“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.