Dean, pretty much the first Method actor in Hollywood pictures – or at least the first star.  His movie career only lasted thirteen years, and a recent New Yorker profile calls him “half-forgotten,” but I don’t buy it. 

Garfield was nominated for an Oscar in his first picture, Four Daughters, and then again for Body and Soul.  It’s fair to say, though, that the second half of his output is more interesting than the first.  Not that he’s ever less than compelling – Air Force, for example, is a pretty lame effort for a Howard Hawks, even if Garfield is good – but the later pictures are more invested.  The same year as Air Force, he made The Fallen Sparrow.  Based on the Dorothy Hughes novel (Hughes wrote In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Horse), Fallen Sparrow sets up the compromised hero Garfield fully embodies in Force of Evil and The Breaking Point.  Postman is of course about a guy who only thinks with his dick, but a more conflicted and ambiguous Garfield shows his colors in the final five years.

Body and Soul and Gentleman’s Agreement in 1947, Force of Evil in 1948, We Were Strangers in 1949, The Breaking Point in 1950.  Garfield hits his stride.

He’s muscular and assured, but transparent.  His emotions wash across his face like water, even when he’s ostensibly playing a mug or a tough Joe: you can read him.  He has the quality to appear natural, as if his character is only now inventing himself.  Force of Evil is masterfully written and fluidly shot, but it’s an actor’s movie, Garfield, Thomas Gomez, and the incomparable Marie Windsor, a B-movie queen in an A-list part.  Garfield plays a mob lawyer, and as the iron hand of his own doom closes on him, he rises to something like redemption, and makes it seem inevitable.

We Were Strangers is a political thriller, set in 1930’s Cuba, written (in part) and directed by John Huston.  The picture got tarred with a Red brush, which is of more than passing interest.  Garfield was about to get caught up in the Red Scare.  In the meantime, the movie tanked at the box office.  It was probably too subtle, and psychological, and it rationalized freelance assassination. 

Warners released The Breaking Point the following year, in spite of Garfield’s supposed political sympathies and the studio’s hard line against Communist influence, and the picture got good reviews.  [I wrote about it in a previous post, August 2019.]  But the handwriting was on the wall.  Garfield testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951, denied he was a Communist, denied he knew any fellow travelers in the movie industry, and refused to name names.  It got him blacklisted.  He was disowned by Hollywood. 

He went back to New York, and opened in a revival of Golden Boy.  He died in May, 1952, of heart failure.  He was 39. 

Knowing this, his death foretold, Garfield might seem a haunted presence, but in life, not.  He was a kinetic force, his energy not so much performance, as inhabited, from the inside out.  Whatever suit of clothes he might put on, you can imagine no one else wearing them.

The Criterion Channel is hosting a Garfield festival.