This posting is really a follow-up to the excellent John Garfield centenary blogathon. In the last few days I’ve been lucky enough to see one of Garfield’s rarer films, Saturday’s Children, and was surprised to realise just how many other versions of the same story have been made. The film was reviewed during the blogathon, but I can’t resist giving my own take on it too. Anyway, after talking about the film itself, I’ll then go on to mention the other versions which have been staged or filmed, ranging from the original Broadway stage play – starring a very young Humphrey Bogart! – right through to a stage revival in the last couple of years. I’ll also post some pictures of some of the other versions. Although I do like discussing endings, I’ve resisted the temptation on this occasion, so there are no serious spoilers in this posting – but, if you just want to know about the other versions, scroll down to the bottom!
The 1940 film starring Garfield, directed by Vincent Sherman, was the third screen adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s play. It is often described as a romantic comedy – but perhaps a more accurate description is that it’s a tragicomedy. The way it moves from sweet early scenes to increasingly painful/bitter ones, and eventually lurches into near-melodrama, reminded me of one of my favourite James Cagney films, The Strawberry Blonde, made the following year, which I will be writing about soon for the forthcoming James Cagney blogathon. Both films have scripts by Casablanca writers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, reworked from stage plays, and both see Warner Brothers ‘tough guys’ cast somewhat against type, in roles which bring out their more vulnerable qualities.
This is my contribution to the John Garfield centenary blogathon being organised by Patti at They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To. Please do visit and take a look at the other postings.
John Garfield’s last film is one of his greatest – yet it tends to be known more for the shadows which were gathering around him in real life than for those on screen. It was made a year before he died, at a time when the actor was being pursued just as relentlessly as his character is in the film, and it is impossible not to think about the parallels as you watch. Indeed, the whole film carries echoes of the McCarthy witch-hunt and many of those involved with it, including director John Berry and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, were being persecuted along with Garfield. However, there is a lot more to this movie than its historical/biographical context and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who admires Garfield’s better-known films noir, such as Force of Evil and Body and Soul. Sadly it hasn’t as yet had a DVD release in region 1, but I can recommend the region 2 release from Optimum, which has fine picture quality, although there are no extras – not even a trailer. (You can also find the film in segments at Youtube, but I don’t know what the quality is like. )
This is a taut, disturbing noir, with superb camerawork by the great James Wong Howe – I’m including a link to a clip of the opening, on Youtube, to give a taste. It begins in the middle of a nightmare, as the camera slowly pans into a dark, untidy room, in a long shot which finds Garfield’s character, small-time criminal Nick Robey, lying in bed, sweating and shaking. Then his mother roughly wakes him and the two go straight into a row, which is just the start of a waking nightmare lasting for the rest of the film. The title is He Ran All the Way, but for most of the film Nick has nowhere to run.
Here’s a link to a brief clip of the film’s start:
This is a contribution to the John Huston blogathon currently running at Adam Zanzie’s Icebox Movies site.
John Huston’s 1949 film We Were Strangers, set in the revolutionary Cuba of 1933 and starring Jennifer Jones and John Garfield, has grown on me with repeated viewing. First time round I thought it was pretty good – now I’m thinking it is a lesser-known Huston masterpiece. It came in a strong period for him, just after Key Largo and The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and has a lot in common with these, like them focusing on a small group of people forced together in an isolated and claustrophobic setting with turbulent events going on around them.
Ever since watching the Michael Curtiz pre-Code prison movie 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, starring Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis, I’ve been interested in seeing the Anatole Litvak remake with John Garfield and Ann Sheridan taking over their roles. Now at last I’ve had the chance, after the release of the title in the Warner Archive series. I don’t think the print has been remastered, but it looks and sounds fairly good all the same. As with the original, there is some footage which was shot on location, in Sing Sing prison, and the shots of the long rows of small cells make a powerful impression.
Unfortunately it is now a couple of years since I saw the earlier version on TV and I apparently failed to keep a copy of the movie, so I can’t make detailed comparisons – but a look back at my review confirms my impression that the two are very close, with almost identical scripts. Like the original, this is the tale of a cocky young gangster, Tommy Gordon (though his name is spelt ‘Gordan’ in the newspaper headlines running all through this version) who swaggers into prison under the impression he is entitled to special treatment, but changes his ways of thinking under the guidance of the prison governor, Warden Long. Both films are based on the memoirs of the original of Long, real-life warden Lewis E Lawes, so it is no surprise that the character is glowingly presented – although, to be fair, he does seem to have been a reforming figure in real life.
The title sounds reminiscent of I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang – and the posters for this John Garfield movie tried to give that impression too, oozing toughness and desperation. However, as so often in movies of the 1930s and 40s, the advertising is misleading, and this tale of a troubled young boxer wanted for murder is a very different film from the image Warner Brothers was trying to sell here.
Admittedly, the first few minutes are dark and powerful, almost giving an early foretaste of film noir. But the rest of the film has a more hopeful flavour than this moody opening. The intensity falls off - although the film as a whole, surprisingly directed by Busby Berkeley between musicals, is still very enjoyable. This was Garfield’s second movie and his first starring role – and it feels quite similar to Cagney movies like the previous year’s Angels With Dirty Faces, especially as it co-stars the Dead End Kids.
The film’s biggest flaw is that it also co-stars Claude Rains, wildly miscast as a New York cop. I don’t suppose this great actor ever looked or felt more uncomfortable in a role. Rains doesn’t seem even to attempt an American accent, except that he talks faster than normal, and it just sounds ridiculous when, in his clipped English voice, he has to say lines like: “That was one swell-looking dame.” Rains’ character is a frustrated detective who has been stuck on “morgue duty” for years as a punishment – something which might have felt all too close to home for Rains himself, who was reportedly forced to take this part or face a suspension by Warner.
The noirish opening minutes see Garfield’s character, New York boxer Johnnie Bradfield, win a world title fight and soulfully dedicate his win to his dear old mother – also informing the press that he doesn’t waste his time on drink and women. Unfortunately, within minutes of making this announcement, he is busy knocking back large quantities of booze and in the arms of his girlfriend, Goldie (a tiny part for Ann Sheridan – whose two-dimensional character might just as well be called “gold digger”.)
Looking at still photographs from this movie, set in post-war Paris and loosely adapted from a short story by Ernest Hemingway, I was expecting film noir. The fact that it stars great actor John Garfield, opposite French actress Micheline Presle (billed here as Prelle), added to this expectation.
However, although some scenes do have that moody, brooding quality, and the shadowy black-and-white camerawork adds to this, the film as a whole is a strange mixture of noir and sentimentality. Director Jean Negulesco and screenwriter Casey Robinson both made some great films, but in this one they seem to be caught between two stools, with flashes of brilliance in between scenes which unashamedly manipulate the emotions. As many reviews point out, the main plot is almost like a reworking of The Champ, moved from the boxing ring to the racecourse.
One of the biggest attractions of this film is the footage showing Paris in 1950. By coincidence, I’ve just seen the new film Julie and Julia, which is also set in the city around this period. But the real black-and-white footage of the post-war bars and streets has a battered quality to it which a movie made in 2009 can’t quite recapture, although that is not to say anything against Nora Ephron’s film, which I liked very much.
Recently I’ve seen several films starring John Garfield, and been impressed by all of them. After seeing this fine drama where he plays a virtuoso violinist, I’m starting to wonder if he ever made a bad movie.
I was doubly interested by this film because it sees him opposite Joan Crawford, an actress whose work I want to know better. This is said to be one of her finest performances, and she actually gets top billing over Garfield, although he has more screen time, signalling that at heart this is a woman’s emotion picture.
Despite the title, which might sound as if this is a comedy, in fact it’s an intense melodrama, with a dark, noirish look about it, wreathed in shadows. However, what sets it apart from other melodramas I’ve seen is the sparklingly witty dialogue by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold, with plenty of lines to remember for later. Director Jean Negulesco, nominated for an Oscar a couple of years later for Johnny Belinda, was at the height of his powers, and, with great classical music on the soundtrack, it all adds up to a winning mixture.
Spoilers behind cut