Category Archives: John Garfield

He Ran All The Way (1951)

“If I can only get off this merry-go-round, figure things out.”

In He Ran All the Way from director John Berry, Nick (John Garfield) and his partner Al (Norman Lloyd) make a payroll robbery at gunpoint that leaves a police officer wounded. Al is caught at the scene, but Nick escapes. With the words, “stick with the crowds” drumming in his brain, he heads to a public swimming pool where he meets comely, and lonely Peggy Dobbs (Shelley Winters) frolicking in the water.

Peggy is an easy target for Nick, and he slickly picks her up and then offers to take her home. He’s introduced to her nice little family: Father (Wallace Ford), mother (Selena Royle) and younger brother, Bobby (Robert Hyatt), and while the family goes out for the evening, Nick and Peggy settle in supposedly for a pleasant night together.

But as the police dragnet tightens around the city, a very nervous Nick loses his grip, unnecessarily exposing himself as a criminal on the lam. With no clear plan in mind and reluctant to step outside of the door, Nick holds the Dobbs family hostage.

The film’s title, He Ran All the Way refers, to me at least, to the manner in which Nick runs towards his fate, and in this rush towards self-destruction, Nick’s character hustles him along. When the film begins, and Al suggests the robbery to Nick, Nick doesn’t really want to do it. He doesn’t feel quite well, but he goes along with the disastrous plan rather than argue. Even after the robbery is botched, Nick could still make some sort of a getaway, but his character, and his deep-rooted insecurities keep him locked in the city while he becomes a hunted animal. A man with more confidence would have stepped away from the crime and from the city, and with the loot in hand moved on to some place where he could remain anonymous. It is a horrible mistake on Nick’s part to stay in the city, but stay he does. Holed up in the Dobbs’s apartment, Nick threatens and bullies the family, and the occasional glimpses of a long submerged humanity are quickly obfuscated by violence.

Nick establishes a slightly different relationship with each member of the Dobbs family. Bobby isn’t really too bothered that Nick is holed up in the apartment with a gun, and Nick bears a certain respect for Mrs. Dobbs–probably because she’s the antithesis of his own boozy mother (Gladys George). Nick’s brusqueness towards Peggy seems particularly cruel because it’s obvious that it hasn’t really sunk in to Peggy’s head that Nick used her just to find a safe hideout.

Some of the very best scenes take place between Nick and Mr. Dobbs as they try to establish just who is in charge. There’s a macho struggle going on between these two, and this is partially caused by Mr. Dobbs believing that a ‘real’ man should tackle Nick. But Dobbs is hampered by concerns of his family’s safety, so in effect his ability to take action is neutralized by the fact he has a family and emotional bonds with other people. Nick, on the other hand, has no emotional attachments whatsoever, so he’s not as vulnerable as Dobbs. At a couple of points in the film, Nick feels a twinge of emotion, and he manages to fight off the temptation to give into it. The best scene in the film occurs when the family sits down to eat dinner, and Mrs. Dobbs serves stew whereas Nick wants them to eat the turkey he’s bought. This is a very tense film and a suffocating claustrophobia builds to explosive levels as the tension mounts in the Dobbs’s home. Based on a novel by Sam Ross.

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Filed under Film Noir, John Garfield

Force of Evil (1948)

 “It’s business.”

John Morse (John Garfield) is an ambitious attorney. He’s forged a partnership with crime boss Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts), and they’ve devised a scheme to hijack the numbers racket in New York. They fix the liberty number, 776, for July 4th, and as a consequence, the small betting operations or ‘banks’ will be unable to pay off the claims. At this point, Tucker and John Morse plan to move in and consolidate all the small banks and take over. Unfortunately, John’s brother, Leo (Thomas Gomez) runs one of the targeted banks. This leads to some division of loyalties and a question of morality. John is eager to make his first million, and although he doesn’t care who he hurts in the process, he doesn’t want to flatten his brother.

Many films tackle the good brother/bad brother phenomenon, but in Force of Evil both brothers are on the wrong side of the law. Up until the numbers fix, John has simply worked for a crook–now he’s about to join the ranks. Older brother, Leo, runs his betting operation as a friendly small business, and his employees feel that way too. Leo’s employees are happy and comfortable with the way things are, and the rude reality of big crime muscle quickly changes all of that. John’s relentless ambition–which includes some idea that he’s helping his brother to the ‘big time’, ensures Leo’s involvement. There’s a lot going on between these brothers under the surface. Does John really want to help Leo, or is he locked into the idea that as a little brother, he has to top Leo?

Force of Evil, from director Abraham Polonsky, starts off very strongly, but the film weakens in its denouement. Still, it’s always fun to watch John Garfield–he never loses that edge of desperation, and Marie Windsor as Tucker’s wife, Edna, would make a formidable femme fatale if she could be unleashed a little more. In contrast to Edna, is the goody-two shoes girl, Beatrice Pearson (Doris Lowry). Doris represents the sort of woman John would like to be involved with, and he hints that she could save him from the life he’s leading. Fans of film noir will want to catch this one.

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Dust Be My Destiny (1939)

“Ain’t I got an honest face?”

Dust Be My Destiny is a long-neglected title starring the enigmatic John Garfield. When the film begins, Joe Bell (Garfield) is called to the prison warden’s office and informed in a semi-jocular tone, that he’s about to be set free since it’s been discovered that he is, after all, innocent. Joe, who’s served over 13 months of a sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, is embittered by his experience. Although he vows to stay out of trouble, he’s soon serving 90 days on an Honor Farm for vagrancy. Here he meets the warden’s daughter, Mabel (Priscilla Lane).

Through a series of adverse circumstances, Joe and Mabel go on the lam–running from authorities, trying to earn enough money to eat. Adversity sorely tests the limits of their relationship.

Dust Be My Destiny from director Lewis Seiler has its corny moments, but Garfield’s screen presence raises this drama from the tearjerker level. Joe is just an average man who’s been dealt a bad hand by society, and he never quite manages to recover from that first stint in jail. He’s justifiably bitter and hardened by the experience, and while he swears he’ll never trust anyone again, it’s these moments of trust that break through his shell and humanize him. The occasional acts of kindness that Joe and Mabel encounter prove to be their salvation–both physically and morally. And these instances restore Joe’s faith in human nature–a faith he’d rather just abandon so he can head into the only option he thinks he has left–a life of crime. Interestingly, the two characters who treat Joe with the greatest kindness are both foreigners–Henry Armetta plays cafe owner Nick Spelucci, and Ferike Boros plays a delicatessen owner. The film treats the acts of kindness of these two characters marvelously well while simultaneously recording Joe’s astonishment and chagrin as he discovers decent people who don’t place labels on him.

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